Global Investors Target the Palestine Stock Exchange in 2014

Both prices and trading volumes on the Palestine Stock Exchange (PEX) have scored impressive gains since the start of this year, thanks largely to investors from the Palestinian diaspora and Arab Gulf states. Recent decisions by such respected ratings agencies as Standard & Poor’s, Dow Jones and MSCI to include Palestine in their indices, as well as plans by London’s FTSE to follow suit, are now attracting other global investors from the UK, Europe, the US, Canada, Chile and elsewhere to the Exchange and to its leading companies, such as PADICO Holding, PalTel and the Bank of Palestine, analysts report.

Expectations that these moves will be followed by PEX’s inclusion in the global ‘Frontier Market’ indices is already fuelling demand from institutional investors, the analysts add. Its multi-currency platform, allowing trading in both US dollars and Jordanian dinars, as well as Palestine’s lack of capital controls, is also encouraging international interest. Trading volumes in January were more than two-fold higher than in December, and nearly four times as high as in January, 2013.

PEX's CEO, Ahmad Aweidah, expects 2014 to be a "threshold year."  Photo:  Mark Green, mark@nwmsltd.com.

PEX’s CEO, Ahmad Aweidah, expects 2014 to be a “threshold year.” Photo: Mark Green, mark@nwmsltd.com.

The Exchange’s Al Quds index broke through the 600 barrier in early February before falling back slightly on profit taking. It had risen 10.55 per cent in January alone, making it the second best performing stock market in the Arab world so far this year. Last year, the index registered an annual gain of 13.4 per cent, according to figures compiled by Ramallah-based brokers Sahem Investment and Trading. By the middle of February, the Exchange’s total market capitalisation had reached more than $3.5 billion.

Palestine's Stock Exchange is ahead of most other Arab markets.   Graph: Sahem Trading & Investment.

Palestine’s Stock Exchange is ahead of most other Arab markets. Graph: Sahem Trading & Investment.

This year could be a “threshold year,” the Exchange’s CEO, Ahmad Aweidah, told InvestPalestine.com. Speaking during a visit to London in mid-January to mark Palestine Capital Markets Day, he said “We are now achieving a series of important economic breakthroughs that could see our growth accelerate even more strongly.

He and other members of the Palestinian delegation, which included senior executives from PalTrade, PalTel, the Palestine Investment Fund (PIF), PADICO Holding, the Bank of Palestine, Sahem Trading & Investment and Lotus for Financial Investment, as well as Abeer Odeh, CEO of the Palestine Capital Market Authority, were hosted on the last evening of their visit to London by Baroness Morris of Bolton, UK Prime Minister David Cameron’sTrade Envoy for the Palestinian Territories, at a reception in Westminster organised by the Palestine British Business Council and its co-chairman, Antoine Mattar.

The Palestine Delegation to Palestine Capital Markets Day in London, 17 January, 2014.  From left to right:  Fida Musleh-Azar, PEX Manager of Public Relations & Investor Education; PEX   CEO Ahmad Aweidah; Ammar Aker, CEO, PalTel; John Davies, Vice-President, S&P Dow Jones Indices.  Photo:  Mark Green.

The Palestine Delegation to Palestine Capital Markets Day in London, 17 January, 2014. From left to right: Fida Musleh-Azar, PEX Manager of Public Relations & Investor Education; PEX CEO Ahmad Aweidah; Ammar Aker, CEO, PalTel; John Davies, Vice-President, S&P Dow Jones Indices. Photo: Mark Green.

Financial services, banking, ICT, infrastructure and high value agriculture, as well as tourism (including such world renowned attractions as Bethlehem, the Dead Sea and Jericho) were making strong progress, Aweidah told an audience of existing and potential investors. And, although economic growth has slowed recently as local entrepreneurs and international donors await firm progress on US Secretary of State John Kerry’s ‘peace initiative,’ Palestine’s GDP has grown by a remarkable 8.4 per cent a year on average during the past five years, he noted.

