x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Broad relief as Greece tightens its belt

Local equities are expected to ride the wave of an international rally following the approval of austerity measures in Greece.

Last week, the Greek parliament cleared a crucial hurdle that will eventually release billions of dollars from a bailout package. EPA
Last week, the Greek parliament cleared a crucial hurdle that will eventually release billions of dollars from a bailout package. EPA

Local equities are this week expected to ride the wave of a rally in the international markets following the approval of important austerity measures for Greece's economy.

Widespread aversion towards a Greek default, which would strike a deep blow to economies around the world because it would probably lead banks to freeze lending to other indebted European countries, was reflected in a jump in stocks across Asia, the US and Europe.

Last week, the Greek parliament cleared a crucial hurdle that will eventually release billions of dollars from a bailout package agreed by the EU and the IMF last year.

Finance ministers from Germany and France, Greece's top two creditors, also appeared to restate their commitment to the country, which is suffering from its deepest recession in 40 years.

For the movement of regional bourses, this also bodes well.

"Greece continues to dominate, so to the extent there is resolution there, that would be ultimately positive for our markets," said David Verghese, a fund manager at Emirates NBD in Dubai.

"We're not going to get much in the way of news on a company level, so the international play will be stronger," he said.

Volumes have dipped on the Dubai and Abu Dhabi markets from the highly volatile trading during a period of heightened unrest earlier this year.

Daily traded value on both markets had been touching US$30 million last week, from as much as $50m a few weeks earlier.

But market commentators are still talking positively about the UAE's bourses, despite the country missing out on a chance to be upgraded to emerging-market status by the index compiler MSCI last month.

Since the lows of March, the Dubai Financial Market (DFM) General Index is up about 16 per cent and the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange (ADX) General Index is trading 10 per cent higher.

That rise occurred as international markets dipped in the same period.

"The region itself is strong," said Paul Reynolds, who heads Rothschild's advisory unit.

"Governments are going through budgetary cuts, and people are working through restructuring. There's definitely light at the end."

Last week, the Dubai market was given a further boost when an announcement by the federal Government to extend visas to homebuyers from six months to three years led to a property rally.

Shares in the largest property stocks including Emaar Properties, Arabtec and Deyaar Development climbed, and the DFM ended the week 0.6 per cent higher at 1,516.93 points.

Dubai is considered to be a bigger beneficiary of the move than Abu Dhabi because it is considered to be ahead of the property cycle.

The ADX finished the trading week, which was shorter than normal because of an Islamic holiday, down 0.3 per cent to 2,704.19 points.

Although last week also marked the end of the second quarter, most fund managers regard the release of results in the weeks to come as a negligible market mover.

This is because trading is expected to dwindle further as Ramadan approaches.

Many investors will either sell their shares or wait by the sidelines for an autumn rally.

"As far as any immediate catalyst is concerned, there isn't any," said Akram Annous, a regional equity strategist at Al Mal Capital.

"Any resolution on Amlak and Tamweel, MSCI or any other news traders are waiting for is well past us, but relative to the rest of the region. There's still less risk here."

He said the UAE markets had a "relative advantage" because they were not petrochemical-heavy.

Oil prices have extended losses following the International Energy Agency's decision to release 60 million barrels of oil to make up for a Libyan shortfall, curbing high prices.

Mr Annous has assigned the UAE markets a "neutral" rating, but he said he had spotted value returns in typically defensive stocks such as Air Arabia and Aramex.

"If you're looking for catalyst-driven investing, when [the political situation across the Middle East] is resolved, this will be an area that will be attractive," he said.