November 13, 2019 / 12:30 PM / 25 days ago

CORRECTED-Amid unrest, Sudan's bourse maps out expansion plans

(Corrects paragraph 8 to make clear civilian government was appointed in August, not April)

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 they work at managed to avoid a crash during the unrest that convulsed the country this year, toppling long-time ruler Omar al-Bashir.

And now it has ambitions to expand once the government has stabilized an economy in crisis and ended the country’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 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 real-time online, traders say.

Most trade in is a type of sukuk, or Islamic bonds, known as shahamas. 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 in August plans to set up 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.

DIVERSIFICATION

For Dima Awad, General Manager at Sudan’s biggest brokerage Sanabel Securities, the market also needs to offer a greater range of tradeable products, given 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 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. 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 was oversubscribed as some investors were betting U.S sanctions would be lifted.

But a financial source said banks had invested 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

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