“The Palestine economy continues to demonstrate exceptional endurance despite political challenges,” Aweidah explained, a performance he attributed to the “strong and vibrant private sector,” its “well regulated and sophisticated financial system,” its “modern capital market,” and “advanced investor protection regime.” The majority of the 49 stocks on the Exchange, he pointed out, also “enjoy free float ratios that are comparable to advanced markets” as well as “reassuring turnover ratios.”

Foreign investors, both individual and institutional, are helping to boost values and volumes on the Palestine Stock Exchange.  Graph: PEX, Ministry of National Economy.

Foreign investors, both individual and institutional, are helping to boost both values and volumes on the Palestine Stock Exchange. Graph: PEX, Ministry of National Economy.

At the end of 2013, foreign investment in PEX amounted to just over 40 per cent of the total value of its shares, or about 34 per cent by volume. Investors from Jordan, many of whom are Palestinians with Jordanian citizenship, accounted for the majority of the foreign shareholders, 61.4 per cent, followed by others from the Americas at 10.9 per cent, the Arab Gulf with 6.6 per cent and Europe with 2.5 per cent. Palestinians made up 95 per cent of the total number of investors, demonstrating the widespread appetite for shares among smaller shareholders living both inside and outside Palestine.

Speaking to potential investors in London and to InvestPalestine.com, John Davies, Vice President at S&P Dow Jones Indices, explained why his firm, which now includes both the respected ratings agencies, Standard & Poor’s and Dow Jones, had established two stand-alone indices for Palestine last December. “We don’t build indices simply because we feel they are needed,” he insisted. “We build them because our clients are asking for them. The establishment [of the new indices] is evidence that there is significant demand for investment in Palestine.”

John Davies, Vice President at S&P Dow Jones Indices, explaining PEX's attractions to an audience of investors in London, 17 January, 2014.  Photo:  Mark Green.

John Davies, Vice President at S&P Dow Jones Indices, explaining PEX’s attractions to an audience of investors in London, 17 January, 2014. Photo: Mark Green.

The two new additions are the S&P Palestine Broad Market Index (BMI), which aims to capture at least 80 per cent of PEX’s market capitalisation, and the Dow Jones Palestine Total Stock Market Index (TSM), which aims for 95 per cent of the Exchange’s float-adjusted market capitalisation, Davies explained. Since testing began in September 2012, he added, the stand alone BMI index had achieved a 41 per cent cumulative annual return, a figure which compares favourably with the Pan-Arab Composition Index at 24.5 per cent and the S&P Composition Index at about 30.2 per cent.

Despite general skepticism about the progress of Kerry’s peace talks, investors are more confident that he will succeed in brokering a deal, the news agency, Bloomberg, quoted Aweidah as saying in mid-January. “If there’s a framework agreement, it’ll be a game changer” for the Exchange. There’s certainly a lot of optimism in the market about the direction of the political negotiations…. The time to invest in Palestinian stocks is now.”

Processing premium quality Medjool dates at a Palestinian-owned factory in the Jordan Valley.  The possibility of greater access to the fertile soil and water of the Israeli-occupied parts of the Valley and "Area C" as a result of the current negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is a major factor in encouraging both local and foreign entrepreneurs to invest in the West Bank.  Photo: fablenaturals.com.

Processing premium quality Medjool dates at a Palestinian-owned factory in the Jordan Valley. The possibility of greater access to the fertile soil and water of the Israeli-occupied parts of the Valley and “Area C” as a result of the current negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is a major factor in encouraging both local and foreign entrepreneurs to invest in the West Bank. Photo: fablenaturals.com.

Success in the talks would, according to a recent study by the International Monetary Fund, boost economic growth in the Territories by 35 per cent over the next five and a half years, or about 6.5% a year on average, compared with 1.5 per cent in 2013. This includes Palestinians gaining control of the land, water and resources in Area C, which forms almost two-thirds of the West Bank, which is currently under Israeli military occupation. The IMF adds that an agreement would significantly reduce the Palestinian Authority’s dependence on foreign aid, greatly enhance employment and lower poverty levels.Local entrepreneurs are investing in modern factories, like this one outside Hebron.  Photo:  Palden Jenkins.  paldywan.blogspot.co.uk Local entrepreneurs are investing in modern factories, like this one outside Hebron. Photo: Palden Jenkins, paldywan.blogspot.co.uk.

