FAB Shares Gain as Bank Seeks to Remove Foreign Ownership Limit

First Abu Dhabi (FAB) Bank blue close up storefront sign and entrance.

(Bloomberg) — First Abu Dhabi Bank’s board proposed removing the foreign ownership limit after the United Arab Emirates started loosening rules to attract international investors. The shares advanced.

The change is subject to the supervision of regulatory authorities and would require amendments to the current laws and policies, the nation’s biggest bank said. The move has “the potential that other public companies in the U.A.E. may apply similar measures,” it said.

The U.A.E. said this month it’ll allow foreigners to own 100% of businesses across industries. The federal government will leave it to individual emirates to “decide the ownership percentage in each activity according to their circumstances,” said Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The country is made up of seven emirates, with Abu Dhabi as its capital.

If publicly traded companies in the U.A.E. allow foreigners to own 100% of their shares, they could attract about $4.9 billion in inflows from passive trackers of MSCI indexes, according to EFG-Hermes equities strategist Mohamad Al Hajj. Potential inflows by active investors could be “a multiple of that number,” he wrote in a report on Thursday.

First Abu Dhabi Bank shares climbed as much as 3.5 percent, the most since May 30, to 15.52 dirhams in early trading in Abu Dhabi.

The U.A.E., the second-biggest Arab economy, currently caps foreign ownership of businesses at 49%, except in so-called economic free zones. FAB’s shareholders in February approved raising its foreign ownership limit to 40% from 25%.

First Abu Dhabi Bank in May asked MSCI Inc. to clarify its decision not to increase the lender’s weighting on its MSCI EM index. The index compiler’s CEO said in an interview in March that a strategic stake controlled by Abu Dhabi’s royal family was an obstacle for higher weighting.

This “is positive news for U.A.E banks as it may allow international banks to take strategic stakes in local lenders, especially for the mid to small sized lenders that are underperforming,” Edmond Christou, a financials analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence, said by email.

The bank’s proposal comes after the market regulator in neighboring Saudi Arabia removed the limit of ownership of publicly traded companies for foreign strategic investors. While the Saudi market watchdog has removed the cap, limits by other regulators or a company’s own rules still apply.