Investors Warm to UAE Stocks

09/23/2013 12:00 pm EST


Investor interest in the UAE has increased at a rapid rate, ever since the announcement of a number of coming IPOs, writes Hadeel al Sayegh, of The National.

A flurry of initial public offerings is planned for the coming months amid ripe valuations and investor appetite for UAE stocks.

This month, the Bank of London & The Middle East announced an intent to list its shares on the Nasdaq Dubai in October, the bourse's first listing in almost five years.

The news was then followed by two IPO revelations this week—Just Falafel is considering a 25% listing of the food chain's shares on the Nasdaq Dubai and Damac Properties is eyeing a London share sale.

The renewed confidence among UAE companies illustrates a marked change in attitude towards raising capital from equity markets.

“More investors are turning to investment banks to take their companies public,” said Mohammed Ali Yasin, the managing director at National Bank of Abu Dhabi's brokerage arm. “Valuations have become much more interesting and give room for founders to realize good value from selling their companies.”

UAE shares traded at 10 times earnings about a year ago. For a company to go public, they would have to be valued at five to seven times earnings, “which is not exciting or interesting for founders of those companies”, said Mr. Yasin.

Today, the ratio is 12 to 13 times earnings. “That means IPOs can come to the market with 10 times earnings. It gives the founders incentive to spin off their shares.”

Equity markets have rallied over the past year, as the nation's laggard stocks have come to better reflect the UAE's strong economic fundamentals.

The Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange General Index has gained about 45% this year. The Dubai Financial Market General Index has risen almost 65%.

There have been few new listings from UAE companies in recent years, as low valuations and thin trading volumes deterred companies from going public.

“Since the 2008 global financial crisis, there was no market at all for IPOs,” said Fathi Ben Grira, the chief executive at Mena Corp in Abu Dhabi. “We reached a bottom when trading values touched Dh15 million per day. How can you launch an IPO with that? You can't sell it.”

In the wider region, investors are considering reductions in their holdings of Asiacell, Iraq's publicly listed mobile services operator, as a second telecoms share sale in the country catches their attention.

The initial public offering of Zain Iraq, which the company hopes will raise “north of US$1 billion”, is expected to take place next year. Oman's Sembcorp Salalah Power & Water Company said it would close its IPO, in which it is selling 35% of the company, on this Thursday.

Saudi Arabia's Prince Alwaleed bin Talal said he would hold his stake in Twitter when it goes public, which he said he expected to take place later this year or early next year.

Read more from The National here…

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