At the end of 2023 and throughout the first month of 2024, B2B Cambodia asked various experts and members of the Kingdom’s business community to share their reflections on the past year, as well as what developments they expect to see in 2024. Here is a summary of the things they had to say.
Challenges Across All Of Cambodia’s Core Sectors And Industries
“2023 was tough, probably one of the toughest years in two decades,” said Stephen Higgins, Managing Partner at Mekong Strategic Capital. “Whether it was the bank sector, the property sector, the tourist sector – even beer sales were down, so 2023 was bad.”
Christophe Forsinetti, Chairman of OBOR Management, similarly noted broad struggles across all the main sectors of Cambodia’s economy, including exports, agriculture, tourism and real estate.
Fortunately, not all is doom and gloom, as Higgins noted that the Kingdom started to see an uptick in some measures and a return of liquidity in the market, therefore, providing a more optimistic outlook for 2024.
Forsinetti also expects to see improvements across different sectors in the coming months, particularly in tourism.
“In any case, I’m always bullish for Cambodia just because we’re coming from far, and we’re one of the fastest growing countries on the planet,” said Forsinetti. “We’re in a very dynamic region and we have some interesting drivers both geopolitically and economically in the region.”
Slow Recovery From The Effects Of The COVID-19 Pandemic
Several of our interviewees described 2023 as a year of continued recovery from the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Devin Barta, President of the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Cambodia, described 2023 as a challenging year for the Kingdom, but one with evidence of recovery among certain industries.
Dr. Ben Li, Chairman of the Cambodia Chinese Commerce Association (CCCA), spoke of the hardships faced by Chinese businessmen, particularly as the economy in mainland China has yet to fully recover from the after-effects of the pandemic, therefore, slowing down the return of Chinese business and investment to Cambodia.
Dr. Stefan Hanselmann, Head of GIZ-ICONE, also noted that Cambodia’s “post-pandemic recovery did not necessarily materialise the way everybody was hoping for,” leading to many sectors of the economy falling short of their projected goals.
On a more positive note, Priya Thachadi, Co-Founder and CEO of Villgro Philippines, said that 2023, as, arguably, the first year where the world fully emerged out of heavy pandemic restrictions, offered a chance for businesses to implement many of the lessons learnt during the pandemic to try and grow in the context of the ‘new normal’.
Cambodia’s Real Estate Sector In 2023 Proved Especially Challenging For Landlords And Sellers
Tom O’Sullivan, CEO & Director of Realestate.com.kh, acknowledged that Cambodia’s real estate market in 2023 was not as good as what people originally expected it to be. However, in a more positive outlook for buyers and renters, he pointed out that prices of real estate in Cambodia had become a lot more approachable and perhaps even more aligned with the realities of the local market.
Lawrence Lennon, Managing Director of CBRE Cambodia, further corroborated this analysis explaining that an increase in supply and decrease in demand in the years of the pandemic caused the situation observed in 2023.
“Since 2019, if we’re looking at the office market, the retail market, and the condo market, all the supply has doubled if not tripled, so it’s great if you’re a consumer, buyer, or a renter… but the reality is if you’re on the sell-side, if you’re a landlord, it’s very challenging,” said Lennon.
Marc Townsend, Chairman of CBRE Cambodia, mentioned that Cambodia did still see a number of new offices and retail centres open in 2023, but the demand from previous years failed to materialise. Providing a more cautious outlook for 2024, Townsend said he expects many of the trends seen in 2023 to continue, especially as there are less new companies coming to establish themselves in Cambodia, so those launching new office spaces will still be fighting for the same tenants.
“The private equity guys love it when things are bad because they can buy in at the bottom of the market. The occupiers like a challenging market because they can take a better space in a newer building at less cost. The poor old developers who’ve had a great time the last five years are scratching their heads asking – ‘what have I got to do to get back on that profit margin?’” said Townsend.
PLAYLIST: watch our video shorts of experts and members of the business community sharing their reflections on 2023 and expectations for 2024:
On The Bright Side: Optimism About The New Government And Cambodia’s Future
Anthony Galliano, Group CEO of CIM Holding, more optimistically reflected on 2023 as “a year of transition and hope,” citing the newly elected government’s commitment to developing Cambodia into a regional economic powerhouse as a very positive sign for the future.
Hanselmann similarly expressed that the introduction of the new Pentagonal Strategy shows that the Cambodian government is taking charge to proactively manage the country’s transformation process through what is still a difficult period in the country’s economy.
Iv Ranarith, the Chairman of the Cambodia Association of Securities Firms (CASF), largely differed from the viewpoints of our other interviewees, as the securities market in Cambodia made significant strides.
“It turns out 2023 was probably our best year ever in the market,” said Ranarith. “Of course, I recognise the challenges being faced out there in the business community, but we had two of the largest players in the industry, Cellcard and MJQ, list on the exchange. We formed the [Cambodia Association of Securities Firms], and, of course, we had some bond transactions, so we collectively had the most number of public issues in the market [in 2023].”
Thomas Schings, Senior Manager at the recently launched Royal Group Exchange (RGX), also shared a broadly positive view of Cambodia’s market and developments in 2023, particularly in reflection of the global geopolitical context.
“Over the last three or four years, including 2023, we’ve had a turbulent time everywhere in the world, not just in Cambodia, but that said, especially if I look to the West, parts of Africa and even the East, there are a lot of issues occurring and a lot of turbulences which Cambodia actually doesn’t face, so I’m very optimistic about Cambodia,” said Schings.
2024: A Year Of Opportunities And Promising Developments In The Kingdom
Babulal Parihar, President of the Indian Business Chamber in Cambodia (IBCC), expressed broad optimism about the future of Cambodia’s economy, citing the growth he’s observed residing in the Kingdom for over nine years.
“We should not only look at Cambodia as a population of 17 million people, but we should be looking at it as a country [that acts as a gateway] to the whole of ASEAN, which is 600 million people and the third largest population of the world,” said Parihar. “There are many good and strong points which I believe we should be focusing on, for example Cambodia is the only country which allows 100% shareholding to foreign nationals, its geographical location, its deep sea port… it makes Cambodia a unique place.”
Regarding the Kingdom’s burgeoning securities market, Ranarith said that the CASF is “looking forward to a very exciting 2024, with the groundwork done [in 2023],” and he expects to see quite a number of new companies listing and going public on the exchange.
Galliano continued to stress his hope in Cambodia’s new government leadership saying they have “some fantastic policies in place” to stimulate a full economic recovery in 2024.
Barta similarly noted that there is a lot of hope going into 2024 based on forecasts made by international bodies like the World Bank. “The seeds are being sown now,” he added, explaining that he expects to see a stronger focus on education as teaching new skills can help to bring in more advanced industries and manufacturing to Cambodia, thus creating more jobs and driving future growth.
Dr. Li shared that he foresees all major pillars of the country’s economy, including real estate, manufacturing and agriculture, to rise up again, with the firm belief that there is a “golden ten years” in Cambodia’s future.
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