Myanmar launched its first stock exchange with just one listed company Friday in the hopes of boosting the country's economy as it emerges from decades of isolationist military rule.
The Southeast Asian nation is in the midst of a dramatic transition from a graft-soaked backwater to a vibrant emerging economy, with Aung San Suu Kyi's party days away from forming a civilian government.
The Yangon Stock Exchange officially opened for trading, 20 years after it had first been conceived, with the clang of a bell and cheers from a business elite who are hungry for investment.
Maung Maung Thein, head of Myanmar's Securities and Exchange Commission, said it marked a "great day" for the country, which would now leave the tiny club of nations without a functioning stock exchange.
"We can now proudly and mightily proclaim to the world that we are no longer a backward nation," he told an assembled crowd of business leaders at the YSX's restored colonial era building in downtown Yangon.
Suu Kyi's incoming government will next week replace a transitional administration of retired generals who oversaw five years of political and economic reforms that pumped life back into the resource-rich country of 51 million people.
But significant hurdles lie ahead in a nation that still lacks a credit rating and is grappling with entrenched corruption and widespread poverty.
YSX started trading with just a single firm, First Myanmar Investment, which is one of the country's largest companies with stakes in financial services, real estate, aviation and health industries.
With its sister firm Yoma Strategic Holdings listed in Singapore, and with around 6,800 shareholders through an in-house system, FMI already has experience of stock trading and open investor relations, a rarity in Myanmar.
- 'Good for our country' -
According to the YSX official website shares closed on Friday up 19.2 percent at a value of 31,000 kyat ($25.6), with a trading volume of 112,845 shares.
"We look forward to a buoyant economy and we look forward to a robust Yangon Stock Exchange that will help many companies in Myanmar access capital and build their companies," said Myanmar tycoon Serge Pun, who runs FMI, at the opening ceremony.
Several other firms have been granted provisional approval to list, including the Japan-backed Thilawa Special Economic Zone, but have yet to finalise their preparations.
State-owned Myanma Economic Bank has a controlling 51 percent stake in YSX, with the remainder divided between Japanese partners the Japan Exchange Group and Daiwa Institute of Research.
The bourse is currently open only to domestic investors and firms, although there are plans to allow foreign involvement in the future.
Officials hope to attract between 30 and 50 firms to list in the next five years.
The bourse has been greeted with enthusiasm by local investors.
But with little practical experience of shareholding, dozens of people every week have flocked to classes run by YSX to learn about the risks and rewards of trading.
"I have learned a lot from books because I think that a stock market is good for our country," said Soe Myint, 64, a retired officer from the Ministry of Energy who had arrived at the YSX hoping to buy FMI shares.