C O-PREMIER Prince Norodom Ranariddh's call for local technocrats to investigate the possibility of a Cambodian stock exchange is, according to some in financial advisory circles, a little premature.
"You can't be serious," said one Western analyst when asked what problems might yet have to be overcome.
"There is no infrastructure, no relevant laws, most of the companies that might be big enough aren't even privatized yet, let alone being able to be listed on a stock exchange.
"Vietnam is only now considering a stock exchange and that economy is vibrant and robust compared to this, and even the Vietnamese are still looking at 18 months down the track. Cambodia should look to get a half-way decent commodities exchange first."
Sok Hach, an adviser at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, confirmed Prince Ranariddh had asked for a stock exchange study to be done. He said though it was a good idea, there were "many, many things to do first."
There had to be a code of commerce and an accounting law, "then we have to have private companies in Cambodia" and laws and regulations for those, he said.
When asked if there were any companies that might be able to list on a new stock exchange, Sok Hach said "that might be a little too soon."
Cambodian companies do not yet compile and produce end-of-year annual accounts. Therefore indicators such as profitability, reserves, income, expenditure, stockholding, trading and worth could not be known.
Former Finance Minister Sam Rainsy had decreed that for the first time companies should report their 1994 result in annual accounts early next year. Sok Hach said new minister Keat Chhon was likely to continue that policy.
Under Cambodia's economic restructuring program with the International Monetary Fund, the government's 100 or so state-owned enterprises(SOEs) should be privatized by 1996.
The country's real potential wealth and candidates for listing under some future stock exchange lie among them.
For instance, the Public Works ministry has 14 SOEs, employing 2,262 people. Included are Phnom Penh Construction and Kampong Cham Construction.
5,388 people are employed by nine SOEs in transportation, including 2,308 in the railways.
The Agriculture Ministry is one of the biggest employers, having 17,390 workers and the lucrative rubber plantations in its portfolio.
Possibly the wealthiest SOEs might come from the Ministry of Commerce.
Potential private companies include CKC, which imports and exports fuel; Kampexim, which trades rubber; and other large trading companies in food, agriculture and forestry.
At present, there might only be few private companies - perhaps in hotels, cigarette manufacture and the food industry - sophisticated enough to consider public trading, sources say.
Sok Hach said while a stock exchange was a very good idea, many things would have to be sorted out over the next two years and foreign help and expertise was vital.
Another Western analyst said that Cambodia did seem to be committed to the idea of a stock exchange, but it was unlikely to be realized for between eight to 10 years.
"They need to prove political stability first, then solve their security problems," he said.
Only after that could Cambodia look to begin the lengthy processes that would eventually lead to a stock exchange, he said.
"There will have to be at least two years of 'good news' coming out of Cambodia before any trading confidence from foreign businesses is engendered," he said.