June 24 (Bloomberg) -- Saudi Arabia will shift its weekend to Friday and Saturday starting next week, taking the biggest Arab economy a step closer to opening its $400 billion stock market to foreign investors.
Ministries and monetary agencies will adopt the new weekend from June 29, aligning Saudi Arabia with other Gulf Cooperation Council countries, according to a royal decree yesterday. The decision was taken based on “the economic position of the kingdom and its international and regional obligations,” it said. The weekend moves from Thursday and Friday.
“Investors can read between the lines and see this as another step towards opening up the market,” Fadi Al Said, senior fund manager at ING Investment Management in Dubai, said by phone yesterday. “It’s not official, but this is one of the things Saudi needed to do to open the markets for foreign investors.”
Deutsche Bank AG and HSBC Holdings Plc are among banks that have predicted the kingdom’s stock exchange, the largest in the region with a market value bigger than those in Turkey and Ireland combined, may open to foreigners as early as next year amid rising demand for assets. Such a move may attract as much as as $30 billion of inflows, John Burbank, founder of $3.7 billion San Francisco-based hedge fund Passport Capital LLC, said in February.
Non-resident foreign investors can currently only participate through share-swap transactions and exchange-traded funds.
The weekend switch “will help us in the global business world,” Mutlaq al-Morished, chief financial officer for Saudi Basic Industries Corp., the world’s biggest petrochemicals company by market value, said in response to e-mailed questions. “We had only three days left to do business. If you add in the time zones, like with U.S., we found ourselves with limited hours to do business in the week.”
The Tadawul All-Share Index declined 0.8 percent to 7,500.69 today, trimming this year’s advance to 10 percent. That compares with a surge of 39 percent for Dubai’s index and a drop of 16 percent for the MSCI Emerging Markets Index.
Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse Group AG are among global banks have set up offices in Riyadh as a hub for brokers covering the GCC region in anticipation the market will open up. MSCI Inc., whose gauges are tracked by investors managing about $7 trillion, last year resumed Saudi coverage and said it would consider including the nation in frontier or emerging-market indexes if it allows foreigners direct access.
MSCI this month upgraded the United Arab Emirates, the second-biggest Arab economy, and Qatar to emerging-market status. The index provider’s decision “puts additional pressure on Saudi Arabia to accelerate its qualified investor program and we now believe this is likely over summer,” Emad Mostaque, a London-based strategist at Noah Capital Markets EMEA Ltd., said June 12.
“Opening up to foreigners is mostly about regulation,” Tariq Qaqish, head of asset management at Dubai-based Al Mal Capital PSC, said by phone yesterday, adding that changing regulation in the country can take years. Still, the weekend shift “is definitely a step forward,” he said.
The changes to the working week will “lead to greater convergence with global markets,” Saudi Capital Market Chairman Mohammad Al-Sheikh, who’s based in Riyadh, said in a statement yesterday.
The kingdom has taken other steps in recent months. Al-Sheikh, a World Bank executive representing Saudi Arabia, was appointed as chairman of the CMA in February. In April the CMA announced a plan to issue credit ratings for local companies, and in May issued a resolution to adopt a stock price fluctuation limit of 10 percent for shares on their first trading day. The same month it proposed new procedures for companies with losses at or exceeding 50 percent of their capital.
The Saudi weekend switch will “put an end to negative effects and lost economic opportunities” from having different working days than regional and international institutions, the Saudi Press Agency said, citing the royal decree. Weekend changes for schools and educational institutions will start in the next academic year.
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