The start of 2010 sparked discussions on better primary market conditions in the Middle East when compared with the preceding 18 months, but hard evidence for a good year in initial public offerings has yet to emerge.
The Saudi Stock Exchange (SSE) regulators had approved three IPOs back in December, of which one, by restaurant operator Herfy, took place in January. The other two, for industrial manufacturing group Al Sorayai and for travel company Al Tayyar, have been scheduled for February 1 to February 7, and February 22 to February 28, respectively.
Subscription to the $110 million Herfy IPO for 30 percent in the company closed on January 17. Details on the share allocation and distribution rate were not available at the time of going to press. The issue price of $13.60 per share included a premium of $10.93.
The second IPO in the region was set off on January 17 by real estate developer Mazaya Qatar. With $137 million in value, the issue by an affiliate company of Kuwait’s Mazaya has faced skepticism from analysts.
Herfy’s major shareholders are Savola, the massive food conglomerate, and the Al Tayyar Travel Group, started 30 years ago as a family business. Little other information is available about either, as the companies have made scarce news in the international or regional press.
Moods in world markets were mellow with regards to IPOs at the start of 2010. Asian markets were reported as most optimistic on account of buoyant economic growth forecasts, but in the United States the year’s first public offerings had a rough time and issuers in January either reduced their price expectations, as in the case of insurance firm Symetra Financial, or cut the size of the offering.
Although the fourth quarter had been positive for secondary markets in the Middle East, and emerging equity markets rallied in the past three quarters, 2009 provided such slim pickings in primary markets that it seemed almost inevitable to expect more from 2010.
In 2009, even the comparatively low value of $2.1 billion in aggregate Middle Eastern IPOs — excluding issues that had been offered for subscription in 2008 but started trading in 2009 — masked the fact that more than 75 percent of this value was delivered in only two of 15 IPOs: Vodafone Qatar and National Petrochemical Company in Saudi Arabia.
Some of the 11 IPOs that were completed on the Saudi Stock Exchange (SSE) in 2009 were so small in size that one had to hunt for them with a magnifying glass. This was reflected in the fact that demand for SSE primary market issues fell back to an average of 1.16 million subscribers per IPO.
The forecasts that every investor would like to have — what will the markets be like in 2010 — have been circulating in January in the vast agora of advice and opinions, but there is no sign and no reason to expect that this year’s predictions will be different in their reliability from those made in 2008 or 2009.
Among the more amusing expectations, one Gulf-based newspaper had apparently given its editors the New Year’s holiday off and came up with a late December tale that “as many as 45 Saudi-listed (sic) companies have plans to launch initial public offerings” in early 2010.
The count of companies that have at some point voiced ambitions for flotation on one of the bourses in 2010 is easily above 150.
How many of these rumored offerings will be delayed further, channeled into different equity raising deals or simply evaporate is anyone’s guess, but might not even be the main question. It still seems to be a too widely held assumption that a large number of public offerings are automatically good news for the market.
One might note, though, that post-IPO track records of primary market activity in the past few years showed some highly hyped companies falling severely short in performance and governance compliance, such as the case of jewelry company Damas, which apparently incurred a very costly mishap to investors due to not applying basic practices of corporate governance.
To return to hard numbers, the post-IPO performance data in the Middle East showed two clusters of companies coming out on top. Last year’s debutants in Saudi insurance showed share price gains since flotation at an average 335 percent and six companies listed on the new Damascus Stock Exchange (DSE) achieved climbs of 138 percent, on average. The DSE, which will celebrate its first anniversary in March, could still radiate some of the charm of a sleeping beauty awakened when further companies will list there in the coming months.