x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Efforts to unify Gulf markets are stepped up

Arabian Gulf regulators have revived efforts to integrate their markets, as the fragmentation of the region's finance hubs becomes more pronounced.

Arabian Gulf regulators have revived efforts to integrate their markets, as the fragmentation of the region's finance hubs becomes more pronounced.

Firms operating from the Dubai International Financial Centre have voiced concerns over an increasingly assertive challenge from Qatar, stemming from a legal gap between firms operating in the UAE's financial free zone and elsewhere in the Emirates.

At the same time, other emerging market blocs, such as the Association of South-East Asian Nations, have sought to integrate their stock markets to develop deeper pools of liquidity and a more attractive destination for international investors.

Summits among heads of Gulf regulators have increased during the past year as governments accelerate drives towards unified rules for the region's exchanges.

On Tuesday, the Committee of Heads of GCC Securities Market Regulators met in Riyadh to discuss uniform rules for Gulf financial markets.

The meeting was "aimed at boosting coordination among the GCC regulators to achieve unified financial market policies on various tools, including registration, joint listing, IPOs, trading rules and appraisal of legislations to achieve those objectives", the Emirates Securities and Commodities Authority (SCA) said in a statement on its website.

No details were given of planned changes to market law at the regulators' meeting.

However, the increased focus on unifying the Gulf's exchanges was a step in the right direction, said Aryan Schoorl, a legal director at DLA Piper, the law firm. "Ultimately, the region benefits from consolidated, bigger markets which function efficiently. You need harmonisation of standards and ideally one point of entry, and I think that's the next step."

With a steadily growing pipeline of IPOs, unified listing standards could also help convince family-owned businesses and other small-to-medium enterprises that they can come to market at a fair price, added Mr Schoorl. "This will also make the necessary institutional investors feel at ease that the appropriate disclosure framework is in place across the board."

For its part, the SCA has drawn criticism from some quarters recently as a result of new regulations which are said to have made it more difficult for fund managers and private banks based in the Dubai International Financial Centre to deal with investors outside of the centre's physical boundaries.

A move by GCC regulators towards more integrated financial markets is not the only factor to be watchful of, said Arwa Hamdieh, the co-founder of the Financial Services Association (UAE), an industry trade body.

"What is more important is the type of issuance and floating model the regulators would opt for," she said.

"Moving towards a book building approach will bring tremendous value to the GCC markets because it would allow regional companies to make a comparable analysis on the markets they are considering listing."

At present, most Gulf exchanges require new companies to list at Dh1 per share, regardless of their market worth. A book-build method prices shares in accordance with market demand.