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By Ulf Laessing
KHARTOUM, Nov 13 (Reuters) - In the small basement of a two-storey building next to Khartoum’s central bus station, around 40 smartly dressed men and women gather around terminals for an hour a day with one eye on the future of Sudan’s fledgling financial market.
The stock exchange where they work managed to avoid a crash during the months of unrest that toppled long-time ruler Omar al-Bashir this year.
And now it has ambitions to expand, once the government has stabilised an economy in crisis and ended Sudan’s isolation.
“With the changes that happened in Sudan we expect there will be big interest from non-Sudanese investors,” said the exchange’s assistant director Abdelrahman Majeed.
Though still tiny, with a market capitalisation of around 8 billion pounds at the end of 2018, its trade volumes have risen steadily in local currency terms in recent years. They have increased to some 11 billion pounds ($245 million) this year from 9 billion for all of 2018, said Majeed.
It has also upgraded technology with Oman’s help and hopes to connect all brokers online soon, he said. Currently only one brokerage can trade online in real time online, traders say.
Most trade is in a type of sukuk, or Islamic bond, known as shahama. On the three days that Reuters visited the bourse, few of the 68 stocks moved.
Some foreigners, notably from the Gulf, have bought into the market but many have struggled to repatriate their investments since the 2011 secession of South Sudan, which took away most of Sudan’s oil wealth and caused hard currency shortages, dealers say.
The civilian government appointed as part of a transition power-sharing deal with the military plans to set up an investment body to review investment regulations, Finance Minister Ibrahim Elbadawi told Reuters.
This will encourage higher volumes once economic reforms have been enacted and inflation brought down, he said, adding that the government hoped the United States would remove Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, which cuts it off from the global financial system.
For Dima Awad, general manager at Sudan’s biggest brokerage, Sanabel Securities, the market also needs to offer a greater range of tradable products, since many foreign investors are not interested in sukuk.
“We need to develop ... first the infrastructure (and) secondly we need new products,” she said.
“...We need the government to give more support... have a vision, on what technologies we need, how can we connect to Gulf markets.”
Her brokerage is part of the bank of Khartoum, the biggest local bank, whose owners include several Gulf lenders.
Meanwhile, authorities expect to issue 4 billion Sudanese pounds ($89 million) of sukuk this year, similar to the amount issued in previous years. They are the main investment tool for banks and the public, and offer a chunky annual profit rate of between 17% and 20%.
Osama Elnour Saeed, an official at the Sudan Financial Services Co, which issues sukuk on behalf of the government, said the last issue had been oversubscribed as some investors were betting U.S sanctions would be lifted.
But a financial source said banks had been finding a home for excess liquidity after the central bank printed more money to address a cash crisis. ($1 = 44.9952 Sudanese pounds) (Editing by John Stonestreet and Kevin Liffey)