Global Investing

Saudi stocks eye foreign flows

May 3, 2012

Saudi stocks have been on a roll on expectations of more foreign investment.

The Saudi index is already one of the most liquid frontier markets, even though foreigners cannot buy stocks directly, but only through participatory notes.

Plans to widen foreign access to Saudi shares via limited direct ownership have lifted the stock market by 18 percent this year, compared with  a gain of only 2 percent in broad frontier markets. The index hit its highest in 3-1/2 years a few weeks ago but has fallen a bit since then.

Analysts expect the market, the largest in the Arab world, to open up this year, though the country’s Capital Market Authority has not yet given a date.

Ghadir leil Cooper, who runs a  Middle East and North Africa (MENA) fund at Baring Asset Management, is overweight Saudi Arabia as an out-of-index bet, saying the pace of the move towards greater access has been astounding:

“I used to say, never in my lifetime,” she says of the proposed changes.

Index compiler MSCI in fact this week drew Saudi Arabia back into the fold, agreeing to create Saudi equity indexes and put Saudi Arabia back into its GCC and Arabian Markets indexes. The move comes nearly two years after MSCI withdrew its Saudi indexes after a licensing rights dispute with the stock exchange.

Graham Stock, strategist at frontier markets fund Insparo, is upbeat about the MSCI decision:

It’s an important move as part of the process of increasing access to the Saudi market.

Stock adds, however, that the near-term impact is likely to be limited, until the restrictions on foreign access are actually lifted.

 

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