Investing in Cambodia

DISCLAIMER: This public document is not a solicitation for investments in any particular fund or investment. It is not meant as advice or counsel. I do not personally have a fund set up and am not representing any particular investment. This document is for informational purposes only.

Background
My name is David Siegel. I am a 50-year-old Internet entrepreneur living in New York City. I have been a limited partner in three venture funds and two hedge funds. I have written three best-selling books about the Internet and am currently working on my fourth. I make a living through my investments. During the summers, I travel. This past June, I went to Cambodia, to see the famous Angkor Wat temple complex. While I was there, I noticed business was booming, so I grabbed a real-estate agent and started looking around Siem Reap, the town near the temples. I learned about the real-estate and tourist boom there. When I got back to Phonm Penh, I learned about the economic and building boom in Cambodia, driven by four factors:

  • A stable, pro-business government
  • Booming tourism from Asia and Europe
  • Expansion of the garment industry driven by new economic free-trade zones
  • A focus on agricultural exports

My interest is in the tourist-driven business expansion. There are three main areas of tourist activity:

  • Siem Reap , the town in the north near the Angkor Wat temple complex. This town has exploded in the past five years, from a few hotels to perhaps a hundred or more hotels. The airport receives international flights from as far away as South Korea. Golf courses and resorts are coming in. Real estate is overvalued. More at .
  • Phonm Penh , the capital, is in the center of the country. It has about 1.3M people and has been experiencing double-digit economic growth in the past few years. Office and condo towers are coming in. There are six satellite cities planned. Several are funded and one is very much under construction. I toured Camko city and saw about 25 high-rise apartment buildings being built by an army of workers.
  • Sihanoukville and the South is where the beaches are. The new Sihanoukville airport comes online in late 2008 and the big jumbo jets will start landing in spring. The South is going through an enormous boom right now, even while the rest of the world’s economy is at a standstill. Touring Sihanoukville, you see a third-world village on the verge of becoming the Las Vegas of the coast: dozens of casinos are coming, and the hilltops are scarred by machines installing thousands and thousands of condos. There are so many condo developments going in that the streets are clogged with construction trucks. Many resorts are targeting the outlying islands, where the beaches are pristine, the water crystal clear, and the land untouched. Billions of dollars have been committed. I am personally buying one hectare on one of the islands about an hour north of Sihanoukville by boat.

Cambodia’s economy has been growing at 7-9% per year for several years. 2009 was difficult, but there is still plenty of cash in the country. It should rebound fairly quickly. The economy is dollar based. Business is done on a cash basis – local bank financing hardly exists. The economy is affected by the credit crisis but not as much as most other countries. Tourism is expected to double in the next two years and probably double again in the four years after that. Many of the landings will happen at the new airport in the South, near Sihanoukville, which is where the beaches are. Essentially, what has already happened to Thailand in the last 20 years will happen to Cambodia in the next 5 years. I have already set up a bank account and hired an independent audit firm to watch over my projects. There are also two good legal firms in Phnom Penh run by Americans and other very qualified lawyers.

Overall, it looks like the financial crisis may provide a buying opportunity. As a result of my investments, I already have two Phnom Penh law firms working for me. I have a banking relationship and can get due-diligence done through various auditors.

I have not formed a fund for investing in Cambodia. Instead, I am investing my own money. I am looking for other interested investors who would like to discuss investing together.

Existing Cambodia Funds

Funds we visited on our recent trip:

Leopard Cambodia
Cambodia Investment and Development Fund
Brothers Investment Group

I also met with several individual Cambodians who are making investments and finding deals. Other Cambodian investment sites include:

http://www.cambodianonline.net/cambodiainvesthome.htm

http://www.investincambodia.com/

http://royalgroup.com.kh/

Opportunities in Cambodia

In October 2008, I went back to look for business opportunities, and I found more good investments than I could make. I have invested in a new factory that sells building materials to the construction trade. That investment is going very well.

I have also purchased a hectare on a very nice beach near a future resort.

I toured an area that will soon become a getaway spot for people living in Phnom Penh. It’s hard to believe, but there are many rich Cambodians now, and they are going upscale quickly. They are buying expensive condos, German cars, and beach villas. The piece of land I saw was one of the last really good quality mainland beaches. We saw 13 hectares (one hectare is about 3 football fields, or 2.5 acres) at a very attractive price. I will probably be too late to get it, but if I can act soon, perhaps not. I did see another 2 hectares near the beach in Sihanoukville that was at a very attractive price and may still be available.

Through other contacts in the country, I am finding deals on companies and land. I now have an opportunity for an exceptional investment that should return well over 50% for the next 10 years. Please contact me if you are interested.

Strategy

As you can see, I am personally investing much of my money in Cambodia. I am also interested in raising capital to take advantage of the opportunities there. The fund would be based off-shore. My first choice would be to raise a general-purpose fund whose goal is to return most of the investment capital inside of three years and hang on for the upside in the 3-6 year time frame. I would primarily buy real estate, but I also want to take advantage of other private-equity opportunities. In some cases, I would be able to partner with the existing funds in Phnom Penh and let them lead the deals. I am particularly interested in providing solar power to communities and factories, and I would love to partner with some of the existing funds to focus on this. I don’t like development and buildings, as too many things can go wrong and too many eggs are in one basket. I don’t mind speculating on raw land, but I prefer to sell to developers than to do development. I may do some subdividing, as it’s a good way to get early capital returns and hang on for the long run. My strategy is to look for for ground-floor and first-mover opportunities, where I get a great deal on something, rather than making other people wealthy. Because I am actively involved in one business there, I am in touch with many of the players in the country and have a ground-level view of new opportunities.

Risks

The Cambodian market has risks, of course.  My expectation is that the market will recover quickly and now is the time to be investing, especially with the world financial contraction affecting other investments, and that about five years from now most of the profits will be made and prices will overshoot. There are tremendous deals to be had in Cambodia at the moment.

The opportunity is here now. If you don’t want to miss it, contact me.