x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Saudi market may be due for an upgrade

Saudi Arabia has emerged as the latest Gulf nation to express interest in being a component on various influential index providers' emerging market indexes.

Saudi Arabia has been largely ignored in the debate over the index compiler MSCI's discussions on whether to upgrade the UAE and Qatar to emerging market status.

But it appears the country's Tadawul stock market wants to be part of the conversation as it has emerged it is in talks with several index providers, including MSCI, to become one of their components.

"The kingdom is eligible to join emerging markets' indicators like some of other markets in the region," Abdul Rahman al Tuwaijri, the president of the Saudi Capital Market Authority (CMA), was quoted as saying by the state news agency SPA.

No specific time or details on the talks were given but news of the talks is an indicator that Saudi officials recognise the significance of being included, and are increasingly willing to make the necessary changes.

The kingdom's stock exchange appears an obvious choice. It is the Arab world's largest and most liquid bourse. Its importance was highlighted at the height of the Arab uprisings, when many were eyeing the movement of capital in and out of the kingdom.

But for all of its size, the market was until recently almost impossible for international investors to access.

In 2008, CMA allowed foreign investors to buy Saudi shares indirectly by means of "total return swaps" through licensed brokers in the country. The swaps do not give voting rights but allow access the market.

But analysts say it is not enough to warrant an immediate upgrade.

"The market is closed and there are many rules and regulations which limit people's exposure to the market," said Asma Dakkak, an NCB Capital analyst in Riyadh.

An upgrade "would obviously be a good boost to the Tadawul but how soon and when it will happen is in question," she said.