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Tuesday, 11 July, 2000, 17:24 GMT 18:24 UK
How to start a stock exchange
The Mongolian Stock Exchange goes hi-tech
The Mongolian Stock Exchange goes hi-tech
By Sian Griffiths in Ulan Bator

Mongolia's economy may be in crisis but Mongolians can be proud of their stock exchange, one of the smallest and newest in Asia.

Sukhbaatar Square
Sukhbaatar Square: Ulan Bator is a very isolated capital city
The Mongolian Stock Exchange (MSE) is in the country's isolated capital city, Ulan Bator. Its closest neighbouring cities - Irkutsk to the North in Russia and Datong to the south in China - are both two hours away by plane.

When the country's Leninist-Marxist regime was swept away in 1991, the parliament - the Ikh Khural - wasted no time in setting up the state-run institution.

First, the government introduced a mass privatisation programme of state-owned industries.

Then legislators passed a law which gave people the right to own companies. Under the previous regime, all companies would have been owned by the state.

Currently, many foreign and domestic investors are looking at shares of Gobi Company

B Tumurbaatar, Mongolian Stock Exchange
That cleared the way for the MSE, one of those most capitalist of institutions, to be established.

However, it took another four years to actually prepare for cash trading. Then the MSE really came into its own.

A home for the MSE

The Mongolian Stock Exchange
The Mongolian Stock Exchange used to be the children's cinema
The Mongolian Stock Exchange was in need of a home. A small but elegant peach-coloured building was acquired in Sukhbhaatar Square in the centre of Ulan Bator - or UB as international visitors refer to it.

The premises until then had housed the children's cinema. The parliament - located on the other side of the square - could now keep a close eye on its new creation.

The screen and seats were ripped out and a trading floor set up in their place.

The floor now buzzes with activity, though only for an hour and a half each day between 1100 and 1230. A clerk sits amid the stock brokers' who share desks and newly installed computers.

The day's trading is recorded on a school-style chalkboard at the centre of the room.

Herdsmen mingle with cityslickers in Ulan Bataar
The old meets the new: Herdsmen mingle with cityslickers in Ulan Bataar
The lobby area - about the size of a doctor's reception - is a busy thoroughfare where men in suits mingle with herdsman in their traditional dress.

Since the privatisation of their herds, these nomadic Mongolians now have a stake in the stock market.

The herdsmen make the often arduous trek into Ulan Bator by horse - through rivers, streams, rough countryside and - if they are lucky - on a dirt road.

Mr B Tumurbaatar, spokesman for the MSE, is proud of the MSE's growth.

"There are totally 142 trading brokers employed on the Mongolian capital market".

A share for everyone

Inside the MSE
Inside the MSE: The day's trading is recorded on a chalkboard
The MSE is essentially a community affair. The Mongolian Government was keen that the MSE would belong to the people.

It distributed 13 billion Mongolian Togrogs or about $1.3m worth of vouchers to nearly 2 million of its citizens.

The criteria? Mongolians had to be aged one or older.

The idea was to give ordinary people a share in the new privatised companies.

All Mongolians have a stake in the MSE
All Mongolians have a stake in the MSE
The list of the top 75 companies is an eclectic mix and includes the State Department Store, a relic from the Communist era, as well as one of Mongolia's most expensive hotels, the Ulan Bator Hotel.

A concerned-looking statue of Vladimir Lenin still stands tall outside of the hotel.

Companies on the rise include Juulchin, the country's leading tourist company which is benefiting from the surge in eco-tourism.

Mr Tuurbaatar has been kind enough to offer what he think is the hottest tip for the new investor.

Lenin statue
A statue of Lenin in front of the Ulan Bator hotel, one of the MSE's top 75 companies
"Currently, many foreign and domestic investors are looking at shares of Gobi Company," he advises.

"It is producing and exporting cashmere products."

Gobi of course refers to the desert, the world's second largest, which covers much of Mongolia.

As the MSE heads into the stormy waters of capitalism, one wonders what Lenin would have made of it all.

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