Posted by Gilmour Poincaree on November 15, 2008

Published: November 14, 2008

by Sana Abdallah (Middle East Times, with agency dispatches)

AMMAN – The global financial crisis continued to pummel the oil-rich Arab Gulf markets this week, Panic-stricken Kuwaiti traders have been demanding a halt to trading for weeks, demonstrating outside the stock market (Kuwait's bourse shown here) and the Kuwaiti parliament, and seeking the emir's intervention - Sipa Press via Newscomprompting an unprecedented and controversial court order that closed down the Kuwaiti bourse after an investor sued government and finance officials for compensation for his heavy losses.

The seven markets of the Gulf states closed on Thursday, the last day of the trading week in most of these countries, with a total loss in excess of $100 billion in share values in just one week, to about $650 billion, or 42 percent down from $1.116 trillion last year.

The administrative court in Kuwait on Thursday morning ordered the Kuwait Stock Exchange (KSE) to shut down until Nov. 17 in an attempt to curb the hemorrhaging of the market, which has seen a $100 billion loss, or 44 percent, since June 24.

The court justified its ruling, the first of its kind in the Gulf, as an intervention on behalf of investors, it said, after the market’s management failed to take measures to boost the declining bourse.

The court said it would convene again on Nov. 17 to continue looking into the case, in reference to a lawsuit filed on behalf of an investor seeking compensation for his heavy losses incurred at the Kuwait market. He filed the lawsuit against the prime minister, the commerce minister, who heads the bourse committee, and the director general of the KSE.

The bourse abided by the verdict and stopped trading as soon as it received the order, drawing cheers from investors gathered on the trading floor, but warnings from the government and lawmakers that shutting down the market was more detrimental to investors.

The unusual verdict came as a relief to panic-stricken traders who have been in recent weeks demanding a halt to trading, demonstrating outside the market and the Kuwaiti parliament, and sought the emir’s intervention.

The government has tried, but failed, to deflect the domino effect of the international financial crunch and curb the meltdown at home.

The central bank injected billions of dollars into banks last month after the near-collapse of the Gulf Bank, Kuwait’s fourth-largest lender. Parliament passed a bill to guarantee deposits at national and foreign banks. The emirate’s Investment Authority, Kuwait’s sovereign wealth fund with foreign investments of $300 billion, pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into buying stocks.

The government is still working out a rescue plan, but Kuwait became the first Gulf state to announce it would set up a fund to buy assets from investment firms.

Some Kuwaiti financial analysts said while suspending trade in the KSE was unorthodox, there was no other choice at this point when there are desperate sellers and no one wants to buy shares until they drop far enough.

But some Kuwaiti politicians saw the court order as setting a bad precedent that further weakens confidence in the stock market.

All other Gulf bourses have also taken a strong beating from the international financial fallout, and this week was no exception, owing to panic over the proliferation of the global crisis and ensuing plunge in oil prices.

Although the governments of the world’s other oil-rich nations have announced measures to prop up their respective markets and financial systems, they have not yet found the need for a bailout or to resort to the drastic measure of suspending trade, as in Kuwait.

The Dubai Financial Market dropped to its lowest point in more than four years on Thursday, down 4.9 percent in the day’s trading, and 24.7 percent over the week in its worst losses ever. Its share values fell 56 percent in the past three months, and 64.5 percent on the year.

The Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange index slumped 16.8 percent over the week, and 45 percent since June.

The financial markets in Qatar, Oman and Bahrain also had their share of heavy losses during the week.

The largest Arab market, Tadawul in Saudi Arabia, closed its week on Wednesday with a 10 percent drop, with its index down 44 percent since June.

Analysts predicted the financial downward spiral in the region will continue as huge losses in the United States, Europe and Asia plunge the world’s economies into recession.



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