With most Middle East stock markets having been dragged down by the turmoil unleashed by the Arab spring and a sputtering global economy, some adventurous fund managers have started exploring opportunities in the tiny Iraqi market, according to a report from Bloomberg.
The Iraqi Stock Exchange, or ISX, says its main market index has surged some 65% so far this year, making it one of the world's best-performing markets. Though many doubt the accuracy of the ISX's main index, fund managers who follow the country agree that Iraqi share prices have risen about 15% in 2011—still outperforming most global peers.
Investors have been attracted by the relative political stability following the formation of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's coalition government last year, as well as the promise of higher oil revenues and the reconstruction of the economy. The International Monetary Fund estimates that Iraq's economy will grow at 9.6% this year and likely expand by 12.6% in 2012.
"Foreign buying has picked up in the past 18 months or so with inflows estimated at about $130 million in this period," said Shwan Ibrahim Taha, chief executive of Rabee Securities, whose weekly stock market reports are published by Iraq Business News.
"The fact that it is one of the best performing markets this year, with further potential upside as the economy develops, is definitely whetting investor appetite," he said.
The Iraqi bourse's gains this year compare well to the performance of other indices in the region. Saudi Arabia, the Middle East's biggest market, is down some 7% so far this year. Egypt, the most open market in the region, has dropped 38% in the wake of the January revolution that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak.