The UAE is under review for a possible upgrade to emerging market status in the country classification for the Standard & Poor's (S&P) Global Equity Index Series in 2012, according to an S&P document seen by Gulf News on Monday.
The move could open the floodgates to foreign capital inflows into the country's cash-strapped markets.
"By August 26, we will conclude the consultation process. Then we will review it with our index committee in New York. In the first quarter of of 2012, the announcement will be made, if there's an upgrade," Charbel S. Azzi, S&P Indices Head of Client Coverage (Middle East and Africa) told Gulf News in a telephone interview.
"The UAE is currently classified as a frontier market in all S&P branded indices. We are proposing that the UAE be considered an emerging market, as it meets all of our quantitative criteria to qualify as an emerging market," the S&P document said.
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S&P has also sought feedback from select asset management firms on other countries in the region which are being considered for reclassification. These countries are Oman, Qatar, Jordan and Kuwait.
"We see this as a positive sign for increasing market liquidity and attracting new types of investors. If that happens, fund managers who invest in line with S&P Emerging markets indexes would have to start buying UAE stocks, investing millions of dollars.
"Certainly, large caps with reasonable liquidity will be the biggest beneficiaries of the upgrade," Tariq Qaqish, Deputy Head of Asset Management with Dubai-based Al Mal Capital, told Gulf News.
"Our preliminary estimate indicates that $70-$80 billion (Dh257-Dh293 billion) is currently invested following S&P Emerging index between passive and active managers including exchange-traded funds. The UAE is expected to have a weight of less than half a per cent of the new index," Qaqish added.
If the UAE makes it also to the MSCI's emerging markets index next Dec-ember, the country will be on emerging status on three major index providers: FTSE, MSCI and S&P.
"It will also be positive to see more regional markets included in emerging status. Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, and Jordan are also under review for an upgrade. It will add attention to the regional solid macro story and encourage investors for direct investments," Qaqish added.
S&P's country classification depends on a range of factors including macroeconomic conditions, political stability, legal property rights and procedures, and trading and settlement processes and conditions.
Furthermore, the opinions and experiences of institutional investors are critically important in determining whether a market should be classified as developed, emerging, or frontier.
S&P uses quantitative data to initially assess market eligibility for the developed, emerging and frontier country classifications.
Countries must meet certain initial criteria to be considered for the S&P Developed, Emerging or Frontier indices; they must meet a certain number of additional criteria to be considered specifically for the developed and emerging classifications, and must withstand a final measure of country economic status to be classified as developed.