Wednesday, 23 June 2010

The Gulf Arab countries join the ‘real’ world of investing

It's not news until the global media reports it. An accident at a nuclear plant in a former Soviet Republic, killing of civilians by NATO soldiers in Afghanistan or oil leaks in the Nigeria delta are all absent from the agenda until the mainstream media decides they are newsworthy.
Of course, as news consumers all of us are guilty of wearing blinders when it comes to the content that interests us. Silly cat videos on the internet get more hits than articles on American citizens being kept out of America by the Department of Homeland Security.
As with most things, even the news is determined by the profit motive. So it is significant that the global media, in its infinite wisdom, has concluded that the Arab Gulf stock markets are ready to graduate into the 'real' world.
The flag of the Gulf Cooperation Council, a regional grouping combining Oman, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates

CNBC, the arbiter of important global financial news, has established a regional news bureau in Bahrain (no, not Dubai!). Performance of the Saudi, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Cairo stock exchanges is reported almost as regularly as news about the Seoul, Singapore and New Zealand exchanges.
For a region that spans many countries all the way from the Maghreb in North Africa to the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states in the East it is surprising it took so long to join the 'elite CNBC Club.' Especially if one remembers that many of these countries have been amassing oil wealth since the 1980s. Some, like Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, have long been active participants in the global capital markets through their respective sovereign wealth funds – even helping to capitalize some Western banks at the height of the global financial crisis.
After years of knocking on the doors of international investors, a few Arab stock exchanges are making some headway. Egypt, devoid of serious oil wealth but the recipient of years of American largesse due to Sadat's peace agreement with Israel, has always fluttered around the fringes of the Emerging Markets universe, never quite absent but never quite completely there either.
Saudi Arabia's exchange, the largest and most liquid in the Arab world, is arguably the most important for international investors evaluating the Arab world. It's a pity the news is mainly for informational purposes – despite joining the World Trade Organization several years ago direct purchases of Saudi stocks by non-GCC nationals is not permitted yet.
Most revealing is the inclusion of the Abu Dhabi and Dubai stock exchanges. Yes, there are two main exchanges in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – something which the authorities will be wise to 'arm twist' away via a merger. The two exchanges have different investing rules and an entirely different set of listed companies.
The Sheikh Zayed Mosque located in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

While the inclusion of the two UAE exchanges demonstrates the importance of the UAE as a regional financial hub – Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain stock news is incidentals to the CNBC coverage – it also points to the obvious drawback of having two distinct exchanges competing in a small country. One larger, more cohesive exchange will not only raise the profile of the UAE but also make investing operationally much easier for all classes of investors.
Nevertheless, CNBC has started what hopefully will be the beginning of a trend within the financial news media: increased coverage of the Arab world's stock exchanges. If nothing else, the coverage will help to raise the disclosure and investor relations standards of Arab public listed companies.
How the global media will handle delicate news like financial scandals, especially those involving prominent personalities, still remains to be seen.

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