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Fund managers positive on outlook

By Staff Writer



Managers of funds investing in the Middle East and North Africa are positive on the outlook for the region even after last year’s rebound, which they attribute largely to the strength of economic fundamentals, according to the latest update on the sector from Standard & Poor’s Fund Services, the leading provider of qualitative fund management ratings.

In 2007, the best performing Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) market was Oman (+51.4 per cent) and the worst Bahrain (+15.8 per cent). Among non-GCC countries in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), the top performer Egypt returned 54.9 per cent and Jordan returned 20.9 per cent.

“Managers consider that despite the good performance in 2007, market valuations remain attractive relative to global markets and especially to other emerging markets,” said S&P Fund Services lead analyst Alison Cratchley, citing statistical evidence from Shirish Raut, manager of the S&P AA-rated Oryx Fund.

The GCC markets are currently trading on a prospective P/E ratio of 9x-16x against 15.5x for the MSCI Emerging Markets index.

Earnings growth is expected to be between 18 per cent and 25 per cent in 2008 and to accelerate in future.

At the same time, the non-GCC countries in the Mena region are trading on multiples of 10-14x 2008 earnings, offering earnings growth of 15-20 per cent.

“Despite this, the managers expect volatility to continue in the short term,” said Alison Cratchley. However, she noted Raut’s argument that these markets are less volatile than developed markets. Signs that sentiment among local investors is improving have been seen in the strong response to most of the regional IPOs.

Dalia Shafik, manager of the S&P AA-rated EFG Hermes Egypt Fund, gave S&P Fund Services the example of the long-awaited IPO of real estate developer Talaat Mostafa Group, completed in November 2007 in a deal exceeding EGP4 billion.

While the private placement tranche, sold to international and high net-worth investors was covered more than 17 times, the public offering, open to Egyptian retail investors, was 41 times oversubscribed. The ratings, unlike past performance rankings, are based on in-depth analysis of the stability of a fund’s parent group, the appropriateness of its investment policy, and the sustainability of its performance.

Funds rated in the AAA to A categories demonstrate to Standard & Poor’s Fund Services an ability to provide above average returns over a long-term period (relative to funds in the same sector) along with a strong ability to adhere to a consistent investment process.

M&A activity in the region accelerated in 2007 and the trend is set to continue.