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Qatar urges firms to lift foreign ownership limit.

Qatar is in talks with individual firms to raise foreign ownership limits yet is not planning a blanket increase despite a requirement by index compiler MSCI, a Doha bourse official told the press.

MSCI has extended a review on whether to upgrade Qatar and the UAE to emerging market status to December, warning Qatar's 25 percent foreign ownership limit would disqualify the gas exporter.

'We will continue to talk to individual companies to convince them to raise their limits and will continue discussions with the relevant ministries for an across-the-board raising,' a Qatar Exchange official, who declined to be identified, told the press.

'But there is no new plan as such to raise the limits across the board: it's too early.'

Qatar law allows companies to ask for an increase in their foreign ownership limits, he added.

'We have the impression Qatar's government is worried about the impact of foreign money coming into the market,' said Fahd Iqbal, EFG-Hermes strategist in Dubai. 'It's difficult to gauge how quickly Qatar will look to raise foreign limits.'

MSCI warned that blue-chips such as Industries Qatar (IQ) have almost reached their foreign ownership limits and so are 'quasi-un- investable for foreign investors'.

IQ's small free float means its foreign limit is effectively 7.5 per cent of its total shares, Iqbal said.

'If a bellwether like Industries Qatar is not investible, it doesn't make it worthwhile for foreign investors to get to know the country,' said Hashem Montasser, managing partner at Frontlane Capital, a Dubai-based asset management firm.

'The rules need to be relaxed so we have a larger investible universe.'

MSCI said extending its review would allow market participants more time to give their feedback on new Delivery versus Payment (DvP) settlement systems, introduced in May in Qatar and the UAE.

Already, some institutions have said they are worried about what happens with failed trades under the new system.

Foreign share ownership in the UAE is capped at 49 per cent, but limits for many blue-chips are much lower.

Telecom Etisalat is restricted to UAE nationals, Dubai's top lender Emirates NBD is capped at 5 per cent and First Gulf Bank and National Bank of Abu Dhabi each have 25 per cent limits.

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Publication:Saudi Economic Survey
Geographic Code:7QATA
Date:Jun 29, 2011
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