The new issues are likely to mobilise some $3.1 billion this year compared to less than a billion in 2003, according to
analysts.

It is estimated that by the end of 2005, some $9 billion will be raised through several initial public offerings (IPOs) in the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

"The high oil prices over the past three years have brought a lot of revenues into the region, and this high domestic liquidity is looking for investment opportunities that are coming in the form of equities," Ziad Dabbas, who heads the capital markets group of the National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD), said.

"Share-dealing has made big leaps across the Gulf states due to high profits of the trading firms as a result of an upswing in the economy, strong oil prices and high public and private spending," he said.

IPOs oversubscribed

Some share yields have exceeded 4%, while interest rates on deposits do not exceed 1.5%. And the recent IPOs have all been heavily over-subscribed.

In the UAE alone, the IPOs of Amlak Finance, Finance House and Arabian Technical Construction were oversubscribed 33, 78 and 64 times, respectively.

In Saudi Arabia, the Sahara Petrochemical Company's IPO was over-subscribed 22 times. Etihad Etisalat Consortium, the second mobile phone operator in the kingdom, raised $267 million after recently floating 20% of its stock.

Some Gulf investors are wary of
their funds in the US being frozen

"The stampede by investors for shares is also to take advantage of record corporate performance and the psychological fears of investing abroad," Saudi economist Ihsan bu Hulaiga said.

"The primary market activity has been spurred by the secondary market performances in the past three to four years. Most listed companies have posted impressive profits with healthy returns.

"However, post-September 11 fears still persist and Gulf investors now prefer to invest at home rather than in the US," Bu Hulaiga added.

Appetite for stocks

NBAD's Dabbas said capital flow from GCC states to other markets is very slow.

"There is this sentiment, not only in the Gulf but across the Arab world, about investing in domestic markets. Investors fear their money could at any time be frozen in the US or some other market," he said.

The second Saudi mobile phone
operator just raised $267 million

Buoyed by the success of the recent IPOs and given the growing appetite for stocks, a string of new IPOs are in the offing. Of these, two in the UAE have already opened - the $18.75 million Salam Bank and $224 million Addar Real Estate Company IPOs.

Two more due to be staged in the UAE before the year-end are $300 million by Damas Jewellery and $100 by Emirates Foodstuffs and Mineral Water.

In early 2005, there will also be the partial sale of Kuwait Finance House, the main Islamic bank in the oil-rich emirate, totalling $1 billion. Also expected is a $400 million IPO by Saudi Arabia's Al-Bilad Bank.

Next year there will be increased opportunities in the Gulf, with more IPOs and at least eight planned privatisation projects totalling some $2.6 billion set to take place.

State-owned Qatar Gas, Bahrain Telecommunications Co and
courier major Aramex are all selling stakes.

Deregulation

"The resurgence of IPOs in the Gulf markets is the by-product of several factors," Lama Abu Ghali, senior capital markets analyst at ABQ Zawya, a Dubai-based financial and stock markets research group, said.

"The current economic optimism and strong performance of the Arab stock markets ... has boosted investor confidence in the domestic stock market"

Lama Abu Ghali,
Senior Capital Markets Analyst,
ABQ Zawya, Dubai

"The current economic optimism and strong performance of the Arab stock markets ... has boosted investor confidence in the domestic stock market and increased their appetite for listed shares, including new issues," she said.

"Secondly, the regulatory changes expected to take place bode well for the future of the IPO market. Gulf markets are awash with liquidity and companies have sensed the sentiments of investors who are starved of investment opportunities.

"Hence, we are seeing so many IPOs. And for companies to compete and be well capitalised there is no way but to increase their capital through public issues," Abu Ghali said.