The Wrong Time to Panic

By Mark DeWeaver.

Iraqi stocks held up surprisingly well for most of this week despite the dramatic loss of much of Northwestern Iraq to extremists. Even following the fall of Mosul on Tuesday, Rabee Securities’ RSISX index was down only 2.6% for the week by Wednesday’s close. And while the ISX index fell 3.3% on Wednesday, about half of that decline was due to a 10% drop in Asiacell on a mere US$ 659 worth of turnover.

Thursday, however, was a different story. Five of the top banks—BBOB, BCOI, BNOR, BROI, and BUND—were down by the 10% daily limit (or close to it) on heavy foreign selling. Net foreign buying, which had been positive every day since the start of the week, swung sharply negative. Having accumulated US$ 627,000 worth of Iraqi stocks from Sunday to Wednesday, foreigners ended the week by net selling US$ 415,000 in a single day.

While I don’t have any way of knowing for sure, it seems obvious to me that one of the foreign funds has finally panicked.

Should I be panicking too? I don’t think so. Orc-like hordes of invaders descending on the capital is undoubtedly a scary prospect, but ISIS has almost certainly reached the limit of its advance by this point. The Iraqi army is unlikely to melt away from the Shia areas in that way that it did in Mosul. It is already being backed up by Kurdish forces in the territories bordering Kurdistan and may quite possibly be able to call upon US airpower by as early as next week. Meanwhile, the enemy is stretched thin and vastly outnumbered.

The scenario to bet on is not the fall of Baghdad but rather a series of reversals for ISIS. Once that happens, the market should stabilize and, in the event of US airstrikes, will easily erase its losses. If one is going to sell at all, now is not the time to do it.

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