HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Chiang Mai Chamber of Commerce looks to Mekong region

Asian investors queue to put money in Thai SMEs

Profit-making TT&T still looking for strategic partner

Bangchak Petroleum may split businesses to privatize

Chiang Mai Chamber of Commerce looks to Mekong region

The new president of the Chiangmai Chamber of Commerce, Jumphol Chutima, said in his recent inaugural speech that the chamber would focus on boosting trade and communications networks in the Mekong sub-region and called on the government to create communications routes linking Chiang Mai with Chiang Rai, Myanmar, Laos and China.

Jumphol said that under his presidency the chamber would focus on giving out information to its members in order to prepare for increased competition in services and investment in line with the World Trade Organization (WTO) framework on free trade.

The latest technology will be used to develop the news and information system, with companies informed of criteria, regulations and agreements relating to international trade on a regular basis.

He added that particular attention would be paid to shipping routes, as Thailand was at a disadvantage compared to China as ships from Thailand had to go upstream, thus leading to higher transportation costs. (TNA)

Asian investors queue to put money in Thai SMEs

A leading broker is urging Thailandís small and medium enterprises to show off their potential, saying that Thai SMEís are attracting a lot of interest from financial institutions and investors across Asia.

Phitak Kittiakarasathien, general manager of IB Securities Co. Ltd., said that financial institutions and investors from across the region were eyeing up Thai SMEís, particularly financial institutions from South Korea and Singapore, which were ready to invest immediately if they found companies with sufficient growth potential.

Particularly attractive investment prospects for Asian investors are the electronic components manufacturing industry, the food industry, and the hotel and tourism industry, as these industries enjoy a high level of potential and competitiveness when compared with similar industries across the world.

Phitak denied that SMEís are currently having difficulty in finding capital. "Itís not true that as far as SMEís are concerned there are no sources of capital. As far as we can tell from meetings with financial institutions and other sources of capital, each company is ready to give financial support to SMEís, but SMEís must show their potential and submit business plans which can pull in investors."

Profit-making TT&T still looking for strategic partner

TT&T, formerly called Thai Telephone and Telecommunication is the countryís third largest fixed-line operator. But the company recently conceded it is having trouble finding a partner to inject funds into the firm.

The company must pay 1.5 billion baht in annual interest, or 5 percent of the overall debt of about 30 billion baht owed to a group of creditors led by Kasikornbank.

President Pisit Leeahtam said, "We need about 5 billion baht of fresh capital, but we are having difficulty finding a strategic partner at this time. We do, however, still have a good cash-flow situation at the moment."

The firm plans to pay back around 6 billion baht of debt by offering warrants to creditors in September. Pisit said, "Another lot of warrants are planned to be offered to creditors in March 2004."

Creditors had predicted that the company would lose more than 800 million baht last year and 900 million baht this year. But TT&T actually made a profit of 568.57 million baht last year after losing 466.42 million baht in 2001. Most of the profit came from a currency gain of about 444 million baht and an operating profit of about 126 million baht.

TT&T plans to invest about 2 billion baht in improving its network and launching new services, such as high-speed Internet access. The company projects revenue growth of about 4 to 4.5 percent this year.

"More services such as incoming caller ID and short-message services will be added because we feel this area will really expand from now on. We now have about 1.2 million lines outside Bangkok but have plans to add about 300,000 more this year, mainly for corporate customers," Pisit said. (TNA)

Bangchak Petroleum may split businesses to privatize

20 billion baht debt to be restructured

As suggested by the Finance Ministry, debt-ridden Bangchak Petroleum looks likely to split its businesses into retail oil and refinery to allow a debt restructuring and privatization plan go through. Deputy finance minister Varathep Rattanakorn said the concerned government agencies will help the company to refinance its debts. Loans to be acquired from local financial institutions must be guaranteed by the Finance Ministry.

Bangchak Petroleum is attempting to refinance and restructure its 20 billion baht of debt. The Thai government holds 47.87 percent of Bangchak, through the Finance Ministry, PTT owns 24.3 percent and Krung Thai Bank owns 7.91 percent.

Bangchak Petroleum president Narong Boonyasanguan said, "The firm suffers from a lack of effective financial structure which has not been properly addressed."

Bangchak presently has a payable interest burden of 1.3 billion baht a year from an outstanding debt of about 20 billion baht with an interest rate of 6.3% to 6.5% per year. (TNA)