The transport and logistics sector is one of the most important for the Middle East economies, particularly for the Gulf states, which have invested heavily in their transport infrastructure over recent decades in a bid to diversify their economies. That process has led to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar being ranked among the most important aviation hubs in the world.

Much of the industry remains firmly in state hands, including flag carriers such as Etihad Airways, Emirates Airline and Qatar Airways. That means the transport sector is under-represented on the region’s equity markets, particularly in terms of the aviation industry.

All of this is clearly apparent in this year’s MEED 100 list. Of the six transport and logistics firms included in the ranking, there are three shipping companies, one port operator and a logistics firm. There is just one representative from the aviation industry and even that is a catering company rather than an airline.

The three shipping lines are: National Shipping Company of Saudi Arabia (Bahri); Qatar Navigation; and Qatar Gas Transport Company (Nakilat). The first two of these are new to the list this year. Bahri’s market capitalisation of $4.3bn sees it ranked in 64th place, while Qatar Navigation is in 93rd place with a value of $3.2bn. Coming between them on the table is Nakilat, which rose up the ranking by 12 places to leave it in 84th spot overall, helped by a 23 per cent increase in profit last year.

The largest transport company by far is also involved in the shipping industry; Dubai-based ports operator DP World is ranked in 13th place overall, with a value of $16.1bn.

Saudi Airlines Catering Company also posted a strong performance over the past year. It lies in 74th place in this year’s table, with a market capitalisation of $3.9bn. This represents a gain of 24 places from last year and comes after the company posted a 14 per cent rise in revenues in 2014 to SR2.1bn ($570m) and a 15 per cent increase in profit to SR653.9m.

The final company from the sector in this year’s Top 100 is another new entrant. Kuwaiti logistics firm Agility Public Warehousing Company is ranked in 97th place, with a value of $3.1bn. It has been expanding its presence in key regions, notably Africa, over the past year. Agility recently won a contract to run ground-handling services at the airport in Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast, and it is building a new 40-acre facility in the Tema Port Free Trade Zone in the Ghanaian capital of Accra.

The entry of three transport and logistics companies to the list means the sector has doubled in size since last year. Transport and logistics is now the sixth-largest sector in the MEED 100, with the six companies having a total market capitalisation of $34.1bn, equivalent to 3.8 per cent per cent of the overall total. Last year, the sector made up 2.3 per cent of the total capitalisation of the Top 100.

Transport companies could well become even more prominent in the coming years, particularly airlines. Sharjah-based Air Arabia saw its profit rise by 30 per cent last year to AED566m ($154m), and if it is able to maintain that kind of growth in the years ahead, the low-cost carrier could break into the MEED 100.

In addition, several other state-owned airlines, including Saudi Arabia’s national carrier Saudia and Kuwait Airways, have been earmarked for privatisation. If such plans go ahead, then the sector’s presence on regional stock markets could start to more closely reflect its importance for the regional economy as a whole.