LONDON – Libya’s stock exchange opened on Thursday for the first time since fighting erupted against the regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi more than a year ago.
Ahmed Karoud, the exchange’s general manager, said the market currently has 10 companies on it, with today’s trade coming in at 3.9 billion Libyan dinars ($3 billion), according to the BBC.
A law currently being finalized by the central bank will enable foreign investors to own up to 10 percent of shares. Practically all of Libya’s publicly traded firms are banks and insurers, although cement company al-Ahliya has also made the cut.
An Islamic fund and real estate company will begin trading in June, Karou added, with oil firms and telecommunications giants Al-Madar and Libyana next in line, according to the Agence France Presse.
Karou said Libya hopes to become the primary financial link between Europe and the rest of the African continent. The stock market is based on Abu Dhabi’s, and the exchange hopes to open up a second branch in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi:
“We don’t have a government but we have the capacity and infrastructure necessary to become the financial hub of North Africa,” he said.
“This opening sends a clear sign to the world that Libya is now a stable country where the economy is kicking off again.”
Conflict between pro- and anti-Gaddafi forces forced the exchange to shut down trading in February last year, Reuters reported. A pro-Gaddafi brigade seized the former stock market building in June, and many staff fled with documents and backups in their private cars.
The exchange had been scheduled to open at the end of last month, but power outages and late regulatory filings from listed companies delayed the launch, according to GlobalPost.
Oil production in Libya, North Africa’s biggest producer, has returned to 75 percent of pre-war levels, pumping up to 1.2 million barrels a day, Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib said this month, according to Bloomberg.
The International Monetary Fund predicts that Libya’s economy, which may have contracted by 60 percent last year, will recover in 2012, “concurrent with an improvement in the security situation.”
The UN lifted sanctions on Libya’s central and foreign investment banks in December, helping the country tackle a cash crisis and allowing the new government to secure billions of dollars worth of assets held abroad.