Iran stock market booms, but analysts fear a growing bubble
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Even as U.S. sanctions, unemployment, inflation and low oil prices batter the Iranian economy, there seems to be at least one refuge for investors.
The Tehran Stock Exchange has seen gains of 225% in the last year, with sharp increases even as the country struggled with one of the first serious coronavirus outbreaks outside of China.
Encouraged by a government eager to privatize state-owned firms, average people now have access to the market and can trade shares, earning returns they'd never see in a savings account or a certificate of deposit.
But these rapid gains increasingly have analysts and experts worried about a growing stock market bubble, one that could be particularly dire and wipe away the earnings of the average people flooding into the market.
Global stock markets have seen rapid swings amid the coronavirus pandemic.The crisis has sent U.S. unemployment surging to 14.7%, a level last seen during the Great Depression.Benchmark Brent crude prices, trading over $70 a barrel a year ago, now hovers just over $20 a barrel as demand collapses amid an oversupplied market.
But that hasn't slowed in the Tehran Stock Exchange.Founded in 1967, the market lists some 1,000 companies, including major firms like car manufacturer Iran Khodro.The bourse now has a market cap of more than $200 billion.And its daily 5% gains haven't gone unnoticed by ordinary Iranians.
“I visited the related office for several days to receive my Sejam code to get able to trade,” said Mohammad Reza Mansouri, who makes deliveries using his personal van.“The office was crowded with people like me.”
穆罕默德·礼萨·曼苏里(Mohammad Reza Mansouri)用他的私人面包车送货，他说：“我访问了相关办公室几天，收到了我的Sejam代码，以便能够进行交易。”“办公室里挤满了像我这样的人。”
The exchange lists a half-million active traders out of some 12 million people who registered to buy and sell stocks.
“An everyday 5% percent is very sexy,” said Abdollah Rahmani, a retired bank employee who trades stocks.”What other market makes such a profit?”
Even President Hassan Rouhani, beleaguered since U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from his 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, has pointed to the market as a rare bright spot for the country.Iran's rial currency has fallen to 160,000 to 1 against the U.S. dollar, as opposed to the 35,000 to $1 in 2015.
就连自美国总统唐纳德·特朗普(Donald Trump)单方面退出2015年美国与世界大国的核协议以来一直四面楚歌的总统哈桑·鲁哈尼(Hassan Rouhani)也指出，市场是该国难得的亮点。伊朗里亚尔货币兑美元汇率已跌至16万比1，而2015年时为3.5万比1美元。
“As Iran’s bourse has developed, (our enemies) become nervous and asked why the market is developing while markets in the world are in chaos,” Rouhani said at a Cabinet meeting last month.This rise "is because of efforts by all companies, business people and fortunately offering shares of big companies to the stock market.”
The stock market rise in part takes root in how Iran's economy has changed in the decades since its 1979 Islamic Revolution.Immediately after taking power, Iran's Shiite theocracy seized large private industries, putting them in large trusts, or bonyads.The bloody 1980s war with Iraq saw Iran further nationalize its economy.
In the 1990s, Iran began a privatization effort.The stock market became one way to accomplish this, with former hard-line populist President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad giving out so-called “Justice Shares” in firms to the poor.Some 50 million Iranians now hold those shares.
But Ahmadinejad's efforts at privatization also saw firms sold off to the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and its allies, further empowering the hard-line force answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.Some firms that moved into private ownership have seen the businesses stripped and later collapse, leaving workers without pensions and fueling sporadic protests.
Lower returns in other investments also are sending people to the stock market.
“The rise in liquidity in Iran’s financial market has made people expect high inflation in future," said Reza Khanaki, a Tehran-based financial analyst and manager. “Their bank deposits are yielding profits less than the inflation rate, and so they are shifting their investments to the stock market. This change is causing the rise in the index.”
“伊朗金融市场流动性上升，让人们预期未来通胀会很高，”驻德黑兰的金融分析师兼经理Reza Khanaki说，“他们的银行存款收益低于通胀率，因此他们正将投资转向股市.这一变化正在导致指数上涨.”--Reza Khanaki是驻德黑兰的金融分析师兼经理，他说，“他们的银行存款收益低于通胀率，因此他们正将投资转向股市.这一变化正在导致指数上涨.”
Squeezed by U.S. sanctions, Rouhani's government hopes to raise money through selling assets on the exchange.His government in January also allowed firms to recalculate their values, something critics warn masks the true worth of their production by instead inflating the price of land they own, for instance.
“The Iranian financial press as well as foreign economists have raised concerns that the meteoric rise of the market is detached from the underlying value of the assets traded there and that bubbles have formed,” said Henry Rome, an analyst at the Eurasia Group.“The government’s decision to focus privatization attention on the market has elevated these risks.A loss of confidence in the market could lead to a destabilizing crash.”
欧亚集团(Eurasia Group)分析师亨利·罗马(Henry Roman)说，“伊朗财经媒体和外国经济学家都提出了担忧，认为市场的迅速上涨与那里交易的资产的潜在价值脱节，泡沫已经形成。”“政府决定将私有化注意力集中在市场上，提升了这些风险。对市场失去信心可能导致破坏稳定的崩盘。“
Iranian political analyst Akbar Mokhtari warns it could be even worse, comparing the “Justice Shares” to Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's so-called “White Revolution” in the 1960s that broke up the control of feudal land barons and saw the poor rush into cities.Those poor became the backbone of the protests that later drove him from power.
伊朗政治分析人士阿克巴尔·莫赫塔里(Akbar Mokhtari)警告说，情况可能更糟，他将“正义份额”与20世纪60年代沙阿·穆罕默德·礼萨·巴列维(Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi)的所谓“白色革命”相提并论，那次革命打破了封建土地大亨的控制，导致穷人涌入城市。这些穷人成为后来将他赶下台的抗议活动的中坚力量。
“The other side of this very important economic development can be the impatience of shareholders about possible crashes that can cause instability in the government,” he was quoted as saying by Rahbord, an Iranian political review channel on Telegram.
Already, the exchange has seen some stumbles.On Saturday, the market closed at 987,475 points, down some 60,300 points compared to last Monday, when it reached a record high of over 1 million points.
But some, like Mansouri, the stock-trading deliveryman, say those fears don't bother them.
“I do not care about the analysis as long as I profit day by day," he said.
Associated Press journalists Mehdi Fattahi in Tehran, Iran, and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed.
美联社记者迈赫迪·法塔希(Mehdi Fattahi)在伊朗德黑兰和乔恩·甘布雷尔(Jon Gambrell)在阿拉伯联合酋长国迪拜也有贡献。