By Ahmed Tabaqchali, CIO of Asia Frontier Capital (AFC) Iraq Fund.

Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

The Iraqi market, as measured by the Rabee Securities RSISUSD Index, declined by -9.7% in February, taking the year to date decline to -12.5%.

February’s decline takes the index below the multi-year lows made in May 2016, for a decline of ­-70% from the multi-year highs of January 2014 to February 2019, versus the -68% decline from the same highs to May 2016. However, the severity of the decline and the immediate triggers are the only things that the two months have in common, while all other indicators, both fundamental and technical, are diametrically opposed.

The immediate trigger for the decline in the last two months was a foreign portfolio liquidation, the same trigger behind that of the period leading into May 2016. However, the similarity ends there, as the current foreign liquidation is that of a relatively small single portfolio vs. the massive multi-month liquidation witnessed then as the chart below demonstrates.

(Source: Iraq Stock Exchange (ISX), Asia Frontier Capital)

The above chart is an index of the absolute level of foreign selling & buying with their respective moving averages, clearly showing the contrast between the two periods (both highlighted in light orange). The main reason for the similarity, in effect of the selling on the index, is due to the extremely low liquidity in the current market- a low level that has been discussed in “Volumes and Reversion to the Mean”.

The average daily turnover per month since late 2014 (chart below) shows the association of low turnover with the index levels. Moderate selling in such an environment of extremely low liquidity exerts a strong downward pressure on prices, which coupled with low prices turns a few price increments into much larger percentage moves. A case in point is Bank of Baghdad (BBOB) which started the month at IQD 0.280 per share. Due to selling it declined to IQD 0.250 by month’s end. This is equal to three price increments (the minimum price increment is IQD 0.010), yet it is a -10.7% decline from 0.280 to 0.250, which in turn accounted for a -1.2% downward move in the index. Another issue of low liquidity is how it affects higher priced stocks, resulting in them trading in much larger price increments, with the end result producing the same percentage change effects as for the lower priced stocks.

(Source: Iraq Stock Exchange (ISX), Rabee Securities, Asia Frontier Capital)

The macro picture between 2016 and now couldn’t be more different. In 2016 Iraq’s economy was being crushed by the double whammy of collapsing government revenues, due to falling oil prices, and the sharply increasing cost of the ISIS war- a war that many international commentators believed marked the end of the Iraqi state. However, the end of the ISIS war cemented Iraq’s integrity and its position as a key player in the Middle East. This is evidenced by the high number of heads of state and high-level official visits to Iraq over the last few months as relationships which were forged during the ISIS-conflict are being developed into future economic relationships.

On the other hand, the economy in 2019 is gradually benefitting from the expansionary effects of the reversal of the forces that crushed it. In particular, the healing effects of higher oil revenues over the last two years is beginning to filter down into the broader economy with the first signs being seen in the recent recovery in broad money, or M2 which acts as a proxy for economic activity, as can be seen in the chart below.

(Source: Central Bank of Iraq, Iraq’s Ministry of Oil, Asia Frontier Capital)

(Note: M2 as of Nov with AFC est.’s for Dec; Oil revenues as of Feb)

The period leading to the May 2016 low witnessed multi-month declines in oil revenues that had a massive negative effect on economic activity as first seen in the stagnation of M2, followed by a decline as manifested in the onset of a severe economic contraction. It was natural then that these effects would negatively impact corporate earnings and ultimately lead to a marked decline.

A mirror image reversal is taking place in 2019 as multi-month increases in oil revenues have revived M2 which points to an economic recovery. The early signs of this is evidenced in the growth of customer deposits (consumers, businesses and government) with banks, which can be seen in the chart below through the growth of the IQD Current Account (C/A) component of banks’ reserves with the Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) – the recovery of which accelerated in May 2018, with the latest data as of early February indicating a continuation of this trend.

(Source: Central Bank of Iraq, Asia Frontier Capital)

(Note: M0 as of Jan, IQD C/A component of bank’s reserves as of Jan)

Other signs of economic recovery can be seen from the recent earnings reports of consumer spending related companies such as Pepsi bottler Baghdad Soft Drinks (IBSD) and mobile operator AsiaCell (TASC). Of the two, the data from TASC is promising, as the company is especially leveraged to the economic recovery given the severe hits its profitability took due to the ISIS conflict which were discussed fully in “Telecoms Dial up Recovery

The drag on the economy thus far in 2018 and 2019 has been due to the political paralysis before, during, and after the May 2018 parliamentary elections. This led to a torpidity in government spending, but a silver lining of the government inaction has been the steady growth in the government budget surplus that is estimated to be about USD 24.5 bln in the two years ending in 2018. This paralysis in government spending has finally come to an end with parliament’s approval of the 2019 budget in mid-January.

