The GCC is expected to be the home to over 150 new IPOs during the upcoming two years, according to industry reports. Morgan Stanley predicts that Saudi Arabia alone is set to launch at least 110 initial public offerings over the next two years. In parallel, the number of IPOs in the Levant and North Africa region is expected to increase threefold in the same period.
In 2007 the GCC’s compounded value of funds raised through IPOs was $10.5 billion, up by 40% when compared to 2006. The action was split mostly between the UAE, which came in first place raising $5.1 billion, and Saudi Arabia, where $4.81 billion have been raised. Qatar followed as distant third with $389 million, then Oman with $156 million and Bahrain with $69 million. As such, market observers say that Gulf and foreign investors alike continue to see the region’s IPOs market as a “reliable” and a “safe” place to earn high returns with minimal risk.
The month of March supported that sentiment as it witnessed considerable activities in the IPO market when the UAE-based Ajman Bank, a shariah-compliant concern, was over 85 times oversubscribed when it closed its IPO in the first week of March. Newly established Ajman Bank, whose largest single shareholder is the government of Ajman in the northern UAE, offered 55% of its shares to the public in February, for $.27 each, valuing the bank at $272.3 million.
Offering 55% of equity and shariah-compliance as well was the IPO of new UAE insurer, Takaful Al-Emarat Insurance. UAE-based Al-Buhaira Nation
Insurance Co. or Abnic, and Austrian insurance leader, Uniqa Group, announced their upstart joint venture in mid March and said at the same time that the new firm will conduct an IPO from March 23. The firm will operate out of Sharjah and the target for funds to be raised through the IPO was around $22.5 million.
Saudi Arabia saw a generous number of new IPO announcements in March starting with Muhammad Al-Mojil Group (MMG), a construction services firm, which plans to offer 30% of its shares in an IPO scheduled to be launched on May 3, 2008, and close on May 12. Although the company did not disclose the amount it wants to raise, the IPO is expected to generate a lot of interest since the construction sector is a favorite among Saudi citizens. Another hush-hush IPO announcement came from Medina Cement, which plans to sell portions of its shares in IPO. But the company did not reveal the number of shares that would be offered and the amount it wants to raise. Medina Cement was established in 2005 with a capital of $146.9 million, divided into 55 million shares with a par value of $2.67 each.
In the meantime, three Saudi insurance providers, BUPA Arabia for Cooperative Insurance, United Cooperative Assurance Co, and Saudi Reinsurance Co closed their IPOs on March 15th. The $21.3 million IPO of United Cooperative Assurance was covered 12.56 times with demand. Based on high demand for a wave of Saudi insurance IPOs in 2007, analysts had anticipated over subscription but IPO results for BUPA Arabia’s $42.7 million IPO and Saudi Reinsurance Co’s $106.7 million offering were not in by time of writing this report.
The biggest splash in IPO-related excitement for March was supplied by Zain Saudi Arabia, which debuted March 22 on the Tadawul Exchange with a 110% leap in first-day trading, although the market overall was reeling from negative sentiment. The kingdom’s third mobile phone operator completed the subscription period for its $1.86 billion offer of 50% equity in February.
In the Levant region and specifically in Jordan, Amman-based Sabaek for Investments, a financial services firm, invited subscriptions to an IPO between March 16 and March 30. The company announced in early March that it will offer over 26% of its shares to raise around $5 million to finance operating and investment activities.
It is not difficult to understand the rationale of local and international investors’ interest in the region’s IPO market. Local experts say the recent record oil prices highs in the $110 range will improve liquidity even further and local investors have no choice but to find a new home for their cash. This home, experts agree, will be mostly in regional markets.
Executive spoke to several local experts who gave the indication that the continuing economic spiral in financial markets in the United States and some European countries would encourage the launch of share floats in the region and push investors to park their cash into those companies. This pattern is not unrestrainedly beneficial for the region’s economies, but this is the way it must happen. Oil cash inflows must be put back into the land where the oil came from and the emerging economies of the region must now move on to the final phase of becoming fully developed.