Cambodian bourse in long-awaited first day of trade

Cambodian Minister of Economy and Finance Keat Chhon (C) rings a bell during the launching ceremony at the Cambodian Securities Exchange (CSX) in Phnom Penh on April 18, 2012. The CSX finally began trading shares, nine months after it officially opened, when a water monopoly became the first firm to list

The Cambodia Securities Exchange (CSX) finally began trading shares on Wednesday nine months after it officially opened, when a water monopoly became the first firm to list.

Trading symbolically started at 09:09 am local time (0209 GMT) -- the number nine is considered lucky in Cambodia -- and ended at noon. Normal trading hours will be from 08:00 am until 11:30 am.

Cambodia launched the bourse to great fanfare in July 2011, after numerous delays because of the global financial crisis and regulatory hurdles.

But no firms were ready to list on the market -- a joint venture between the government and South Korea's stock exchange.

Now the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority (PPWSA), which was formerly fully owned by the state, is floating 13 million shares, or 15 percent of the company, starting at 6,300 riel ($1.57) per share.

The state will continue to own the remaining 85 percent.

At the close on the first day of trading, shares had climbed by almost 50 percent to 9,300 riel ($2.32) each.

The firm's Initial Public Offering (IPO) last month was 17 times oversubscribed, an indicator of strong investor appetite for the long-awaited exchange, observers said.

Cambodian Finance Minister Keat Chhon, who led the bourse's opening ceremony, hailed PPWSA's "historic" listing as "a big leap forward" for the impoverished country's economy.

"I would like to appeal to national and international investors to participate in securities trading, and provide their support to this young, but full-of-potential securities market," he said.

"I strongly believe that securities trading in Cambodia will be a success."

Two more state-owned enterprises -- Telecom Cambodia and Sihanoukville Autonomous Port -- are expected to launch their IPOs later this year.

Stock quotations for trading must be in the local currency, the riel, in line with the government's long-term goal to reduce reliance on the US dollar, which according to the Asian Development Bank makes up more than 90 percent of all currency in circulation in the country.

But for the first three years, both buyers and sellers can arrange to settle payments in dollars at their agreement, according to regulator the Securities and Exchange Commission of Cambodia (SECC).

While still among one of the world's poorest countries, Cambodia has emerged from decades of conflict as one of the region's rising economies.

It achieved 5.9 percent growth in 2010, according to government figures, while the Asian Development Bank put 2011 growth at 6.8 percent.

It remains a largely cash-only economy and a high degree of mistrust means many people hoard their money at home instead of using banks.