The 2019 budget’s non-oil investment programme is about USD 12.5 bln, which would be equivalent to about a 7.5% stimulus to the estimated non-oil GDP for 2019. While it is highly unlikely that this would be immediately spent, yet the spending should start with a trickle but grow as investment spending gets underway.

Just as the negative fundamental forces in 2016 were the reason for the market’s decline, their reversal and the early signs of economic recovery should lead to an economic growth which must find its way into corporate earnings’ recovery- which in turn should lead to a rising market. Logically, this ought to mean an end to the market’s divergence from its past close relationship with oil revenues (a proxy for the forces driving the economy) which is currently at the widest it has been for the last few years (see below).

(Source: Iraq’s Ministry of Oil, Rabee Securities, Asia Frontier Capital)

(Note: Oil revenues as of Feb)

In conclusion, the fundamentals seen in the prior charts surely argue that it’s only a matter a time before the liquidity in the broader economy finds its way into the Iraqi equity market, the reigning ugly duckling of frontier markets, to turn it into a swan or at least into a duck that flies.

Please click here to download Ahmed Tabaqchali’s full report in pdf format.

Mr Tabaqchali (@AMTabaqchali) is the CIO of the AFC Iraq Fund, and is an experienced capital markets professional with over 25 years’ experience in US and MENA markets. He is a non-resident Fellow at the Institute of Regional and International Studies (IRIS) at the American University of Iraq-Sulaimani (AUIS), and an Adjunct Assistant Professor at AUIS. He is a board member of the Credit Bank of Iraq.

His comments, opinions and analyses are personal views and are intended to be for informational purposes and general interest only and should not be construed as individual investment advice or a recommendation or solicitation to buy, sell or hold any fund or security or to adopt any investment strategy. It does not constitute legal or tax or investment advice. The information provided in this material is compiled from sources that are believed to be reliable, but no guarantee is made of its correctness, is rendered as at publication date and may change without notice and it is not intended as a complete analysis of every material fact regarding Iraq, the region, market or investment.

By John Lee.

Oil Minister Thamer Al-Ghadhban met on Monday with Richard Crow, the Director of Development for the Middle East and North Africa at Shire Oak International.

During the meeting, they discussed prospects for joint cooperation in developing Iraq’s renewable energy sector.

Mr Crow expressed his company’s desire to develop the country’s energy sector by building solar plants.

The UK-based company describes itself as a “developer and financier of large-scale renewable energy projects in developing countries and emerging economies. Its core mission is to be a global pathfinder in devising, implementing and spreading renewable energy solutions to drive transformational change in the rate of adoption of renewable energy in the developing world.”

(Source: Ministry of Oil)

By Kate Denereaz, for the AMAR International Charitable Foundation.

Work is a huge part of our lives. It provides security, meaning and a sense of belonging. It’s part of who we are.

Many AMAR staff, like the people they serve, have been displaced by war and violence. Working for AMAR provides structure and a semblance of normality.

But work means many different things to different people. To mark International Women’s Day, we’re asking some of the women of our workforce, “what does working for AMAR mean to you?

Click here to hear their stories.

(Source: AMAR)

A new cybercrimes law that would impose heavy prison sentences and hefty fines against peaceful critics who express themselves online would be a devastating setback for freedom of expression in Iraq, Amnesty International has said.

The organization has highlighted its serious concern over the draft “Law on Information Technology Crimes” in an open letter signed by nine other NGOs. The letter was submitted to the Iraqi authorities this morning and warns that the proposed law would “establish a climate of self-censorship in the country.

If passed, this draconian cybercrime law will be a devastating blow for freedom of expression in Iraq. The vague and overly broad wording of the law means it could easily become a tool for repression in a country where the space for critical voices is already severely restricted,” said Razaw Salihy, Iraq researcher at Amnesty International.

More here.

(Source: Amnesty International)

By John Lee.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) have reportedly signed a four-year political agreement which includes measures to speed up the formation of the new Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

According to a report from Rudaw, KDP deputy president Nechirvan Barzani and the PUK’s acting leader Kosrat Rasul Ali signed the cooperation deal in Erbil on Monday afternoon.

It adds that the deal was welcomed by the Change Movement (Gorran), which struck its own deal with the KDP on 16th February.

More here.

(Source: Rudaw)

The government of Japan has donated US$3.4 million to provide lifesaving health and nutrition assistance for vulnerable children in conflict affected areas in Iraq.

