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Qatar Financial Centre hopes to list more firms

By Ben Flanagan

Stuart Pearce expects the number of firms registered at the QFC to double by the end of 2008. (SATISH KUMAR)



The number of companies located at the Qatar Financial Centre (QFC) will double by the end of 2008, said CEO Stuart Pearce.

There are 67 firms registered at the centre, and “by the end of next year we’ll have double what we have now,” Pearce told Emirates Business 24/7.

Companies such as Goldman Sachs, Citibank and Deutsche Bank already have a presence at the QFC, which Pearce claims is looking to attract “quality, not quantity”.

“The market will decide how many people will come,” he added.

Qatar, which has made high-profile international investments in the London Stock Exchange and the OMX over the past few months, is competing with Dubai for a place on the world financial stage.

The Dubai International Financial Centre, the QFC’s main rival, has 505 companies listed on its register – although some are service and catering companies.

Pearce said the Arabian Gulf currently is vibrant enough for more than one financial centre.

“It’s interesting: does Dubai see us as a real threat, or is it just people trying hard to show there is a threat? In the past, it was always a one-horse race [for Dubai]. But you have important [multi-city] finance clusters all around the world. And there’s bound to be one here.”

A number of high-profile investments have given credibility to Qatar’s claim to be building “the fastest-growing economy in the world”, as stated in a TV advert that the QFC is showing on news channels such as CNN. However, Qatar came under international spotlight earlier this year when it abandoned its backing of a $22 billion (Dh80.7bn) bid for the United Kingdom’s supermarket group Sainsbury’s.

The move by the Qatar Investment Authority, the Gulf state’s sovereign fund, came after four months of intense negotiations and share price rises.

While one unnamed source involved in the deal called Qatar’s actions “lower than a snake’s belly” in a quote published in the UK’s Financial Times, Pearce is keen to brush off any suggestions that QFC-registered firms will be negatively impacted by the Sainsbury’s fallout .

“Lots of people enter into discussions about lots of things. Why should sovereign wealth funds pay over the odds? The city is a rather clubby affair – they like to speak ill of people when it suits.”

Many QFC-registered companies are involved in Qatar’s high-profile international investments, according to Pearce, who claims that having a local presence carries stock with the Rulers.

“They’re all participating in deals. People like Citibank see it as a very important platform. And you need to be on the ground – officials make that clear.

“We’re not saying, ‘come to Qatar because people are going to invest in companies like Sainsbury’s’. We’re selling the Qatar story. The government is investing about $140bn (Dh513.8bn) in Qatar.

“That’s the story – not whether the fund will buy a trophy asset.”