Is This The World We Created?

       Is This The World We Created? 23 January 2020 .

According to Valustrat, the average value of Dubai properties declined 10.4% last year, with larger 15% falls noted in Discovery Gardens and Dubai Production City and single digit declines in four of the twenty-six locations surveyed – villas in the Meadows, Palm Jumeirah and Emirates Hills, as well as apartments in Dubai Sports City. (Strangely, last week’s blog noted that another consultancy indicated that there were price falls of 23.0% and 24.3% in Discovery Gardens and the Meadows respectively – a marked and worrying variance between the two studies). Residential rents were 9.1% lower, year on year, and 3.8% in Q4; the average annual Dubai residential rent was almost US$ 24k ($23,951) – apartments at US$ 18.5k and villas at US$ 57.5k. Valustrat noted that in 2019, “cash sale volumes of ready homes grew 29.7% and off-plan sales jumped 68.3%,” with investor demand boosted by attractive prices, fewer off-plan launches and delayed project completions. It estimated that last year 19.5k apartments and 5.1k villas were completed, making a total of 24.6k residential units.

Azizi Developments confirmed that it has already sold 81% of its inventory, across all 54 ongoing projects in Dubai, whilst projects such as Aliyah in Dubai Healthcare City and Plaza in Al Furjan have seen 90% of units sold prior to completion. To date, the developer has sold 12k units, and delivered 14 projects across Palm Jumeirah, Dubai Healthcare City and Al Furjan, valued at a total of over US$ 680 million.

Emaar’s latest Chinese foray sees the developer signing a MoU with Chinese giant Xiaomi to launch ‘Emaar Smart Home’, The latest smart home technology, powered by AI, will be launched in an exclusive set of digitally enabled Emaar residential developments and will offer “connectivity, comfort and convenience for the customers of tomorrow, today;” it will be controlled and monitored through Xiaomi’s Mi Home app.

According to Knight Frank’s latest Global Residential Cities Index, Dubai was ranked 146th out of 150 countries surveyed, with an annual 7.3% price drop in the twelve months to 30 September 2019 – and some 30% off since 2014. Budapest led the field with residential price rises of 24%. On average, the index rose 3.2% – its weakest annual rate since Q2 2015.

Emirates NBD is seeking to sell an undeveloped plot in the Dubai International Financial Centre, after becoming frustrated by the pace of assets sales under Al Jaber’s debt restructuring, according to people familiar with the matter and an enforcement letter sent by the bank; the land, valued in the region of US$ 70 million, was used as collateral for a loan which has yet to be paid off. In 2019, it was agreed that Al Jaber would raise up to US$ 445 million from asset sales, with other stakeholders pledging a further US$ 210 million. The Group, involved in sectors such as in construction, engineering and shipping, ran into trouble following the 2008 GFC; last year, the company agreed to restructure about US$ 1.5 billion. Lenders, including Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank and First Abu Dhabi Bank, have already recouped some money by forcing through the sale of the Al Jaber family-owned, 42-storey Shangri-La hotel in Dubai. operated by Hong Kong’s Shangri-La Group, which sold for US$ 191 million.

It is reported that the 800 MW phase 3 of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park will become operational in April.  By 2030, and costing US$ 13.6 billion, it will become the world’s largest single-site solar park, with a capacity of 5k MW. The first two phases became operational in 2018, with phases 1 and 2 having capacities of 200 MW and 300 MW.

Fajr Capital has divested its major minority share in Brunei’s largest bank, Bank Islam Brunei Darussalam to Brunei Investment Agency. The Dubai-based asset management company acquired its share in 2010, with the aim of transforming Brunei’s largest bank into a world-class financial services institution. Over the recent past, Fajr has exited its stakes in GEMS Education and National Petroleum Services.

In an interesting move, Mohammed Al Shaibani, CEO of Investment Corp of Dubai and director general of the city’s ruler’s court, has taken over as chairman of developer Nakheel. The current incumbent Ali Lootah, who had been in the position for the past decade, resigned this week after having steered the state-owned developer through a US$ 10.5 billion debt restructuring during his tenure. Al Shaibani is also joined by three other new board members – former Nakheel chairman Sultan bin Sulayem, Khalifa Al Daboos, and Issam Galadari. Nakheel, currently with billions of dirhams of projects and infrastructure development in progress, posted a 2018 US$ 1.2 billion profit, down 22.8%, year on year.

