Thailand Smiles on Private Equity

In a bid to promote growth in its SME (small and medium enterprises) sector, Thailand’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has loosened regulations to promote the growth of private equity and venture capital funds to invest in SMEs.

Among others, the SEC has plans to offer capital tax gains exemptions to PE firms which back “government-supported businesses”. These are companies which are “technology-based, environmentally friendly and seen to enhance national competitiveness.”

Some observations:

1. The results remain to be seen, but it is refreshing to see governments looking to alternative investment methods such as PE to promote national objectives. In a toxic political environment where private equity is painted as being remorseless job-destroyers (Exhibit A: Mitt Romney), Thailand is pointing the way to a partnership model where risk capital is employed to achieve national objectives. Rather than stick to the old methods, the Thai government’s courage to experiment is impressive.

2. Private equity may turn out to be the best thing for SMEs, in terms of ensuring financial discipline and imposing focus and urgency. Malaysia’s own experience of state support for SMEs hasn’t always been a happy one. Stories abound of faceless bureaucrats and middle managers who turn away genuine entrepreneurs due to lack of paperwork or inability to meet arbitrary requirements. At the same time, there are also many instances of entrepreneurs who take state money and have little to show for it. By tying SME performance to the stringent returns requirements of PE firms, we might see a new funding model for SMEs where there is greater alignment of interest for SMEs to grow and thrive.

3. The proof is in the pudding. Of course, the results are what counts at the end of the day. While the Thai government’s new approach must certainly be applauded, the measures should be judged by the results they get. This is very much the mindset behind PE, and we will look to see how Thailand progresses on this initiative with great interest.