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Thailand: As one door closes...

Is it time for foreigners to cut their losses and get out of the Thai securities business, or is it a unique buying opportunity while business is depressed? As part of a global retreat from equities Barclays Capital has sold its 49% stake in Bangkok Securities only 18 months after purchase. But Merrill Lynch executives are excited about its new venture Merrill Lynch Phatra Securities which links it with one of the country's leading institutions, Thai Farmers Bank.

In 1996 BZW, as Barclays Capital was then, paid Bt333 million (worth $13.34 million then, $8.34 million now) for a 49% stake in Bangkok Securities. Eighteen months later, it has sold out to partner Krungthai Thanakit for a nominal Bt100. Barclays' horror story, while not unique, is spectacular. It would even have been better off putting its Bt333.5 million investment in the Stock Exchange of Thailand.

"Following the decision to get out of equities globally that joint venture became redundant but the bank is still active in loans and bonds in Thailand," says a Barclays spokesman in response to the question whether the bank was pulling out of Thailand completely.

Barclays does not have a representative office in Thailand - it was closed as part of Bangkok Securities - but is understood to be working on re-establishing one.

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