With banks having to follow what some might consider tight regulations when it comes to residential lending, it seems that some private developers are becoming de facto mortgage providers. As an example, Pantheon is offering ten-year plans for its Jumeirah Village Circle project, due to be delivered by mid-year. Their rates appear to be lower than traditional banks on a 30:70 payment plan, (30% to be paid, usually in instalments, by handover). Likewise, Samana has been offering 50% finance for its soon-to-launch project in Dubai Studio City. These come at a time when the UAE Central Bank has withdrawn the 20% upper limit on banks’ exposure to the real estate sector.

Next month, Meydan will host The Girlgamer Esports Festival World Finals a first for the ME area. The Government of Dubai Media Office is supporting the event as part of its strategy to drive the development of the region’s esports industry and to put Dubai firmly on the global map for competitive esports. The event, with a US$ 100k prize pool, is to be organised by Galaxy Racer Esports, in partnership with Evoloop and presented by Grow uP eSports. Nine of the world’s best all-female gaming teams will be participating, with Team Dignitas favourites to win for the third year in a row.

This week, Dubai Government professional employees have been awarded a pay rise of between 9% – 16%, under a new salary scheme that will also introduce flexible working hours, telework and part-time employment, as well as specifying a minimum wage for Emirati graduates. Furthermore, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, the Crown Prince, also approved the formation of a career-grade placement committee, to be chaired by Abdulla Al Falasi, which will approve the career-grade placement lists based on the grades and salaries.

Dubai welcomed a record 16.73 million international overnight visitors – a 5.1% increase in tourism volumes. Its top six source markets were India, Saudi Arabia, UK, Oman, China and Russia — delivering over seven million visitors; the top nine countries each attracted more than 500k visitors, as India retained its top position with over two million.

Following directives by the Crown Prince, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, camping will be allowed on Dubai beaches, designated for this purpose; on-line permits, from Dubai Municipality, will be required but there will be no charges. It has been more than a decade since beaches became no-go areas for camping enthusiasts and caravan owners.  Further good news on the waterfront was that all Dubai public beaches have attained the international accreditation of the Blue Flag programme,

Shuaa Capital reported that that one of its offshore units has finalised a deal to manage an investment portfolio of assets worth US$ 400 million which increases its total to US$ 13.4 billion. Last August, the Dubai-based investment bank completed a merger with Abu Dhabi Financial Group and this helped it post a Q3 profit, helped by a US$ 8 million contribution from its new owner.

DP World continues its recent acquisition foray, with buying a 44% share in Swissterminal Holding, a container terminal operator in Switzerland;  no details were made available except that the founders, the Mayer family, remain the majority shareholders.  The Swiss company operates three terminals, connected to Europe’s major container ports in Rotterdam and Antwerp, along with other ports. Last year, the port operator bought the likes of UK transport and logistics company P&O Ferries, Indian rail logistics company Kribhco Infrastructure and Chilean ports operator Puertos y Logistica; it currently has 150 operations in more than fifty countries.

Dubai Aerospace Enterprise has signed a US$ 300 million, four-year unsecured loan with China Construction Bank (DIFC Branch) and China Construction Bank (Asia) Corporation Limited; this could rise by a further US$ 200 million, if required. The funds will be used to support DAE’s future financing needs. The Dubai-based leasing company serves 125 global airlines from its seven locations in Dubai, Dublin, Amman, Singapore and the US.

With the latest news from Boeing that the 737 Max is unlikely to get approval to fly until the middle of this year, it is reported that their second-biggest customer, flydubai, is considering leasing more jets. With a timeframe that may go into Q3, the Dubai airline is “looking at short to medium-term leasing options to add more capacity for the coming few months”. The grounding has already cost Boeing more than US$ 9.0 billion.

The bourse opened on Sunday 19 January and, 79 points (2.9%) up the previous week, was  a further 10 points (0.3%) higher to 2838 by 23 January 2020. Emaar Properties, having gained US$ 0.06 the previous week, was US$ 0.05 lower at US$ 1.12, whilst Arabtec, US$ 0.06 lower the previous four weeks, was down US$ 0.02 to US$ 0.31. Thursday 23 January saw the market trading only 106 million shares, worth US$ 49 million, (compared to 175 million shares, at a value of US$ 84 million, on 16 January).

