It is now more than three months since Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali quit as Tunisian president but, if investors were hoping that the ousting of the former regime would provide a fillip to the stock market, they have been disappointed.
Hedi Chemek at Tunisie Valeurs, a brokerage, says before the protests that began late last year daily turnover on the stock market was in the order of TD8m-TD9m ($5.8m-$6.5m), but that in the year to date it has been only TD1.4m.
“We don’t expect it to go up any time soon,” Mr Chemek says.
The Tunis market remains expensive, in spite of the index declining by more than 16 per cent in the year to date, Mr Chemek admits.
“The market has not fallen as much as it should have – unlike Cairo,” he says. All eyes are on elections for a constituent assembly due on July 24, he adds.
Investors hope that the polls will calm a political atmosphere inflamed by tensions between those associated with Mr Ben Ali’s family and entourage, many of whom had business interests, and those who took part in the uprising.
Other reasons for investor pessimism are not hard to discern. Not only is the political situation unclear but tourism, one of the mainstays of the economy, remains in the doldrums, at least anecdotally.
To cap it all, Standard & Poor’s, the rating agency, on Wednesday said in a report that the outlook for north African property was poor because of political turmoil afflicting the region. Tunisia, after all, abuts Libya, where a civil war is raging.
Not all investors are deterred, however. Daniel Broby, chief executive of Silk Invest, a boutique specialising in Africa and the Middle East, says that while international players have withdrawn, the Tunis market is still receiving support from local investors.
“Tunisia was a catalyst for the more extreme unrest seen in the likes of Syria and Libya but the nature of what is happening is very different,” Mr Broby says.
Tunisia, he says, is one of the more diversified economies in the Arab world and before the uprising its largely technocratic government was pursuing sound macroeconomic policies. The country has the highest standard of education of any Arab country and the highest proportion of home ownership, he says.
“Both point to a middle class that has considerable vested interests in the country,” he says. “The fact is that the regime change is a positive in terms of a better allocation of resources and the eradication of corruption. The disruption is much less than in Egypt.”
Most focus has been on financial sector companies, which remain expensive and where issues surrounding loans made to those close to Mr Ben Ali have yet to be addressed. But, elsewhere, the Tunisian bourse offers good value, he says.
“The banking sector has problems with regard to loans to those close to the old regime but there is a lot of support for the market. We feel this is fine,” Mr Broby says.