A rising tide of delistings from Kuwait's stock market threatens to widen a gap with rival bourses in the region as companies favour more dynamic economies such as Saudi Arabia and Dubai to sell shares.With a capitalisation of about $88 billion, close to Dubai Financial Market (DFM) at $97 billion, Kuwait has long been one of the Arab world's major markets.
But that status could eventually be threatened by an exodus of companies. Since the start of 2014, when Kuwait had 211 listed firms, 24 have announced plans to delist.In the same period, the exchange decided to delist a further five firms because their shares had been suspended for too long or their accumulated losses exceeded 75 percent of capital. Only two new firms listed: telecommunications operator VIVA Kuwait and Mezzan Holding.
That contrasts with several other Arab markets where listings have been growing, including Saudi Arabia, up by nine to 171 since the beginning of 2014, and Dubai, where combined listings on the DFM and NASDAQ Dubai are up seven to 70.
There are several motives for delisting from Kuwait. One is weak stock prices as its economy underperforms more dynamic economies in the Gulf. Kuwait's stock index is down 24 percent since the start of 2014, against a 12 percent drop for Saudi Arabia and an 8 percent rise for Dubai.
Sheikh Talal Ali al-Abdullah al-Jaber al-Sabah, chief executive of Al-Nawadi Holding, which owns health centres and resorts in the region, cited that factor this month when his company said it would delist.
"The main reason for the withdrawal is the low market value of the shares - it no longer reflects the real value of the shares or the nature of the firm's business," he told Reuters."The book value per share of our company is 148 fils, while its price in trading is 91 fils. All companies are like that."
Companies also complain of the costs of maintaining a listing, and sluggish trading; daily volumes of shares traded in Kuwait are often under half levels in Saudi Arabia and Dubai.Last year's upgrade of the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to emerging market status by index compiler MSCI, and this year's opening of the Saudi market to direct foreign investment, have widened the gap in trading activity.
Bahrain-based GFH Financial Group cited both costs and market liquidity this month when it decided to delist from Kuwait and focus on other listings in Bahrain and Dubai, where it is often that bourse's most heavily traded stock.Authorities know there is a problem. A few days after GFH's announcement, Capital Markets Authority chairman Nayef al-Hajraf told the al-Jarida newspaper that state-owned oil companies might be listed in order to deepen Kuwait's market.
He also said the CMA was "working closely with all parties concerned" to have Kuwait upgraded to an emerging from a frontier market. Officials have been working on technical changes that could help to persuade MSCI to reevaluate the bourse, such as making settlement of trades conform more closely to global norms.
There are also hopes of bringing in outside expertise. A government official said in March that when the exchange eventually went public, it might offer up to 44 percent of its shares to a firm with experience in operating bourses.But Kuwait is not currently on MSCI's list of markets being considered for emerging market status, which suggests any upgrade might not happen before 2017. Meanwhile, rival markets could extend their lead.
Mohammed Khalil al-Musaibeeh, group accounting manager at Kuwait's Salhia Real Estate, said he expected delistings by more smaller companies, especially in retail and real estate. He did not say whether his own company might consider such action