By Thursday, 23 January, Brent, losing US$ 3.69 (5.4%) the previous fortnight, shed US$ 2.26 (3.5%) to close at US$ 62.34 Gold, up US$ 84 (5.8%) the previous five weeks, rose a further US$ 9 (0.6%), closing on Thursday 23 January at US$ 1,565.

2019 was a record year with a 5.8% increase, to US$ 7.4 billion, being spent on global transfers in men’s football. The FIFA report noted that although English clubs were the biggest single spender in the market, at over US$ 2.0 billion, the figure was down 22.1% on the year. Of the 18k global moves during the year, involving 15.5k players of 178 different nationalities, only 18.6% were permanent club-to-club transfers, whilst the most common type of transfer saw 64.3% of the total players out of contract. In terms of net value, Portugal generated the most with US$ 503 million, as England came in worst in that category with minus US$ 715 million.

There is still no news when Travelex’s main UK website will return to service, following a cyber-attack on New Year’s Eve; however, it seems that the system used by staff is back in operation. A gang of hackers, known as Dodinokibi, has since held its systems to ransom, and are demanding a US$ 6 million repayment to unlock digital files that it had earlier encrypted. Until the impasse is resolved, customers will be unable to order currency online, either from Travelex itself or through the network of banks that use its services.

Following a Deloitte investigation, troubled Ted Baker has confirmed that it had overstated the value of its stock by over US$ 75 million, somewhat higher than the US$ 33 million estimate made in December. The fashion retailer has yet to confirm how the stock discrepancy arose but with its former boss of over thirty years, Ray Kelvin, stepping down over misconduct claims; it has seen sales and H1 profits slump from a US$ 32 million profit to a US$ 30 million deficit. It seems that its auditors, KPMG, had uncovered mis-statements but concluded they were too small to affect the fashion label’s accounts.

As its share value has doubled over the past three months, Tesla has pushed its market value to over US$ 100 million and, in doing so, displaced Volkswagen as the world’s second most valuable carmaker behind Toyota, with a market value of US$ 230 million. The other three companies, making the top five list, are Volkswagen, GM and Honda with stock values of US$ 89.7 billion, US$ 49.9 billion and US$ 49.7 billion respectively. In 2018, Elon Musk’s company delivered more than 367k cars, 50% higher than a year earlier, but still miles behind Volkswagen and Toyota with their numbers of 11 million and 9 million for the first eleven months of 2019.

As a result of ongoing economic uncertainty, with slower than forecast rates of growth for its Evoque and Discovery Sport models, Jaguar Land Rover is cutting 12.5% of its Halewood plant payroll to 3.5k; this is part of the carmaker’s strategy to cut 4.5k global jobs in a bid to save US$ 3.3 billion to reverse recent losses. With this latest “fresh blow to the car industry”, the UK’s industry continues to experience severe challenges.

In the midst of a major financial crisis, South African Airways has reportedly cancelled nine of its total of thirty domestic and international flights. In December, the national airline was placed into bankruptcy protection and is expecting to receive a US$ 138 million government finance package to enable the airline to keep flying. It has not made a profit since 2012 and has been bedevilled by not only running an aging, expensive to run and inefficient fleet but also by high taxes, political interference and corruption scandals.

The fall-out from the 2018 Royal Commission on Banking continues unabated with the latest being the National Australia Bank’s superannuation trustees, (MLC and NULIS Nominees), being charged with a new class action for allegedly ripping off more than 330k clients by failing to move them into lower cost default products. It seems that the greedy financial institution left clients’ money in funds with higher fees and lower returns – obviously failing to act in their clients’ best interests The Commission had earlier castigated the trustees’ parent company NAB for repeated breaches of superannuation laws. It is reported that the trustees failed to transfer US$ 4.5 billion of clients’ retirement funds to the low cost default MySuper in a timely fashion, leaving them in “idling in products” with higher fees and commissions to financial advisers that are outlawed.

AMP is another company in trouble because it reported that it has delayed returning money to clients it “stole” in the fees-for-no-service scandal. The wealth manager has written to former clients informing them their refunded fees had been placed in new AMP superannuation accounts, including its Eligible Rollover Fund, which according to Super Consumers Australia has underperformed to comparable funds; although this does not charge entry and exit fees, it does have administration and investment fees. The Australian company has been forced to refund hundreds of millions of dollars following revelations at the royal commission. Despite this, last year they wrote to clients advising then they were owed money, because of these irregularities, and instead of asking them where they would like the money sent, AMP opened a new super account in their name.

