AFC Uzbekistan Fund valuations as of 30th September 2021:
Estimated weighted harmonic average trailing P/E (only companies with profit):
| Estimated weighted harmonic average P/B:
| Estimated weighted portfolio dividend yield:
We are now entering Phase II
Our long-held thesis for the development of the Uzbek capital markets, and the Tashkent Stock Exchange in particular, has been that their transformation to a well-functioning market would occur over a period of three phases. I’ve re-iterated these phases for new readers below:
Phase I began in 2018 and is now concluding. This is the initial re-rating phase where companies and the broader stock market were forgotten and viewed as undesirable by local investors due to a combination of high inflation, term deposit rates in the mid 20% range, and a depreciating Uzbek Som. Foreign investors were notably absent as well due to capital controls specific to the capital markets, though these were finally eliminated on 2nd March 2019 when Asia Frontier Capital was the first foreign investor to successfully test the repatriation mechanism. These challenges made listed equity valuations extremely depressed, in multiple cases trading with dividend yields greater than 30% and accompanied by net profit growth rates of greater than 400%/500% as the Uzbek economy began to be liberalized. The Phase I re-rating has seen listed equities go from “never should have been so cheap” to now value-oriented and buttressed by strong profit growth profiles.
Further during Phase I, inflation has fallen to 10.8% with the Central Bank targeting sub 10% inflation in 2022, while currency deprecation has greatly moderated. 2021 depreciation expectations versus USD are projected to be in the 3-4% range, compared to 10% in 2020 and 13.9% in 2019. These developments have thus far attracted more local, and increasingly foreign capital, into the stock market, thereby adding needed liquidity.
Phase II we expect to occur between 2022-2025. This phase should see SOE’s (state-owned enterprises), what we call the “crown jewels” of Uzbekistan’s economy, being privatised through domestic IPO’s and SPO’s and eventual dual listings abroad, likely in London. These companies include the national airline, Uzbekistan Airways, one of the biggest gold mining companies in the world, Navoi Mining and Metallurgical Kombinat, a leading copper producer, Almalyk Mining and Metallurgical Kombinat, and one of the largest steel plants in Central Asia, Uzmetkombinat, among others. These listings should attract significant foreign and local capital to the Tashkent Stock Exchange, increasing liquidity and interest in the market.
Phase III we expect will see private sector companies IPO once the stock market is liquid and has enough investor participants, both institutional and retail, to absorb larger share issues. This phase should overlap with Phase II and we are already seeing private sector companies considering eventual IPO’s which is highly encouraging.
Big conference news!
During the CBonds conference on 9th September 2021, where I had the opportunity to speak on a capital markets development panel, Deputy Minister of Finance, Mr. Odilbek Isakov headlined the event where he cracked open the proverbial cookie jar on the government’s plans for our “Phase II” expectations. He mentioned that over the next several years we should expect to see fifteen IPO’s/SPO’s, including five state-owned banks, three insurance companies and two metallurgical plants, among others. Focus will be put on seeing a gold-backed ETF (presumably similar to the NYSE: GLD ETF in the USA) and equity ETF’s launched on the Tashkent Stock Exchange. A secondary market for debt securities will be introduced, while inflation-linked bonds will be issued. Strengthening of corporate governance was also mentioned as a key focus, as well as the central securities depository enhancing its technology to allow for the issue of ISIN codes for securities with a medium-term aim of connecting to Euroclear/Clearstream systems, and enabling automated dividend distribution. Last but not least is the Ministry of Finance’s plan to enable Uzbek citizens to open brokerage accounts online (digitally) over the coming months. This will hopefully be followed by permitting foreign individuals and corporates to do the same sometime in 2022 once the legislation is in place to permit this. Digital account openings will make the onboarding of new brokerage accounts much easier and thus accelerate market development.