BSE awakes to a flood of IPOs

21 October 2005
Investors in Bahrain have an unusually exciting six months ahead of them. The kingdom's corporates have finally caught the initial public offering (IPO) bug, with three share sales under way and plans afoot for several more by early next year. The days of thin trading of the relatively few freely floated shares on the bourse may be over.

The IPO of shares in Nass Corporation, the conglomeration of 10 subsidiaries of local family business the Nass Group, kicked off its three-week subscription on 9 October. On offer is 25 per cent, or BD 30 million ($78.9 million), of the company's capital, divided into 50 million shares. Securities & Investment Company (Sico)is the lead manager. 'The offering is so far going very well,' says Hisham al-Saie, head of corporate finance at Sico. 'There have been queues outside banks in Bahrain and one of the receiving banks in the UAE had to switch subscription to a bigger branch because of the level of demand.'

The local Banader Hotel Companyput 40 per cent, or BD 15 million ($39.4 million), of its shares up for public sale a week earlier. The issue closes on 17 October. The company plans to build a four-star, 20-storey hotel in central Manama. KPMGis advising. And to add to the flood of opportunities, 40 per cent of shares in Jawad International Fashion, part of another local family business the Jawad Group, are being offered through the Bahrain Stock Exchange (BSE).

'In terms of the simultaneous timing of the IPOs it is not really a coincidence, in the sense that these offerings have been in the planning for 12-18 months,' says Al-Saie. 'The reason for the move is the same as elsewhere in the region - the sea of liquidity. Bahrain has just been slower to catch up.'

Further attractive propositions are in the pipeline. AlBaraka Banking Grouphas announced plans for an IPO in the first quarter of 2006 and has mandated Gulf International Bankto arrange the sale. Plans for a local unit of Al-Salam Bank, the recently launched bank in Sudan owned primarily by GCC investors, are also on the table, and the backers plan to offer shares to the public. And of particular interest is a developing plan by the government to pool its assets in real estate and state-owned companies into two holding companies and sell part of each to the public (see Economy).

Behind the thrill of the new, existing shares have not been performing badly. The benchmark Bahrain All-Share Index (BASI) is up by more than 22 per cent since the start of the year and valuations are reasonable, at a price/earnings (PE) ratio of 17-18. The banking sector has been doing well, ending the week to 6 October at 2,176 points, close to an all-time high. BMB Investment Bank, whose shares only resumed trading in early September, recorded the highest gains, while Bahrain Islamic Bank- which has just sold a 30 per cent stake to Kuwait-based Investment Dar- led the charge among the commercial banks.

Analysts who have long largely disregarded the BSE as a sleepy backwater may soon start taking a closer look.

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