Japanese bank Nomura has been awarded regulatory approval to offer foreign investors access to Saudi Arabia's stock market, joining a growing list of banks beefing up their presence ahead of anticipated market liberalisation.
Nomura's entry comes amid steps by the kingdom to gradually open up its retail-dominated stock market, the biggest in the Arab world, directly to foreign investors in a bid to turn its local exchange into a regional hub.
Japan's biggest bank, which has offices in Saudi, Dubai, Doha and Bahrain, can offer access to the bourse, called Tadawul, through total-return swap products whereby securities are issued to foreign investors, it said in an e-mailed statement on Monday.
"Nomura's ability to execute transactions for international institutions via swaps, is a significant milestone and will help facilitate the flow of foreign capital into the kingdom," said Khaled al-Khattaf, chief executive officer of Nomura Saudi Arabia in the statement. Market liberalisation has been considered for several years.
In December, industry sources told Reuters that the kingdom planned to offer limited direct foreign ownership. At the time, sources expected this to happen by the mid- to late-first quarter of 2012.
Foreign buyers of Saudi stocks currently do so through swap arrangements. Other large global banks such as HSBC and Morgan Stanley already offer such access.
Nomura, which has operated in the kingdom since April 2010, offers corporate finance and wealth management services.
The Saudi Stock Exchange is the largest market in the Middle East, with around 150 listed companies valued at $337 billion, dwarfing the Dubai bourse's $28.5 billion and Qatar's $97 billion, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Last week, Saudi Arabia's regulator adjusted stock ownership guidelines in a bid to boost transparency.