Foreign capital is flooding back to Gulf equity and debt markets as international investors who fled the region last year reload on local stocks and bonds. International investors bought shares worth about Dh6.3 billion (US$1.71bn) on the Dubai Financial Market last month, up more than 20 per cent on April, helping the market advance last Wednesday to its highest close since November. Debt markets are also receiving a boost as foreign investors withdraw from other asset classes such as US treasuries and seek higher returns from Gulf corporate and sovereign bond sales, analysts say.
But the rapid gains of the past week could lead to a significant correction across regional stock markets later this month as investors take profits, according to analysts based in Dubai. "From our side, we've seen a marked increase in foreign participation in the local equity and debt markets," said Ali Khan, the managing director of Arqaam Capital. "There's been a shift to more positive sentiment for our markets from international investors."
International investors retreated from Gulf markets in the second half of last year while a global lending squeeze hit regional bond and syndicated loan sales. Emerging markets have risen for the past three weeks on speculation that the worst of the recession is over, encouraging investment flows to return to economies driven by oil and other commodities. The return of international capital has also triggered activity in the region's private equity market, where activity has slowed over the past six months. Gulf Capital, a buyout group based in the UAE, last week launched a Dh1.75bn fund that was heavily subscribed by foreign investors.
"It was an eye-opener for us," said Karim el Solh, the chief executive of Gulf Capital. "If you look at most of the funds launched here, they were raised locally. We were very surprised to see that international money is chasing opportunities in the Gulf. If you put it in perspective, the Gulf is expected to grow by 4.5 per cent over the next two years. It's not the 6 to 7 per cent we saw over the past five years, but still respectable by any measure."
But regional companies may need to become more transparent and communicate with potential investors more effectively if markets are to attract further inflows and build on recent gains. "That's the area of concern at the moment, there needs to be more progress in terms of reform and development for companies in the GCC in order for us to see more capital inflows," said Mohieddine Kronfol, the managing director of Algebra Capital.
The GCC's $100bn debt market almost ground to a halt in the previous two quarters as bond spreads widened and liquidity was unavailable. Analysts say the recent success of sovereign debt issuances helped revive interest in local bond sales. Mubadala Development, Abu Dhabi's strategic investment arm, launched a $1.75bn bond programme in April and Qatar raised $3bn through a bond issue on April 3. Qatar Telecom said last week it received $13bn worth of bids for the sale of $1.5bn in debt. Aldar Properties, the largest developer in Abu Dhabi, was also oversubscribed for a $1.25bn bond sale last month. The growing appetite for sovereign and quasi-sovereign debt sales is reflected in narrowing spreads on government credit default swaps, analysts say.
"This is an indication that flows are coming back, perhaps not to the same extent as [last summer], but spreads were very wide and they are narrowing now," said Florence Pisani, an economist with Dexia Asset Management. Equity markets are also seeing a revival, especially in Saudi Arabia and Dubai, which became the world's third-worst performing exchange last year, losing 70 per cent of its value by the end of the year from retreating international investors.
Dubai shares on Wednesday advanced to their highest level since December after Bank of America (BofA) said the stocks offered the best value in the region. The value of shares traded last month reached Dh14.9bn, an increase of 6.9 per cent compared with Dh13.9bn in April, according to data supplied by the DFM. Net foreign investment in DFM-traded shares more than doubled last month to Dh540.7 million as stocks gained 17 per cent. NASDAQ Dubai also saw trading volumes surge, rising 67 per cent to 331.3 million shares from 198 million shares in April.
Dubai shares are the best in the region to own for a short-term "trade" because the market's valuation is 56 per cent lower than that of the MSCI Emerging Markets Index, based on the price-to-book ratio, according to a BofA report. Last week, stocks advanced across the region, gaining 13 per cent in Dubai, 5.4 per cent in Abu Dhabi and 4.5 per cent in Saudi Arabia. Analysts warn that a correction could follow the huge gains of the past month.
"Equity markets have rebounded due to positive fund flows and increasing risk appetite. But our view is that there will be profit-taking in the short-term, resulting in markets in the region erasing a portion of the gains generated so far this year," said Fahd Iqbal, a research analyst at EFG Hermes. * with agencies email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org