If the world’s economy is increasingly moving toward an oil standard, then Dubai is at the center of that transition.
That’s why it made sense last week for Calabasas-based Netsol Technologies Inc. to become the first U.S. company to dual list on the Nasdaq as well as the Dubai International Financial Exchange.
“As a business, you go where the opportunity is, and right now, it’s the Middle East,” said Chief Executive Najeeb Ghauri, who founded the information technology business 12 years ago. “There’s so much money pouring into the region, with new banks and other businesses popping up all over Dubai. We want to be there first to provide those companies with IT infrastructure.”
Dubai is one of the fastest growing and cash-rich markets in the world, and has been able to stand apart from much of the unrest in the Middle East. Its exhange is expanding and new facilities are under construction.
Last year, the government-controlled Dubai stock exchange bought a 20 percent stake in Nasdaq OMX Group, signifying the heightened interest among Middle East investors in American companies and the eagerness of U.S. investors to tap into one of the wealthiest regions in the Persian Gulf. The move raised flags in Washington, with President Bush commenting on whether the transaction raised national security issues.
Nonetheless, analyst Rob Enderle said many U.S. companies will be following Netsol’s lead in establishing outposts in Dubai.
“When you’re trying to attract investors, you’ve got to go where there’s lots of money. That’s China and Dubai right now,” Enderle said. “And Dubai is an easier candidate because it’s much more of a free market environment.”
Ghauri, who emigrated from Pakistan 30 years ago and received his M.B.A. at Claremont Graduate University, said his company can operate with ease in the Middle East because of his cultural roots.
“American businesses know that Dubai is a huge opportunity,” he said. “But they’re just not familiar with the Middle East region.”
Netsol already has 80 percent of the company’s 900 employees based in Pakistan. Of its 220 clients worldwide, only 45 are U.S.-based. Some of its bigger customers are Cisco, IBM, Daimler-Chrysler, Toyota and Bank of Scotland. It reported revenues of $35 million last year.
The market’s response to Netsol’s announcement last week was tepid. Shares held steady around $2.90 the day of the announcement, then trailed down to $2.75. The stock has gained 21 percent so far this year.