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Monday, September 29, 2008
The security guard tagged us. Then the assistant led us into Parliament. We went up two flights of stairs, past some enormous oil paintings, and into a conference room. We sat down in leather chairs at a long wooden table. There were microphones in front of each chair...
We waited for the politician to join us.
Last week DailyWealth Editor in Chief Brian Hunt and I went into Thailand's parliament building and met with Thailand's "shadow" finance minister, Korn Chatikavanij.
The Democrats – Korn's party – are not in power. That's why he's only the shadow finance minister. If the Democrats win the next election, then Korn likely becomes the ruling finance minister.
Korn went to Oxford University. When he was 24, he set up a brokerage firm in Bangkok. Korn grew his company into one of the largest securities firms in Thailand. In 2000, JPMorgan bought the company. Korn headed JPMorgan's Thai operations for four years and then entered politics.
Thailand was once the hottest emerging-market investment. Between 1987 and 1994, the Thai stock market rose from 200 to 1,800. Then in 1994, a financial crisis hit Thailand, and the stock market fell back to 200 by 1998.
Thailand's stock market bounced back, reaching 900. But in the past two years, political chaos struck. The country has gone through a military coup and two dissolved governments. Last month, Thailand declared a state of emergency after political violence erupted in Bangkok. Weakness in Asian stock markets and Thailand's political mess have pushed the Thai stock market down 32% since May. It's now close to 600.
We asked Korn about his chances of becoming finance minister soon. "Not good," he told us. "[My party] is not doing well."
But Korn's a big believer in deregulation and free markets. If his party does make it into power, it'll be a huge bullish sign for Thai stocks.
We also asked Korn about Myanmar. Myanmar is next to Thailand to the west. In my Wednesday column, I wrote about the investment opportunity there. Here's what he told us...
Korn's probably right. Myanmar isn't an imminent investment opportunity. But one day it will be. And I'm going to keep my eye on it.
He was humble and thoughtful... and had the right ideas about turning Thailand's economy around. The country would be very lucky to have Korn in charge of their financial policy.I've met one other big-time politician in my life... the No. 3 guy in Paraguay's government. He didn't impress me at all. He couldn't even speak English. Korn was a different story.
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China Southern Airlines (ZNH)... our old whipping boy