The GCC saw a rise in initial public offerings (IPOs) in 2022 despite volatility in secondary markets, surpassing the previous year’s record high. The total number of IPOs in the region increased from 20 in 2021 to 48 in 2022, marking a 140% rise, and proceeds from GCC issuers increased by 211% from $7.5bn to almost $23bn over the same period.
The growing number of successful IPOs in the region has resulted in greater interest from investors. Following an uptick in activity in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, in 2022 the two Gulf countries ranked third and sixth, respectively, in terms of full-year IPO proceeds in global markets. Much of the activity observed that year was the result of various government initiatives, such as Saudi Vision 2030 and the UAE’s national blueprint, We the UAE 2031.
Success Amid Turbulennce
IPOs remained buoyant in the GCC throughout 2022 despite some volatility in secondary markets, such as the MSCI GCC Countries Combined Index. The index saw a modest increase of 1.2% in the first half of 2022, followed by a significant decrease of 7.5% in the second half of the year. The index’s performance was affected by oil prices, which rose by 55.1% in the first half of 2022 only to drop by 30.9% in the second half of the year. The resilience was largely due to the confidence shown by regional issuers in the business fundamentals of their companies and their effective communication with the market, which helped to generate a high level of investor appetite. Additionally, the strong performance of certain sectors in the region – such as technology and renewable energy – contributed to the durability in the face of challenging global conditions.
The GCC has yet to experience the IPO downturn that has affected many markets around the world. Global financial volatility has resulted in a drop in IPO activity outside the region, which has helped GCC companies sell equity at high valuations. In 2022 capital markets around the globe struggled due to various factors, including the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, inflationary pressures, geopolitical tensions and policy decisions by central banks to tighten monetary policy. As a result, the frequency of equity issuances declined. Some countries even saw a halt in issuances, making 2022 a difficult year for IPOs. Compared to 2021, global IPO proceeds fell by over 70%, with IPO earnings in US markets down by 90%, and markets in the UK and Europe seeing a significant downturn. In 2022 IPOs generated $173bn in proceeds through 1154 IPOs, compared to $618bn via 2682 offerings in 2021.
GCC countries are a prime target for investors seeking to profit from high oil prices and other factors. Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE collectively accounted for over 7% of the total MSCI Emerging Markets Index as of December 2022, a marked improvement on the GCC-wide share of 1.2% in 2017, according to a report from financial services firm EFG Hermes. The region’s weight is expected to experience significant growth in the coming years due to its efforts to invest heavily in infrastructure, promote economic diversification and open up to foreign investment.
Kuwait Finance House was the only listing that Bahrain Bourse (BHB) witnessed in 2022, but there is optimism around the potential for new companies to debut on the exchange in 2023, particularly due to the wave of IPOs that other markets in the GCC witnessed during the previous year. Comments made by Sheikh Khalifa bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, CEO of BHB, at the end of the Arab Federation of Capital Markets’ annual conference in March 2022, are indicative of the kingdom’s overall confidence; he stated that Bahrain expected to see five listings that year. One sector to watch is the energy sector, which is undergoing a wide-ranging restructuring that could lead to non-core assets being privatised.
In March 2023 it was reported that Bahrain-based alternative assets manager Investcorp Holdings was considering listing an investment vehicle on the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange. Initially listed on BHB for nearly four decades, the holding company delisted from the exchange in 2021 due to low trading volumes. Volumes on BHB saw a significant decline in 2022, falling by nearly half from more than 1bn shares in 2021 to 540m shares the following year. However, the beginning of 2023 saw these volumes begin to rebound, surpassing 247m in the first quarter of 2023 compared to a little more than 102m in the corresponding period in 2022.
In 2022 Saudi Arabia maintained its position as the leader in IPO issuance among countries in the GCC region, with 34 out of 48 IPOs in the region debuting on either the Saudi Exchange or Nomu – Parallel Market, an alternative market with less strict listing requirements. This demonstrated the fact that, despite global headwinds, investors were still being drawn to the country’s market.
The UAE was top in terms of IPO earnings, receiving nearly 59.7% of issuance proceeds, or around $14bn, from its 11 issuances in 2022. The UAE was home to the two largest IPOs in the region that year, with the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) raising $6.1bn from its listing on the Dubai Financial Market in April and polyolefins manufacturer Borouge raising $2bn on the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange in May, highlighting the attractiveness of such offerings. In addition, the joint Abu Dhabi-Riyadh listing of Americana, a MENA food franchisee, raised $1.8bn in late 2022. The company had previously been listed on Boursa Kuwait but was privatised in 2017 for $3.5bn. The organisation’s new owners valued the company at $6.2bn. The IPO was the first dual listing on the Saudi and Abu Dhabi exchanges, and it highlighted the progress that GCC markets have made, including in terms of inter-exchange cooperation. This progress showed that the GCC has the potential to become a major player in international capital markets.
Dubai’s IPO pipeline was notably robust in 2022. The March 2022 listing of DEWA was the largest IPO in the GCC that year, raising $6.1bn at a time when global investors were looking for profitable opportunities amid general uncertainty. The offering size increased substantially, with 8.5bn shares sold at Dh2.48 ($6.45) each, up from an initial 3.3bn shares. As of early 2023 DEWA was the largest company by market capitalisation on the Dubai exchange. DEWA drew the interest of investors due to its consistent cash flow and potential for dividends. These factors were also evident in other major Dubai listings in 2022, when Salik, Empower and TECOM Group – all of which are majority government-owned entities – raised a collective $2.2bn between them.
Several important consumer-focused organisations were also listed in 2022. For example, Jeddah-based Nahdi Medical Company raised $1.4bn from an IPO in March 2022. In October 2022 health care operator Burjeel Holdings listed on the Abu Dhabi market, raising $300m in the process. Taaleem, an educational company based in Dubai, raised $205m in a November 2022 listing on the emirate’s exchange, highlighting the wider UAE’s economic diversity. These listings demonstrate that smaller organisations that operate using innovative business models are increasingly sharing space in capital markets with larger, government-related companies.
Despite the potential risks posed by interest rate hikes, geopolitics, and the volatility in secondary stock markets and oil prices, 2022 saw strong IPO activity, and this trend could continue into 2023. As of May 2023 the GCC IPO pipeline looked promising, with an estimated 20 to 40 companies involved in both announced and possible IPO issuance. In the first quarter of 2023 alone companies raised $3.5bn through IPOs, and the region continues to attract strong interest from international investors driven by high oil prices.
The pipeline is likely to be strengthened in the coming years by efforts to privatise government-owned assets as part of the GCC’s broader economic diversification and private sector development plans. For example, Oman is aiming to privatise more than 30 government-owned firms over 2021-25. The Oman Investment Authority, the sultanate’s sovereign wealth fund, plans to exit eight investments, raising $1.3bn in the process.
The GCC is experiencing a favourable climate for IPO issuance, and all indications point to this trend continuing in the near future. As of February 2023 GCC markets were trading at a premium to their emerging market peers. The MSCI GCC Countries Combined Index’s price-to-earnings ratio was 13.77 in 2023, compared to the MSCI Emerging Market Index’s ratio of 11.96, underscoring the confidence that investors have shown in the region.