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Iraq's Stock Exchange Goes Electronic
19/04/2009

 

BAGHDAD -- Iraq's stock brokers gave up white boards and dry-erase markers for computer terminals and flat screens on Sunday as Baghdad's stock exchange launched electronic trading for five of the exchange's 91 companies.

The system was paid for with a $6.5 million grant from the U.S. government and has taken three years to install.

Iraqi Securities Commission Chairman Abdul-Razzak al-Saadi hailed it as a step into modernity that would make trading faster, more transparent and more accessible to foreign investors.

Sanharib Boutros Anton, an 82-year-old retired railroad worker who has been playing the market since its inception in 1993, was simply baffled, and chose to sit out the day's trading.

"I know this is a good thing and will help encourage investment from abroad," Mr. Anton said. "But I think I'll wait to trade on days when they use the old system."

Squinting at the monitors, displaying abbreviated stock codes instead of company names, written in English instead of Arabic, Mr. Anton added: "The monitors are very small. How are we supposed to read what they say?"

Another old-timer was equally skeptical.

"How do I talk to my broker? How do I communicate with him? We have no way of knowing what's happening; I don't get it," he said. "I like to be there in person and watch the trade happen in front of my eyes. How do I know what's going on in some back room on a computer?"

On the old system, buyers had to wait as many as 20 days before being issued stock certificates, during which time they couldn't resell. Under the new system, they'll be able to resell in minutes if they so desire.

Though the amount of trading was just a fraction of normal on the first day of electronic trading, the five stocks listed -- three banks and two hotels -- had banner days, with shares in Al Mansour Bank rising by about 20%.

The issues had lost time to make up. In order to transfer all their information onto the computers, the shares were delisted for the past three months. Their shareholders watched from the sidelines as the Iraq Stock Exchange rose by more than 100%, thanks largely to security gains in Iraq.

The exchange is open from 10 a.m. to noon, three days a week, and does about $1 million in turnover per session, according to officials. Trading through about 51 brokerage firms is dominated by wealthy Iraqis living overseas. About 10% comes from foreign investors.

Write to Charles Levinson at charles.levinson@wsj.com

Iraq's Stock Exchange Goes Electronic -  Source


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