Business confidence in the West Bank is also rising, according to Palestinian analysts, because of higher optimism among entrepreneurs and in the industrial sector, especially in food, textiles, chemical, pharmaceutical, engineering, plastics and construction. The Palestinian Monetary Authority reported in mid-February that its monthly index, the PMA Business Cycle Indicator, had risen from minus 1.44 in the West Bank in January to a positive 8.25 in February. Negative business sentiment in the Gaza Strip also improved, as industrialists reportedly felt more optimistic about the continuous US efforts to stimulate the peace process between Palestinians and Israelis and less fearful of a continuing deterioration in security conditions. The northern West Bank city of Jenin is to be the site of a vital new power plant due to be built by a Palestinian company. Photo: Palden Jenkins, paldywan.blogspot.co.uk.

If an accord is agreed, Aweidah revealed, as many as four family-owned businesses in Palestine may also opt to sell shares on the Exchange through initial public offerings (IPO’s). The Palestine Power Generating Company (PPGC), he added, could follow suit.

PPGC is planning to build a $300 million power plant in Jenin in the West Bank which will be fuelled by gas from the giant offshore Leviathan field in the Mediterranean under a $1.2 billion, 20-year deal agreed in January. PPGC’s leading shareholders include the Palestine Electric Company, the builders of Palestine’s first independent power plant, and the industrial conglomerate, PADICO, both of which are quoted on the PEX.

© Pamela Ann Smith

This is a publication of investpalestine.wordpress.com and is protected by international copyright laws. This article is for the reader’s personal use only, but may be re-distributed electronically with a credit to investpalestine.com.

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Changing Fortunes for Palestine’s Economy?

InvestPalestine.com was busy in June preparing a Special Report which has now appeared in the July issue of the London-based, pan-Arab monthly, The Middle East.TME Cover July '13

Here’s a preview:

Critical Times for Palestine’s Economy

The hopes and aspirations of millions of young Palestinians, both in the occupied territories and in the refugee camps of Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and elsewhere, as well as those of their older relatives and families both at home and in the Diaspora, could well be at stake in the coming weeks as US Secretary of State John Kerry seeks to convince Israel, as well as the Palestinian Authority, to return to the negotiating table and finally agree to accept the need for a sovereign Palestinian state.

Will there be peace for the next generation? Photo:  Eva Bartlett, http://ingaza.wordpress.com.

Will there be peace for the next generation? Photo: Eva Bartlett, http://ingaza.wordpress.com.

While many in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, as elsewhere, are justifiably extremely skeptical about Kerry’s plans to restart the moribund “peace talks,” Palestine’s business leaders, along with some of Israel’s most progressive entrepreneurs, have welcomed his initiative, as have future leaders like the imprisoned Marwan Barghouthi, seeing it as the only way to end the decades-old conflict and ensure a viable future for the next generation.

Gaza: Dubai on the Mediterranean?

To most people around the world, the word ‘Gaza’ conjures up images of rockets and bombs, wars, poverty and invasion, never mind the appalling conditions in which many of its residents live as a result of the ongoing Israeli blockade. But, as one international commentator suggested recently, it’s not, actually, too fanciful to see it in the future as the Mediterranean’s “Dubai.” While of course that assumes that peace prevails and that the Israeli siege ends, it also recalls Gaza’s historic role as a prosperous gateway between Africa and Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

 Gaza's five-star Al Mashtal Hotel on the beach front shows the potential for luxury tourism to appeal to visitors from Europe, Asia and Africa.  Photo:  Christopher Furlong, AFP/Getty.

Gaza's five-star Al Mashtal Hotel on the beach front shows the potential for luxury tourism to appeal to visitors from Europe, Asia and Africa. Photo: Christopher Furlong, AFP/Getty.

Developing East Jerusalem?

Efforts to help the beleaguered 375,000 inhabitants of Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem – which Palestinians see as the future capital of their state – are intensifying because of renewed efforts by Palestinian businessmen and promises of some $1 billion in aid from the Arab League, of which $250 million has already been pledged by Qatar. The plans include the construction of a new airport in the city, a project which was first mooted in 2009 by the former Palestinian Prime Minister, Salah Fayyad, as well as incentives to both local and foreign investors in the fields of finance, trade, transport, tourism, real estate and housing, private education and information communications and technology (ICT).

