RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia plans to launch stock market index funds accessible to foreigners by the end of March in a bid to open up the Arab world's biggest bourse, the market regulator's chief said in remarks published on Sunday.
"We want to study experiences of many countries, which have allowed foreign investment in an organized way," Abdulrahman al-Tuwaijri, head of the Capital Markets Authority (CMA), was quoted as saying in business daily al-Eqtisadiah.
Earlier this month Tuwaijri said in a newspaper interview that Saudi Arabia was considering exchange-traded funds (ETFs) without giving a timeframe.
In 2008 the word's top oil exporter and OPEC member allowed so-called swap agreements between non-resident foreign investors and local intermediaries, permitting indirect foreign ownership on the bourse.
Previously foreigners could only invest in the Saudi stock market only through selected funds.
But large international investors such as pension funds have held off investment on a large scale, pending further steps to allow entry into the market and awaiting full ownership.
Tuwaijri hinted on Sunday that direct foreign investments were not being considered at present, as risky "hot" money would flow in.
John Sfakianakis, chief economist at Banque Saudi Fransi, said it was clear that Saudi Arabia was further opening up the bourse for foreigners through different tools but full ownership could not be expected yet.
"Saudi Arabia is one of the premiere frontier markets," Sfakianakis said.
(Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Greg Mahlich)