Recently ISX CEO Taha Ahmed Abdul Salam told reporters that foreigners now hold 19% of ISX-listed shares. (See this link.) This seems like a big percentage but in fact reveals that foreign institutional participation in the market remains quite limited.
As of the end of last month, strategic shareholders in the eight foreign-invested banks held 328 bn shares. (See Table. Figures for total shares are from the May ISX monthly report.) This number is 17% of the total for the whole market. (Doing the same calculation by market cap you get 22%.)
These investors are not really market participants. Most are large banking groups like HSBC, which owns 70.1% of BDSI, or National Bank of Kuwait, which owns 75% of BROI (the IFC owns another 10%). Their Iraqi bank holdings are not short-term punts but rather form part of a long-term business strategy. They are generally unlikely to trade and their holdings cannot be thought of as part of the free float.
The remaining share of only 2% for all other foreigners is actually a more interesting number than the 19% cited by the CEO. If this is also their share of total ISX market cap, their holdings would only be worth about US$ 76 mn. Considering that US$ 20 mn in assets under management is often cited as the minimum threshold for a viable fund-management business, it seems there can be no more than a handful of small foreign funds in the market so far.