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Thai smiles win back foreign investors

Foreign investors are back in Thailand to scoop up bargains. The timing couldn’t be better for a new drive to develop the capital markets but politics could get in the way of some important deals. Peter Koh reports.

FOREIGN INVESTORS HAVE poured a net Bt79.5 billion ($2 billion) into the Thai equities market so far this year. That’s almost as much in just six weeks as the Bt100 billion that dripped in over the previous two years. In January alone, net foreign buying on the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) totalled Bt68 billion, the highest monthly amount in years. On one day alone, January 4, there was Bt15 billion-worth of net foreign buying.

And although these figures paint a clear picture of reawakened interest in the Thai equities market they understate it by almost half. In January there was also unprecedented off-exchange activity. On January 23, a group of investors led by Singapore’s Temasek Holdings paid Bt73.3 billion for a 49.6% stake in Shin Corp, the telecommunications and media company founded by Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his wife Potjaman Damapong. The controversial deal is the largest buyout in Thai corporate history.

Thailand is attractive to foreign investors this time around for the same reason many tourists have continued to visit even after the 2004 tsunami – its relative cheapness. Valuations in the Thai market are the lowest in the region and Thai stocks offer some of the best dividend yields.

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