April 18th, 2012
07:47 AM GMT
(CNN) – Cambodia joined the capital markets Wednesday as its own stock market opened for trade in a bid to attract foreign capital to the Southeast Asian nation.
Trade started with one stock – Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority. The initial public offering of 13 million shares – 15% of the state-owned company – was 17 times over subscribed, according to underwriter Tong Yang Securities.
Interest in the stock has come from “Thailand, Vietnam – the biggest demand is from China, then Japan, Korea and even the U.S.,” KT Han, managing director of Tong Yang Securities, told CNN.
While the Cambodian economy has steadily grown at an average annual rate above 8% the past 10 years, the nation is still a financial frontier. The government is hoping the stock exchange will help bulwark the national currency, the riel, against an onslaught of U.S. dollars. Nearly 80% of the cash that changes hands in Cambodia are greenbacks, compared to 60% in the late 1990s, according to a 2011 International Monetary Fund report.
While the nation has made great strides stabilizing after the war-torn years emerging from the war-torn decades of the 1970s and 1980s – punctuated by the brutal regime of the Khmer Rouge – it still faces an uphill economic battle. The nation ranks 164th out of 182 countries in the 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Still the opportunities in Cambodia – with half its population under the age of 25 – are immense, said Scott Lewis, Chief Investment Officer of Leopard Capital, an investment fund that focuses on pre-emerging markets. But the Cambodia Stock Exchange could face volatility in its early phase, he said.
"You could have a lot of people thinking it's going to be a buy and flip scenario,” Lewis said. “Shares will keep going up and all of a sudden, people start to sell and then it takes a long time to recover.”
-CNN’s Pauline Chiou contributed to this report
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