The Irish Stock Exchange has been in existence since 1793, but for how much longer? That question is again raised by the growing number of departures, or company delistings from the exchange. Grafton Group, the building materials company, which this week moved its stock exchange listing to London, is the latest. It has followed the lead set by many other Irish publicly quoted companies, which in recent years have switched to the far larger and more liquid London market. These have included CRH, which retains an investment presence through a secondary listing in Dublin, Greencore, Elan, DCC, and UDG Healthcare (formerly United Drug).
As more companies quit the exchange, and fewer new companies choose to list in Dublin, it is clearly failing in one of its primary functions; to enable Irish companies to raise capital to develop their businesses by selling shares to the public. As this exodus of major Irish companies continues, a steady trickle of departures to London risks becoming a flood.
Ireland, shut out of the sovereign bond market since 2010, is set to return from December onwards, after leaving the bailout programme. But for corporate Ireland, the rapid decline in the role and activity of the Irish stock exchange shows little sign of recovery. Trading volumes in Irish equities, which amounted to some €200 billion in 2007, by 2012 had slumped to €37, an 81 per cent fall in five years. Of course, the financial collapse of the banks, once the largest companies on the Irish exchange, has been a major factor. Some, such as Anglo Irish Bank, have delisted; while other former financial blue chips, AIB and Bank of Ireland, have lost most of their market value, and become speculative penny stocks.
In the budget, the Minister for Finance exempted from stamp duty transactions on the Enterprise Security Market, the junior Irish market for start-up companies. A small but welcome gesture – costing €5 million. A much bigger one by Government is urgently needed, if Ireland is to retain a national stock market.