Local banks drive up bourse

11 October 2004
The Amman Stock Exchange (ASE) had a slow start to the year but accelerated in the third quarter and is now up by 13 per cent since January. Local banks have led the rally, with shares in Arab Bankdominating as ever but others putting in strong performances. And the prospects for the market look good as Amman undertakes economic reform and privatisation, with the promise of additional listings around the corner.

Banks rule the roost on the bourse and Arab Bank rules among the banks. Its shares climbed by JD 4.50 ($6.30) to JD 151 ($212.70) in September. Arab Bank's investment banking arm, Atlas Investment Group, has been particularly active recently. In August, Atlas was awarded the mandate to arrange the first issue in the kingdom of the Islamic leasing sukuk instrument for Arab Media Corporation and is also in the process of arranging conventional bond issues for local tourism development company Zara Investmentand Middle East Complex for Engineering, Electronics & Heavy Industries, also local.

Shares in Cairo Amman Bank surged in value in late September, up by 24 per cent to JD 9.30 ($13.10), as the bank announced plans to increase capital by JD 10 million ($14.1 million) through a rights issue and a private placement. Bank of Jordanand Export & Finance Bankwere also both up marginally as the month drew to a close, while Philadelphia Investment Bankstock slid by 8 per cent.

Jordan Telecomstock has been doing well of late, in spite of the imminent introduction of even more competition to the market. Umniah Telecommunications & Technology Company, a subsidiary of Kuwait's Alghanim Group, was awarded the licence to establish a third mobile network in August, joining fellow Kuwaiti MTCin the GSM market. 'Jordan Telecom's stock has risen, although to a point where it has become a little overvalued,' says Talal Samhouri, analyst at Atlas. Jordan Telecom will also lose its fixed-line monopoly in early 2005, but the extent of foreign interest likely to be excited in a second licence is debatable.

Also up in price in late September were shares in United Arab Investors, following news that an agreement had been signed with a Canadian company to supervise construction of the Al-Mashta Industrial Zone, one of the qualifying industrial zones (QIZs) which allow duty-free access to the US market. Jordan Petroleum Refinery Company (JPRC)stock rose by 8 per cent over the course of the month on the news that a $700 million upgrade and expansion was to be carried out at its Zarqa refinery. Amman recently announced that subsidies on refined products are due to be phased out imminently, while JPRC enjoys an exclusivity agreement on such products in the local market until 2008.

Looking forward, several privatisation plans could boost interest in the kingdom's stock market, which lags its Gulf neighbours by a considerable margin. HSBCis leading a consortium mandated to advise on the sale of part of the government's stake in Jordan Phosphate Mines Company. Privatisation of the postal sector is also planned.

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