The articles will be published in full here at the end of July.

Meanwhile, check out http://www.themiddleastmagazine.com, or get the printed edition at your local news agent or newstand.

As always, thanks for reading!

Pam

Hopes Rise for Palestinian Economy

Hopes are rising that 2013 will see a significant improvement in Palestine’s economy after the disappointments of last year. US Secretary of State John Kerry’s pledge to find new ways to promote development in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem is, despite widespread scepticism, also furthering this optimism, not least because he has recognised that this must go hand-in-hand with promoting a sovereign Palestinian state.

Palestine’s Minister of Economy, Jawad Naji Awad Hirzallah, told the Arab media in April, after US President Barack Obama’s visit to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ramallah in March, that “We expect the growth rate in 2013 to be 5 to 6 percent. Against a backdrop of negative economic conditions,” he added, “ this is a good indication of growth.” Last year, Palestine’s services sector, including retail trade and tourism, grew by a remarkable 13.2 per cent, while construction was up 6.5 per cent and information and communications (ICT) 5.9 per cent.

 Not everyone, like this couple in Ramallah, can afford a BMW, but their is a hunger for the luxuries of modern life.  Photo:  Reuters

Not everyone, like this couple in Ramallah, can afford a BMW, but there is a hunger for the luxuries of modern life. Photo: Reuters.

Continue reading

Gaza’s Hope: The Fishermen. Yes . . . But?

InvestPalestine was pleased to see Tobias Buck today in the Financial Times, after the latest conflict, recognising the initial gains for Gaza’s economy…and most of all, for its hard-pressed people, starting with its fishermen.

(See the earlier story by InvestPalestine: “Gaza’s Hope”, 19th November, below.)

But much, much more needs to be done.

A Palestinian woman in Beiut Ilu, west of Ramallah, protesting about the destruction of her olive trees by Israeli settlers. She, and other farmers in the West Bank, will be hoping that they, too, like the fishermen and farmers in Gaza, can benefit from some relaxation of Israeli restrictions. Photo: Issam Rimawi, APA Images, 16 April, 2012.

(Click on the image to enlarge it.)

Reports that the initial relaxation will also apply to Gaza’s farmers tilling their lands near the Israeli border is a good sign. Continue reading

Palestine’s Economy: Bright Prospects for the Private Sector

Whatever the state of ‘peace talks’ to end the Israeli occupation and create an independent Palestinian state, or of protests in the West Bank, the coming months and years are likely to see a renewed focus on the private sector economy in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Investment —- from Palestinians in the diaspora, private Arab funds and foreign corporations, as well as from important ‘donors,’ such as the World Bank, the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the UK, the European Union, Japan and Canada — is increasing, reflecting the sector’s remarkable resilience in the past few years, and its huge potential in the medium-term.

Expotech runs from 6 to 11 October in Ramallah andGaza. Graphic: PITA, in the October issue of The Middle East magazine.

Expanding and developing it further is now also seen as crucial to stemming unemployment and rising prices, particularly among the youth in Palestine. This would also help to make the economy less dependent on Israel and foreign aid. Continue reading

Palestine in The Middle East magazine

One of the main aims of InvestPalestine.com is to promote the bright prospects for the Palestinian economy—and the advantages of investing in it – in the international media, both print and digital. Here’s one example, a 10-page Special Report on Palestine: Building Bridges to the Future, that appeared in the October issue of the London-based, pan-Arab, English-language monthly, The Middle East, which is due to be available online in the coming week. Alternatively, you can pick up the magazine at your local newsstand, or subscribe.

Reaching international readers: A Special Report from the London-based, pan-Arab monthly, The Middle East and InvestPalestine.com.

http://www.themiddleastmagazine.com
Continue reading

Palestine’s Agriculture and Agro-Industries: The Basis for a Resurgent Economy?

