N.Y. firm feels safe in Iraqi securities

An advertisement for Auerbach Grayson

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: If you don't happen to be a fan of the U.S. bond market, and you're still somewhat leery of the stock market, there's a New York brokerage firm that's got something completely different for you. For the first time since the war started in 2003, Iraqi securities are going to be available to foreign investors. From New York, Marketplace's Jeremy Hobson reports.


JEREMY HOBSON: Auerbach Grayson isn't your typical Wall Street firm. The chairman, Jonathan Auerbach, sports a faded blue open-collar shirt, a shark-tooth necklace and two bracelets from Africa. He's the very image of the man you'd expect to be the first selling Iraqi stocks to Americans.

Jonathan Auerbach: I've been doing this business in frontier markets for 16 years. I've never had a trade that failed. And I see no reason why Iraq's going to be any different.

One reason Auerbach's getting into the Iraqi market now is that Baghdad's stock exchange recently swapped their whiteboards for an electronic trading system. Most of the stocks being traded are banks. Oh, and there's this:

Auerbach: The GDP of Iraq is $125 billion in round numbers. The market cap is about $3 billion. That means the market's cheap.

So, he says, the gains could be enormous. Bartle Bull is an investment banker who's been focusing solely on Iraq for years. Speaking with me from nearby Qatar, he said it helps that Iraq's economy is pretty disconnected from the rest of the world.

BARTLE BULL: Last year, when the global emerging market stock indexes were down about 55 percent, the Iraqi market was up about 10 percent.

But what about security? Bull says terrorist attacks don't move the market in Baghdad much these days.

BULL: Fewer people are killed in Iraq than in all sorts of countries that investors are more comfortable with, including, on a per capita basis, Mexico.

Oh, but before you go running to put all your money in the Bank of Baghdad, Auerbach Grayson only takes investments from big institutions like mutual funds. Sorry.

In New York, I'm Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

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