Approximately 4.2 million people have returned to their homes after fleeing the violence that erupted in 2014, however many find their homes and communities have been reduced to rubbles and essential health services overstretched.

“Across all conflict affected governorates, hospitals have been destroyed and those that are functioning are overwhelmed and struggling to meet health and nutrition needs, placing the lives of the most vulnerable children at risk of deadly diseases, including polio and measles,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Representative to Iraq.

“Japan has recently decided on a new assistance package for Iraq amounting to 63 million US dollars, including this project as contribution in health and nutrition sectors. With this package, the total amount of Japan’s assistance to the people affected by the crisis in Iraq reaches 500 million US Dollars,” said H.E. Mr. Naofumi Hashimoto, Ambassador of Japan to the Republic of Iraq said.

UNICEF is grateful to the Government of Japan in their unwavering support to vulnerable children and families in Iraq. Since 2015 UNICEF Iraq has partnered with Government of Japan to support the needs of children caught in cycles of violence.

The latest funding of US$.3.4 million will compliment Japan and UNICEF’s investment for Iraqi children by building the capacity of health workers, strengthening health systems in conflict affected governorates as well as providing immunization and nutrition services to nearly 1 million children and breastfeeding mothers in areas of returns as well as in the camps for displaced people.

(Source: UN)

By Alexander Southworth, Iraq Britain Business Council (IBBC).

Exploring Tech in Iraq: ‘Hackasuly – Promoting Tech Literacy for a New Generation of Iraqis’

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. In a country which has seen its fair share of weapon misuse over the last few decades Mandela’s quote could not be more relevant in the climate of present-day Iraq.

With a beleaguered state education system and struggling infrastructure, there exists a community within the Tech Sector that is trying to navigate these challenges and promote education of Iraqi youths through the cultivation of digital skills that will help them reach their goals and find meaningful employment.

In the IBBC’s Tech Series: Exploring Tech in Iraq, we speak to some of the innovators and founders of tech organisations making a difference in Iraq.

One such organisation, HackaSuly, is an initiative that aims to promote technology in Sulaimani, Kurdistan and wider Iraq through tech events, hackathons, meetups and to create a network of tech enthusiasts.

We spoke to one of the founders, Hero Mohammed, to find out more about HackaSuly’s events, how they are empowering young Iraqis, the inspiration behind the founding of the organisation and any advice she has to aspiring tech entrepreneurs.

I believe there is a great potential in Iraq for the tech-industry. The people of Iraq are hungry for stability, innovation and facilities after decades of war and conflict” – Hero Mohammed, Founder of HackaSuly

Growing up in Sulaimani, Iraqi Kurdistan, Hero describes her desire to participate in coding challenges and tech events but due to a near complete lack of opportunities, this simply was not possible. In 2015, she helped organise HackaErbil, the first Hackathon in Iraq, which would inspire her to embark on a journey to help others in the community to have the opportunities her peers did not have as college students. Building on the success of that first event, Hero started by organising the first hackathon in Sulaimani with the help of some friends.

So how exactly does HackaSuly help young coders through its events? HackaSuly is trying to help young coders to develop their skills and match them with the existing tech market demands. In the meanwhile, they are encouraged to update themselves with cutting-edge technologies and tools.

Until now, they have had three different types of events.

  1. Meet and code (Co-founded with Razhan Hameed): regular weekly coding meetups for coders and people who are interested in coding to come together, collaborate and share their knowledge and skills.
  2. HackaSuly Hackathon (co-organised with Snur Hamid): an annual hackathon that brings together developers, designers and entrepreneurs to come up with ideas that have a technological implementation, form teams and develop their prototypes over a weekend.
  3. Suli Tech Festival (Co-founded and co-organised with Razhan Hameed in collaboration with five one labs): a day-long tech celebration in Sulaimani. The Festival brought together young innovators and members of the local tech community with leaders and companies in the industry. The goal was to help promote technology, generate more interest in the field, and expand knowledge of career opportunities (from the participant’s side) and potential hires (from the business’ side) in the tech industry in Sulaimani. The Festival contained a number of exciting events over the course of the day, including: a welcome speech by the Deputy Prime Minister of Kurdistan Regional Government, a Coding Challenge, an Intro Workshop to Web Development, a Tech Career Fair and Project Presentations.

While events of this nature may be common in more tech-developed countries, their establishment in Iraq brings many serious challenges. Hero describes how their ideas and events are new to the society in general and the biggest challenge has being delivering their message. Explaining the events and ideas especially when seeking funds and support have been challenging. When they first started with the HackaSuly hackathon, there was significant difficultly making people within the tech industry, even professionals, understand what a hackathon is.

