SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria's small stock exchange plans to start trading shares of foreign companies later this year and will set up a secondary market to trade Bulgarian government bonds, aiming to boost liquidity and attract investment, its chief executive said.
Vasil Golemanski said the Bulgarian Stock Exchange BSO.BB, which uses Deutsche Boerse's Xetra trading platform, plans to offer trading in up to 80 foreign companies that are already listed on the German exchange, within two to four months.
The bourse will set up a special board, BSE International, to trade the foreign shares, which will be denominated in euros and transactions will be cleared by Frankfurt-based Clearstream.
The bourse is also preparing to launch trades in Bulgaria's 3.2 billion euro ($3.6 billion) government securities issued on the local market by September, Golemanski said in an interview at the Reuters Central & Eastern Europe Investment Summit.
"This is the problem with our market - the liquidity is low. If we do not boost the liquidity and the trading volumes, we cannot expect to have a more developed market. This is the key to success," Golemanski said in the interview at the bourse's offices.
The Bulgarian exchange has a market capitalization of just 9.3 billion levs ($5.3 billion). Directly offering shares of Frankfurt-listed European and U.S. companies would boost volumes and cut the cost of trading these equities for Bulgarian institutional investors, Golemanski said.
Bulgaria's financial regulator has already approved the trading rules for BSE International but has yet to approve the rules for the secondary market of state bonds, he said.
"This is a business initiative to prop up the volumes and we expect that it will also boost trades in shares of the Bulgarian companies too," Golemanski said .
Foreign and local investors say Bulgaria's stock market, marred by low turnover and few quality listings, would get a boost if the government floated stakes in the Balkan country's big energy companies.
State-owned Bulgarian Energy Holding, with assets worth over 6 billion levs, controls the country's sole nuclear power plant, as well as its biggest thermal power generator and the public providers of electricity and natural gas.
"What we hear from foreign investors, as well as from Bulgarian investors is that they want to see companies from the energy sector. Even a small stake of 10-20 percent put on the market would constitute a significant share in terms of volume in which they can invest and seek liquidity," Golemanski said.
Different governments have considered such an option, but never took action. Third-time Prime Minister Boiko Borisov, whose government took office earlier this month, has said he would support capital markets, but has not provided details.
"We aim to convince the owner - the state - to list as many of these types of companies as possible. What the state will decide is another matter," Golemanski said.
Editing by Radu Marinas and Susan Fenton