A series of recent studies from the UN, the World Bank, the UK, France and the European Union, as well as other international organisations, has highlighted the huge potential of agriculture and fishing in the West Bank and Gaza and the extremely important contribution a revived sector could provide to both Palestine’s GDP and the urgent need to create new jobs, especially for the young and in the rural areas.

Palestine’s Jordan Valley is one of the world’s richest, and most diverse, agricultural areas. Picture: JICA

At present, all the reports emphasize that the escalation of Israeli settlements, particularly in the fertile Jordan Valley; Israeli military control of ‘Area C;’ and the rapidly dwindling amount of water available to Palestinian farmers has led to a sharp decline in both cultivation and output. Fishing and fish processing in Gaza is also stagnating, they add, due to the harsh Israeli restrictions, both onshore and offshore. Continue reading

Editor’s Note: Here’s What’s Happening

InvestPalestine.com has been busy this month, promoting a ‘Special Report’ on The Palestinian Economy: Bright Prospects for the Private Sector, which is due to appear in the London-based, pan-Arab monthly, The Middle East, on the 1st of October.

It includes an exclusive interview with the CEO of the Bank of Palestine, Hashim Shawa, which we’ll bring to you then… plus other stories on PalTel, the HUGE start-up potential of Palestinian information technology firms (and the ExpoTech exhibition in Ramallah and Gaza) … plus information about the new investment funds springing up in Palestine … as well as new ventures from the UK to promote Palestinian exports and scholarships and training for young Palestinians.

A fruit and vegetable market in Ramallah. In the end, it’s all about feeding the family…ideally, with LOCAL produce. Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

Meanwhile, look out for our Special Feature on Palestine’s Agriculture: Its Untapped Potential, later this week which takes a look at the tens of thousands of jobs that this sector could create in the future, as well as its enormous potential to promote Palestine’s exports to world markets.

Thanks for reading,

Pam

P.S. Click on the “Subscribe” button at the top right of the home page if you would like to receive FREE emails on future posts, or email pamansmith@compuserve.com if you would like to suggest ideas for, or comments on, the editorial content.

Palestine’s Paralympics II

Here’s some pictures from the reception held yesterday evening in Parliament Square, Westminster, London, for the Paralympian team, their coaches, officials and supporters. (See Britain Opens its Doors...3 September, below.)

Fannouna, Zakout, the Palestinian Ambassador, and the Palestinian Paralympic Chairman, along with Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, listening to a tribute from the Liberal Democrat’s Deputy Leader, Simon Hughes.

It was sponsored by Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn and the Palestinian Ambassador, Manuel Hassassian, and addressed by Murad Qureshi, a member of the London Assembly (see Palestine’s Olympic Triumph II, 30 July, below), who described the tribulations of trying to enter Gaza on his first-ever trip to Palestine, as well as the hassles he encountered at the airport in Cairo! Continue reading

Britain Opens its Doors…and Hearts…to Palestine’s Paralympians

Half-way through the Paralympic 2012 Games in London, Palestine’s two participants, 47-year-old Khamis Zaqout and 32-year-old Muhammed Fannouna, are being feted and celebrated by the great and the good, as well as the huge, enthusiastic audiences who are turning out to watch them compete in the shotput, discus, javelin, long-jump, 100- and 200-metre athletics events. While Zaqout fell just 4 centimeters (!!!) short of taking a bronze medal in the shotput last Friday, team officials remain confident that there will be a Palestinian on the podium by the end of the Games on 9 September.

The athletes, their coaches, and the Chairman of the Palestinian Paralympic
Committee, Akram Okkeh, toured the British Parliament on Thursday, 30 August.
Photo: UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Tonight, a special, high-level reception is being held for the team at London’s Portcullis House in Westminster, across from the Houses of Parliament and “Big Ben.” Politicians, diplomats, officials, journalists, activists, supporters and members of the public have been invited by MP Jeremy Corbyn and the Palestinian Ambassador, Professor Manuel Hassassian, to cheer them on, and to help put Palestine “on the map” at a time when the world’s eyes are once again on London. (Corbyn hosted another reception in July at the London Assembly for the Palestinian Olympic team. See “Palestine’s Olympic Triumph II”, 30 July, below.) Continue reading