Merrill Lynch Launches Fund Investing In Pakistan

As individual and institutional investors scour the globe looking for higher returns on their investments, they are discovering markets in emerging economies outside the well known BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries. Karachi Stock Exchange in Pakistan represents such a discovery. Four Pakistani companies are now in a new index fund called the Frontier Index fund launched by Merrill Lynch today. To be included in the index, companies must have a market capitalization of at least U.S. $500 million, a three-month average daily turnover of at least U.S. $750,000 and a foreign ownership limit above 15 percent. The composition of the index will be reviewed twice a year, in February and August.

Stocks listed in the Middle East make up 50.0 percent of the new index, followed by a 22.6 percent share for Asia, 14.1 percent for Europe and 13.3 percent for Africa. The top three countries represented in the index are the UAE (23.1 percent), Kuwait (18.1 percent) and Pakistan (13.6 percent). Banks dominate the index (39.4 percent), followed by financial services companies (25.7 percent) and oil and gas firms (13.6 percent).The largest country weight outside the Middle East is Pakistan, with four companies included. Despite the political turbulence in Pakistan this year, the benchmark KSE 100 index is up 5%, while neighboring India's key index is down almost 20%.

It should be noted that the KSE-100 has been one of the hottest stock markets in the world for several years in a row. It rose 44% last year in spite of the political uncertainty and ongoing violence in the country. Pakistan's economy has seen strong growth of 7-8% per year for several years now. Pakistan is among the "Next-11" counties designated by Goldman Sachs as attractive investment markets and it has been called "safe haven" for foreign investors by Merrill Lynch Asia Chief Strategist Mark Matthews.

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