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MENAFN - Times of Oman - 15/06/2003

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MUSCAT — The shares of Oman's second largest leasing and finance company — United Finance Company (UFC) SAOG — would soon be listed on the Bahrain Stock Exchange (BSE).

UFC will be the first non-banking finance company from Oman, which is listing on the BSE. At present, only two entities from Oman are listed on the BSE — Oman Cement Company (OCC) and BankMuscat. Oman government has 63 per cent stake in OCC's equity and Diwan of Royal Court holds 25 per cent stake in BankMuscat's equity. OCC is the best performing cement manufacturer in Oman, and BankMuscat is the country's largest commercial bank with assets of over RO1.5 billion. OCC had posted a net profit of RO5.9 million in 2002 and had paid a dividend of 12 per cent.

In fact, Bahrain has been an attractive market for regional investors for a long time and the proposed 1 billion Bahrain Financial Harbour project, which will be completed by 2008, is expected to further boost its financial sector development. As part of the stock market reform process, most bourses in the Gulf are understood to have initiated talks to establish greater cooperation among them and augment inter-Arab investments. Moreover, the Union of Arab Stock Exchanges is currently working on a project to link all Arab bourses to help boost investments in Arab markets.

When contacted Raghavan K. Murti, chief executive officer of United Finance Company (UFC) told Times that the company's shares would be listed on the BSE from June 25. United Finance would be the first finance company from Oman to be listed on BSE.

The company has already obtained necessary approvals from the Muscat Securities Market. Raghavan said the key objective of listing the shares of UFC on the BSE is to expand the company's investor-base throughout the AGCC. The company already has a significant number of AGCC investors.

Cross listing would soon emerge as an important element of economic integration among the six-member Arab Gulf states. In the last 10 years financial sector reforms in the region have been speeded up and there has been a growing realisation among the Gulf states that there are rich dividends to be accrued from economic integration, Raghavan underlined.

In fact, businesses have a greater role to play and making this initiative a reality. The proposed AGCC monetary union and the single currency would make the life much easier for businesses in the Gulf. UFC's proposed rights issue of about one million shares at a price of RO1.250 per share is waiting for Capital Market Authority's approval.

After the rights issue of one millions shares, the company's share capital will go up by over 16 per cent to about RO7 million from the present capital of RO6 million. Of the total 945,000 shares, 900,000 shares will be issued to the existing shareholders of the company and 45,000 shares to the employees. The company's share is currently quoted at about RO1.900.

Asked whether the company has any plans to open a branch in Bahrain, Raghavan said: "So far, we have no such plans and the idea of listing our shares on BSE is basically to expand the investor-base further. These are the days of common markets and common currencies and the exchanges in the Arab markets are also in the process of greater integration."

UFC had paid cash dividend of 15 per cent for the year 2002 compared with a five per cent cash dividend and 20 per cent stock dividend paid in 2001. The 15 per cent cash dividend is so far the highest-ever cash dividend from the company.

The company had paid cash dividends of five per cent and eight per cent for the years 1999 and 2000, respectively. The balance sheet size grew by nearly 10 per cent to RO35.44 million in 2002 as against RO32.24 million in 2001.

Most finance companies are performing well. At present, there are six leasing and finance companies operating in Oman. Of which, five are listed on the MSM such as National Finance, Al Omaniya Financial Services, Muscat Finance, Oman Orix Leasing and United Finance. Taageer Finance Company SAOC is the youngest and closely held finance company in Oman.



 






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