How has QSE further developed its portfolio of products and tools?
2018 has been a successful year for QSE as it managed to deliver on its promises. We have launched two exchange-traded funds (ETF): the QE Index ETF, which consists of the 20 largest companies listed on the QSE, and the Al Rayan Qatar ETF, the largest single-country, sharia-compliant ETF in the world. These make investing in Qatar easier, as investors do not have to pick stocks in a market they are unfamiliar with. These have been important achievements for us. In addition, we have listed several new companies and have an active pipeline of upcoming IPOs. We also developed new regulation on market consolidation with Qatar Financial Market Authority (QFMA) as part of our efforts to enhance liquidity and efficiency. Furthermore, we are launching omnibus accounts for custodians to allow for more efficient order management on behalf of international investors. This is a technical feature that investors have asked for as it will reduce their costs and ease the burden on brokers.
How do you assess the impact of the blockade on Qatar's economy?
According to international reports, Qatar is the fastest-growing economy in the region with 2.8% growth rate. The blockade has not significantly affected our economy or performance, nor has it stopped new projects from going ahead. We have a clear agenda and are reacting to the situation. The blockade has had a positive effect in the sense that it has strengthened Qatar's focus on becoming more self-sufficient, for example in food supplies. Everyone is aware they have a responsibility to work faster and more efficiently. In terms of exports, Qatar provides the UAE with 40% of its energy needs and has not stopped this gas supply despite the blockade, which is illustrative.
What are the main investment opportunities in Qatar for international investors?
Qatar is one of the most attractive places for international investors who want exposure to the Gulf region. Qatar is a safe haven that has remained stable, and the country allows investors from any other country to come and invest. This is why the number of companies registered in the Qatar Financial Center increased by over 60% in 2018. People see Qatar as the financial market of the GCC. There are a vast range of opportunities in Qatar, with the non-hydrocarbon sector showing rapid growth. People now recognize the potential of Qatar to become an industrial country. Industry, manufacturing, and agriculture are important sectors that we have to build on. There are also avenues for cooperation with other countries to produce high-quality products. For instance, we are bringing new industries to Qatar today, such as pharmaceutical manufacturing. Qatar Development Bank (QDB) supports the business sector, for example, by running workshops for entrepreneurs and industries. We also have free zones and a Free Zone Authority that builds and promotes facilities up to international standards.
What role can QSE play in the further growth of the country?
QSE is the second-largest stock exchange in the Middle East and to date the largest emerging market stock exchange based on market capitalization in the region. We play a major role and are highly representative of the country's economy. People look at how companies are performing on the QSE before making business decisions. We need to maintain this excellent image and work with overseas companies to ensure we meet our obligations to investors and operate transparently. We bring more investors to the country along with foreign capital. We also support the SME sector. This is why we are launching Qatar Venture Market in 2018, which is specifically targeted at SMEs. Our outlook for 2019 at QSE is bright, partly due to the excellent government support we receive.