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Zain Iraq still months off from a market listing - bourse chief

Mobile telecom firm Zain Iraq is still expected to list its shares on the Iraq Stock Exchange (ISX) later this year but is at least several months off from being able to do so, the bourse's chief executive told Reuters on Tuesday.

First the company, which is 76-percent owned by Kuwait's Zain and is Iraq's biggest mobile operator by market share, must publish its financial results for 2013 and hold a shareholders' meeting to approve the listing plan.

And then there are other steps that need to be taken, ISX's chief executive Taha al-Rubaye told Reuters on the sidelines of a conference in Dubai.

"I don't think they will (complete) all the requirements before two or three months or maybe four, it may be more," said Rubaye. "I believe they will do it this year, but I don't know when."

Zain Iraq, and its two rivals in the Iraqi market, Asiacell and Orange affiliate Korek, all missed a 2011 deadline to float a quarter of their shares on the ISX under the terms of their $1.25 billion network licences.

Asiacell, majority-owned by Qatar's Ooredoo, subsequently joined the ISX in February 2013 after raising $1.27 billion in a public share sale that was Iraq's largest.

But Zain Iraq put back its sale from the first quarter of last year to the end of 2013 and most recently said it would list in the first half of 2014, with the initial public share offer expected to raise more than $1 billion.

Last year Zain set up a joint stock company, Al-Khatem, to hold its Iraqi business, a prerequisite to list on the ISX, and said on Tuesday in a statement that the preparatory steps for the flotation were "progressing well".

"We will advise all stakeholders of ongoing progress and milestones when they occur," the company told Reuters. "We are confident of listing Al-Khatem during the course of 2014."

However, in seeking to attract potential investors the company faces a highly volatile political situation.

Violence in Iraq hit its highest level in five years in 2013, with nearly 9,000 people killed, and the Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq seized control of Falluja and parts of nearby Ramadi earlier this month.

Parliamentary elections due on April 30 are also expected to ratchet up sectarian tensions further.

"My understanding is that Zain Iraq primarily wants to promote the IPO locally, but also wants to bring in international investors," said Omar Maher, a telecom analyst at EFG Hermes in Cairo.

"Whatever the nationality of the investor, it's not easy to convince them to invest when Iraq's political and security situation has deteriorated to such an extent - valuations will look increasingly expensive versus the risk profile."

The ISX also seems ill-equipped to absorb another major listing - Asiacell roughly doubled the bourse's total market value to around 11.5 trillion Iraqi dinars ($10 billion) at the end of 2013, according to bourse figures.

But trading has been lacklustre, with a median of 3 million Asiacell shares changing hands daily, according to Reuters' calculations. The stock has fallen 18 percent since its market debut to 18 dinars.

Iraq's telecom regulator is fining Zain Iraq $12,864 per day until it floats on the bourse. This adds to up to around $11.3 million so far. The company made a net profit of $261 million in the first nine months of 2013. ($1=1,164 Iraqi dinars)
Updated 29 Jan 2014 | Soruce: Reuters |
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