Pop quiz: Which country is likely to have the fastest-growing economy in Southeast Asia this year? Indonesia, the region’s emerging powerhouse? Myanmar, investors’ flavor of the month as it opens to the Western world? Or maybe Thailand, which is rebounding nicely from last year’s epic floods?
Wrong on all the above. The correct answer is Laos, which for years has been overlooked as too small, too complicated, and in many cases just too weird to merit serious attention from mainstream investors.
Yet no economy in Southeast Asia appears to be more immune to this year’s global economic slowdown. Laos is on track to post an impressive 8.3% growth rate in 2012, according to the International Monetary Fund, which would almost certainly put it at the top of the table for Southeast Asia given what’s happening elsewhere in the region.
Cambodia is on track to come in second with 6.5% growth, the IMF says, followed by Myanmar at 6.2%. Indonesia and Thailand are roughly in the same ballpark.