Philippines tries new tack: healthy man of Asia

Mon Feb 20, 2012 6:39am EST
 
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By Rosemarie Francisco and Jason Szep

MANILA (Reuters) - It is getting busy in Cristino Naguiat's spacious 5th-floor office overlooking Manila Bay.

The chairman of gambling regulator Philippine Amusement & Gaming Corp is fielding calls and booking appointments to meet possible investors in a sprawling gambling and entertainment project his government hopes will rival Las Vegas in five years.

Among them: Casino billionaire Francis Lui of Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd and executives from Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd, controlled by Australian billionaire James Packer and the son of Macau gambling mogul Stanley Ho.

"There is growing interest. The fact that in just two weeks I have had two visitors from big companies in Macau says something about it," said Naguiat, a veteran of the gaming industry.

"Investors are having a second look at the Philippines. The fundamentals are very good."

The Philippines, the perennial "sick man of Asia," has rarely looked healthier and investors are placing their bets.

Its stock market, the best performer in Asia last year, is up nearly 13 percent this year to a record high Monday. Benchmark 10-year government bond yields are down about 44 basis points, as prices jump. Overseas buying of Philippine stocks hit a record $938 million in the fourth quarter, and the pace has quickened this year, according to TrimTabs Investment Research.

Economic growth is projected at about 4 percent despite global headwinds, about middle for the region. Easing inflation, among the lowest in Southeast Asia at 3.9 percent in January, gives the central bank room to cut rates by at least another quarter-point this year. Infrastructure spending is rising.   Continued...

 
Cebu Pacific airlines cabin crew perform a safety demonstration routine during a ceremony inside a trading floor of the stock exchange in Makati's financial district of Manila in this October 26, 2010 file photo. The Philippines, the perennial "sick man of Asia", has rarely looked healthier and investors are placing their bets. Its stock market, the best performer in Asia last year, is up nearly 13 percent this year to a record high on Monday.  REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco/Files