Dana Gas's aim for London listing is a slap in the face for UAE bourses

Comment: Should the Dana Gas plan to list on the London stock exchange be seen as a slap in the face for local bourses? Brad Reagan discusses.

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If you were taking a quick glance at the UAE's publicly listed companies, you could easily think Dana Gas is a favourite among investors.

The Sharjah oil and gas producer has a strong international profile but also many interests throughout the region, including promising projects in Iraq, Egypt and the waters of the Gulf.

Oil is trading near US$120 (Dh440.75) a barrel and the Dubai Financial Market is entering a bull market for the first time since Dubai World's debt restructuring was announced.

Yet the stock is down 13 per cent in the past six months on the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange where Dana Gas is listed and the chief executive said yesterday the company was thinking of listing its shares in London.

If that seems like a rebuke against local trading, it is.

The chief executive, Ahmed al Arbeed, said the nature of the business was "not understood by investors in the region", which was a bit like complaining Germans do not understand car companies or that Americans do not grasp the making of apple pie.

What he is really saying is that the retail day traders who dominate local markets are too unsophisticated to appreciate the long-term outlook for his business and he would prefer to take his chances with institutional buyers (that they will reach a different conclusion is not assured). But to do that, he needs to look elsewhere, given that foreigners still own only 3 per cent of the shares for the UAE's publicly traded companies.

One reason local markets are not a stronger blip on the radars of foreign institutions is that the bourses are dominated by banking and property stocks, categories pummelled in the financial crisis.

Dana listing in London, even if it retains its Dubai listing, would be a serious blow to efforts to make local markets better reflect the regional economy.

Talk of a consolidation among UAE bourses has not yet materialised. Dana's announcement yesterday could be the impetus to get those conversations going again.