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Dubai investment bank eyes SE-Asia, Africa expansion

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Senior Manager - Equity Analytics
Senior Manager - Equity Analytics

[DUBAI] Arqaam Capital, a Dubai-based investment bank that acquired financial companies in Libya and Egypt in 2012, may expand in South-east Asia and Africa in the coming year as demand for emerging-market assets spurs revenue.

"Global institutions of developed markets are currently retrenching from their frontier and emerging-market bases, increasing the opportunity that we have in front of us today," said chief executive officer Riad Meliti in an interview here on Feb 19. Arqaam is exploring both acquisitions and "organic" growth, he said.

Arqaam is among Persian Gulf investment banks that are hiring after Europe's debt crisis led banks including Credit Suisse Group AG, Nomura Holdings Inc, and Morgan Stanley to trim their regional presence.

Trading value in emerging-market shares has risen in 2013 as economic growth that's more than six times higher than developed nations spurs corporate earnings.

The company, which expects to this year "significantly" increase assets under management from US$175 million, has boosted staff 28-fold to 110 since it started operations five years ago, Mr Meliti said.

Arqaam will add headcount in Dubai, Cairo, Tripoli, and Beirut, after posting a compounded annual growth rate of 35 per cent since inception, a level of momentum it expects to sustain, he said.

"Our macro vision is global in terms of what's happening with the shift in focus from developed to emerging and frontier," Mr Meliti said. "Anything in between is just turbulence, because we know the trajectory in the long term."

A number of Persian Gulf banks have pursued acquisitions in north Africa in the past year to gain access to more-populous nations such as Egypt as the countries undergo a political transition following so- called Arab Spring uprisings.

Arqaam bought El Rashad Securities Brokerage SAE in Cairo in January last year, just as momentum was building on the benchmark EGX 30 Index, whose 2012 rally of 51 per cent was the world's second-biggest among 93 gauges tracked by Bloomberg.

"It was a critical market for us to have a presence on the ground in to produce research and add value to regional and international clientele to invest in the market," Mr Meliti said.

Nine months later, it announced the acquisition of Al Rashad Finance and Management Advisory in Libya, where market access will accelerate as the nation pursues a democratic transition, according to Mr Meliti.

The momentum is set to continue this year. Middle East and north Africa (MENA) equities are poised to outperform emerging markets as higher dividends and state-funded expansion lure investors hunting for better returns, Franklin Templeton Investment Management Ltd said in December.

Arqaam plans to boost its MENA research coverage by 43 per cent to 140 companies this year, Mr Meliti said.

Accelerating economic growth in emerging markets is also making expansion beyond the Middle East attractive, Mr Meliti said.

Economies of the so- called BRIC countries, including Brazil, Russia, India, and China, as well as in Asia, are poised to grow more than 6 per cent this year, on average, compared with expansion of 1.1 per cent in developed nations.

Emerging-market equity funds beat developed-market funds for the seventh time in eight weeks, EPFR Global said in a Jan 25 report. Earlier in the month, the funds took in the most money on record on a weekly basis, EPFR data show.

"We're currently looking at other markets and opportunistically we're looking at the frontier and emerging market space from Africa to South-east Asia," Mr Meliti said. - Bloomberg

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