Floor buzzes at Baghdad stock exchange

by on April 22nd, 2005


BAGHDAD — Though barely older than 30, Ahmad Walid al-Said has become the biggest of the hotshots on the noisy floor of the Iraqi Stock Exchange.

As head broker at al-Fawz Co., one of the country’s most respected brokerages, and chairman of the Iraqi Association of Securities, he sleeps, drinks and eats the stock market, even when he is not roaming the floor and putting through orders.

‘After I finish all this, we go to lunch,’ he says after the close of the session. ‘During lunch, we talk about what we’re going do the next session. We can’t talk about anything but the stock market, all day long.’

Welcome to the one place in Iraq where go-getters are abundant and no one is waiting for a handout. Unlike much of the rest of Iraq, the men and a considerable number of women who ply their trade here live by a bootstraps philosophy, eagerly profiting from an equities market where daily trading volume has grown twelvefold since the era of Saddam Hussein.

The stock exchange may be one of postwar Iraq’s success stories. It is tiny enough to fit temporarily inside a small, whitewashed building on a Baghdad side street. The trading floor is open only five hours per week, 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays.

Market value or ‘capitalization’ totals about $1.5 billion, compared with $116 billion for Istanbul’s stock exchange, $44 billion for the Tehran Stock Exchange in neighboring Iran, and $3 billion for the exchange in neighboring Jordan, which has a fifth of Iraq’s population.

Although trading volume has grown since the previous regime, it totals only about $6 million per day, less than the tiny Palestine Securities Exchange in the West Bank city of Nablus, according to the Web site of the Federation of Euro-Asian Stock Exchanges (www.feas.org).

But the Iraqi government has announced plans to let foreigners get a piece of the stock market, and that has created a stir among 10,000 or so individual and corporate investors who trade here.

Michael Hussey