Regulators in five east African countries are working to allow companies to issue regional bonds for the first time, a crucial step to bring the area's capital markets closer.
The east African bloc of 130 million people has been edging toward economic and political integration and in 2005 introduced a customs union that helped double intra-regional trade in five years.
Under proposals that still need approval from lawmakers, companies in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi would be able to raise funds from investors across the region with the approval of a single regulator.
Companies issuing regional bonds would need to meet certain requirements, including having minimum net assets of $1.7 million and minimum paid up share capital of $850,000. The minimum issue size for a regional bond would be $850,000.
The International Finance Corporation, the World Bank's private sector arm, has identified at least three potential issuers that are interested in tapping the bond market on a regional basis, said Evans Osano, an IFC official.
"It gives them an opportunity to tap resources from a larger pool of investors instead of going to one market," he said. Kenya's bond market is the largest and most sophisticated in east and central Africa, with around 70 government bonds listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange and a yield curve of up to 30 years.
The market is dominated by government paper but the corporate bond market accounts for 9 percent of issuance. Bond turnover at the Nairobi Securities Exchange was 19 per cent of GDP in 2011, the largest in Africa after South Africa, according to the CMA.
Investors are likely to welcome regional bonds, given the limited supply of investable assets in the region, said one banker, who declined to be named. "In terms of the number of instruments available in the market at the moment there aren't that many," said the banker.