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Banking

Can Myanmar’s military recruit an army of investors?

Myanmar is undergoing political liberalization and opening up to the wider world. But the process is full of ironies and aberrations. What this new era will mean for the country’s economy and financial sector is far from clear.

Forty-four hardwood steps lie between Yangon’s bustling streets and one of the world’s sleepiest stock exchanges. A thin film of dust on each step muffles the sound of your shoes as you patter up to the first floor, but only slightly: the silence as you approach the trading floor is deafening, broken only by the faint honking of traffic on Sule Pagoda Road.

Once inside, past a door beseeching ‘Strict silence!’ in Burmese, the look and feel of a lending library continues. Ten similarly diminutive women sit in a row behind 10 brown desks, looking like ducks in a shooting gallery. Upon entering, each stirs, clucks a little ("A visitor!") and looks at the chief duck for direction, who turns to the one phone in the room and dials a number – presumably to the only working landline in the whole of Myanmar.

Seconds later, a tall, flustered-looking man with a shock of spiky black hair enters. "Why you here? What you?" he asks, speaking English through a thick accent and a big facial twitch. "Journalist," is the only reply that springs to mind. "Here to write a story about the Myanmar Stock Exchange."

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