Support has been key to growing the operation, Hero states great support has been forthcoming from local and international NGOs and private sector companies, especially those that are operating within the Iraqi tech industry, many as part of their Social Responsibility programs. More support is necessary to keep momentum growing, especially government contributions.

“I can imagine HackaSuly in 5 years… A large tech community across the country working together to make technology an important sector for the economic development of Kurdistan and Iraq” – Hero Mohammed, Founder of HackaSuly

Inspired by her strong love of coding and tech, Hero is one of the inspiring young innovators that are driving tech literacy and interest in a new generation of Iraqis. By creating a community of tech enthusiasts in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan, HackaSuly is empowering young people to believe in their abilities, learn new skills and create for themselves tech start-ups in Iraq’s fast growing tech Sector.

As Hero states: Access to new technologies can have many benefits for any developing countries. One such benefit is its impact on reducing the costs of production. Other ways technology is helping developing countries is by boosting economies through innovation, SMBs and advanced communication.

IBBC is holding a Tech Conference in Iraq in early 2019, where we aim to bring together the key innovators transforming the digital landscape in the country, explore solutions to better governance and industry reforms using technology and give a platform to young Iraqi entrepreneurs breaking the mould. For more information, and to get involved, please email: London@webuildiraq.org or visit: https://www.iraqbritainbusiness.org/event/tech-conference-in-baghdad.

(Source: IBBC)

By John Lee.

Iraq’s Ministry of Oil has announced interim oil exports for February of 101,387,615 barrels, giving an average for the month of 3.621 million barrels per day (bpd), down from the 3.649 bpd exported in January.

These exports from the oilfields in central and southern Iraq amounted to 99,120,006 barrels, while exports from Kirkuk amounted to 1,753,373 barrels, and from Qayara 514,236 barrels.

Revenues for the month were $6.168 billion at an average price of $60.834 per barrel.

January export figures can be found here.

(Source: Ministry of Oil)

GardaWorld, a global leader in comprehensive security and risk management, has made its weekly security report available to Iraq Business News readers.

Prepared by GardaWorld’s Risk Analysis Team in Iraq, this essential report includes short- and medium-term outlooks on the security situation, reports and commentary on recent significant events, and a detailed overview of developments across the country.

Please click here to download the latest report free of charge.

For more information on how GardaWorld’s services can support your business in Iraq, please contact Daniel Matthews, Senior Director Iraq, at daniel.matthews@garda.com

Advertising Feature

Rabee Securities Iraq Stock Exchange (ISX) market report (week ending: 28th February 2019).

Please click here to download a table of listed companies and their associated ticker codes.

The RSISX index ended the week at IQD577 (-4.6%) / $621 (-4.4%) (weekly change) (-12.5% and -12.5% YTD change, respectively). The number of week traded shares was 2.0 bn and the weekly trading volume was IQD1.3 bn ($1.1 mn).

ISX Company Announcements

  • According to the ISX announcement, the opening price of the IQD5.0 mn class bonds (CB125) will be IQD5,368,219 on Sunday (Mar. 3, 2019). [Table: 2.3]
  • ISX will suspend trading of Al-Mansour Bank (BMNS) starting Mar. 11, 2019 due to the AGM* that will be held on Mar. 14, 2019 to discuss and approve 2018 annual financial results.
  • Commercial Bank of Iraq (BCOI) announced that it will start distributing 3.5% cash dividend (IQD0.035 dividend per share) starting Mar. 3, 2019.
  • AL- Kindi of Veterinary Vaccines (IKLV) announced that it will start distributing 4% cash dividend (IQD0.04 dividend per share) starting Mar. 3, 2019.
  • Middle East Producing & Marketing – Fish (AMEF) announced that it will start distributing 20% cash dividend (IQD0.20 dividend per share) for the year ending Mar. 31, 2017 starting Mar. 3, 2019.
  • ISC sent a letter to North Bank (BNOR), Modern Paint Industries (IMPI), Electronic Industries (IELI), Al-Hilal Industries (IHLI), Iraqi Carton Manufactures (IICM), AL-Badia for General Trans (SBAG) and Iraqi Land Transport (SILT) to ask for the disclosure of requested financial results.
  • ISX sent a letter to United Bank (BUND) to disclose AGM* minutes which was held on Feb. 20, 2019.
  • ISC sent a letter to Union Bank of Iraq (BUOI), Al-Qabedh Islamic Bank (BQAB) and Al-Khair Financial Investment (VKHF) on Feb. 26, 2019 asking the disclosure of their 2016 and 2017 annual financial results because they didn’t reply ISC’s previous letters.