Iraq bourse braces for milestone $1.3 billion IPO
Dubai, January 31, 2013
(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)
Iraq's bourse is bracing for a milestone $1.3 billion initial public offering. The share offer by the country's number-two mobile operator is the first since the US-led invasion, and it has, surprisingly, been fully subscribed.
Asiacell's full valuation and its sheer size mean that the IPO will double the current market value of the Iraqi bourse.
The Qatari-controlled telecoms operator doesn't need to raise cash but, like rivals Zain Iraq and Korek Telecom, partly owned by France Telecom, the company is required to list 25 percent of its existing shares to meet the terms of its licence agreement. The issue will give Asiacell an implied overall market capitalisation of $5.1 billion.
That helps explain why Asiacell hasn't offered its shares at a discount. It is valued at 5.3 times its earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation, and amortisation in 2013, according to one investor, or an 8 percent premium to rival operators in the Middle East. Iraq's low mobile penetration, barely 80 percent, does give it a higher relative growth potential, but the country is also a riskier place to invest with sectarian fault-lines deepening each day.
Iraq and Qatar Telecom, the majority owner of Asiacell, have a strong interest in preserving their reputations with a successful issue. The Qatari firm is expected to have subscribed to one quarter of the shares offered by local Iraqi investors as part of its plan to increase its shareholding from 54 percent to 60 percent. Rich investors in the Iraqi Kurdish region, where Asiacell is headquartered, are also expected to have backed the issue.
So even with a full book, doubts remain over whether Asiacell's listing will bring a genuine new pool of capital to the Iraqi market - which fell 8 percent last year - and whether the bourse will be able to absorb other telecoms share sales in the near future. Either way, Asiacell provides investors an opportunity to diversify. At the moment bank shares account for the vast majority of daily trading. A well-run, profitable telecoms company will be hard to ignore. – Reuters