Despite her fall from grace, Isabel dos Santos is still Africa’s richest woman  and now it seems that the daughter of Jose Eduardo dos Santos, the former president of Angola,, has made her fortune by exploiting her own country and corruption; her father had a dictatorial grip on the country for 38 years until his 2017 retirement – enough time to plunder the oil-rich country. His daughter was given enough slack to take basically what she wanted and had ready access to lucrative deals involving land, oil, diamonds and telecoms and was allowed to buy valuable state assets in a series of suspicious deals. In 2016, her father decreed that she be put in charge of the country’s struggling state oil company Sonangol. On the day she was fired by the new president, Joao Lourenço, she approved fifty invoices totalling US$ 58 million of suspicious payments to Matter Business Solutions, an off-shore company, run by her business manager and owned by a friend. It seems that they included two identical invoices for US$ 676k for exactly the same work on the same day.

This week also saw two other related events, the first was the sudden deathofNuno Ribeiro da Cunha,a banker implicated in the embezzlement and money-laundering case against Isabel dos Santos; he managed the account of oil firm Sonangol, formerly chaired by Ms Dos Santos, at the small Portuguese lender EuroBic. Earlier Angolan prosecutors named him as a suspect. It was also reported that a top PWC executive had left the firm after revelations of PwC links with Isabel Dos Santos, with the firm involved with auditing, consultancy and tax advice for her companies.

A recent World Economic Forum study has stressed the importance of countries Increasing their social mobility – defined as providing people with equal opportunities to raise their living standards, regardless of their socio-economic background. 82 economies were analysed and measured against five key criteria, including health, access to and quality of education, technology, work conditions and inclusive institutions. It considers that countries such as China, US, India, Japan and Germany, would stand to benefit most from upward social mobility. It states that if developed and emerging economies, that lag in four areas, (low wages, poor education, inadequate working conditions and lack of social protection), improved and lifted their social mobility score by just ten points, global GDP would jump by 4.4% by the end of the decade.

Latest figures from down under sees the top 1% of Australians (250k) having more than double the wealth (US$ 1.6 trillion) of the entire bottom 50%. The country has seen the number of billionaires decrease by seven to 36, year on year, but they grew their average wealth by an average US$ 460 million in 2019. (Globally, the wealthiest 1% of people have more than double the wealth of 6.9 billion people and the 2.2k billionaires have more wealth than 4.6 billion people). Oxfam note that the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer and that the richest 22 men in the world own more wealth than all the women in Africa, whilst half the world’s population have to survive on less than US$ 5.50 a day. The two most telling facts, in the Oxfam study, are that taxing an additional 0.5% of the wealth of the richest 1% over the next decade is equal to investments needed to create 117 million jobs in education, health, elderly care and other sectors to close care deficits. The other was that developing countries lose an estimated US$ 100 billion a year in tax revenue, as a result of tax avoidance by multinationals. Is This The World We Created?

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Hey Ho Silver Lining!

Hey Ho Silver Lining!                                                                                    16 January 2020

The latest study from Core indicates that 32k units were brought to the market last year and that a further 8.9% 49k units this year will bring Dubai’s total residential stock to 600k. The real estate firm estimates that the market oversupply in the emirate looks likely to continue, with the three top locations for the new supply being MBR City, Dubailand and Dubai South. But to the optimistic observer, a pick-up in global trade, the current regional geo-political uncertainty stabilising and the Expo halo may see the demand needle moving in the opposite direction. Interestingly, there was a 58% decline in the number of new launches in 2019, year on year; that will surely see a much-needed slowdown in the supply chain.

As property prices continue to scrape the bottom, allied with historically low interest rates and more accessible bank financing, the knock-on effect is that the number of mortgage enquiries jumped 59% over the year. Mortgage Finder also found that there was an 11% inquiry increase from those earning between US$ 2.7k – US$ 3.3k (AED 10k – AED 12k) and that the average property price, that those in this bracket consider, is US$ 217k (AED 795k). estimate that Dubai Marina, with apartment prices per sq ft 11.7% lower on the year at US$ 361, was the most popular location in Dubai for new buyers, whilst Palm Jumeirah attracted the highest number of buyers and investors for villas, where prices fell 16.6% to US$ 380 per sq ft.  Last year, sales in Dubai Marina were 59.5% higher at US$ 2.2 billion. With prices continuing to head south, allied with mortgage rates decreasing, Dubai is still a buyer’s market as the number and value of property transactions increased in 2019. There were marginal 5% declines recorded in Business Bay, whilst JVC posted average 13.8% declines to US$ 163 per sq ft. The more popular locations in the secondary market were found in Palm Jumeirah, Dubai Marina, Downtown Dubai and JVC, whilst the primary segment saw Dubai South, MBR City and Dubai Hills come out in front.

HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has enacted the DIFC Leasing Law No 1 of 2020, stipulating requirements that provide a protection framework for owners and tenants in the financial hub. It is hoped that the new law “will enhance the DIFC’s property market and reflect the centre’s commitment to maintaining a legal and regulatory framework, aligned with international best practice”. Among the new regulations are a maximum 10% limit on security deposits of the annual rent of a residential lease and that the landlord has to give a tenant written notice of a proposed rent increase at least ninety days prior to the expiry of a lease. There are also other guidelines, including the introduction of a tenancy deposit scheme, and residential leases to be administered by the registrar, requiring the production of condition reports, and specifying provisions relating to the termination of leases.

According to HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, “We, at Dubai Council, will double our work in the next period — 2020 will be the year of major changes and real transformations in our journey towards the next 10 years”.  He was speaking as Dubai set up a new “economic district” on SZR for the next generation of businesses – much similar to the way the DIFC free zone has become one of the major global financial centres over the past two decades from ground zero. The government is planning a US$ 545 billion (two trillion dirhams) trading hub over the next five years; in H1, trading volumes totalled US$ 184 million. The District will have a “future economies” research centre and be a base for business incubators and financing institutions for New Economy enterprises. It will be no surprise to see the Dubai Ruler’s tweet – “We are the new capital of the New Economy” – soon become reality. He has also issued a directive to further enhance Dubai’s presence on the world stage by setting up fifty global offices for promoting Dubai’s commercial, tourist and investment position.

The UAE has bailed out the US by deciding to finance the world’s biggest economy’s Expo pavilion, after Congress failed to approve federal funds to construct the US$ 60 million pavilion; the US bars public financing for such international gatherings. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, was a keen supporter for US participation at the world fair fearing that the country’s absence would demonstrate weakness at an event where an increasingly powerful China would showcase its technological prowess in a key region – whereas US would have lost out “to showcase American freedom, ideals, enterprise, culture and global leadership.” The US building will demonstrate 3-D printing for prosthetics and organs, a journey to Mars and an idealised future city with minimal traffic.

A report from investment advisory, Julius Baer, has ranked Dubai as 17th out of 28 countries as the most expensive for luxury goods and services – and sixth from twelve countries in the EMEA region. The three most expensive global cities were Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo – with Mumbai coming in the lowest at 28th; London, Paris and Milan were akso among the most expensive for luxury goods and services. Dubai is the most expensive place in the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region to buy a lady’s handbag or a piano, whereas it is the cheapest for a wedding banquet – 89% lower than it would cost in New York. When it comes to prime residential property, (only 9% of that in Monaco, the most expensive in the survey), business class flights (55% of Sydney prices) and cars (64% cheaper than Singapore), Dubai scored well. If nothing else, the survey debunks the myth that the emirate is such an expensive place to live in or visit, compared to other global cities.

Business activity in Dubai’s December non-oil private sector economy saw a month on month 1.2 dip to 52.3 – a figure that still indicates that business activity remains strong; the market is forecasting that the level of investments will improve on the back of Expo 2020, with higher sales expected. There appears to be a lot of hope being put on the world fair, starting in October, to boost both investment and spending in the emirate. However, new order growth did come in at its slowest rate in nearly four years. The month also saw a weaker increase in new orders, driven by the fact that the slow economy negatively impacted on clients’ spending power. On the plus side, employment increased for the fourth month in succession.

This week, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman of Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority, laid the foundation stone for W Motors – a US$ 100 million investment for the seven-year old high-performance luxury sports cars facility. The 120k sq ft project will be built in three stages, with phase one comprising a workshop, assembly area, and a “concept and prototype” manufacturing zone. Production of all W Motors vehicles will now take place in DSO, including its limited series Fenyr SuperSport.

DMCC reported that the number of newly registered companies last year was 5.4% higher, year on year, bringing the total to over 17k. Over 100k people live and work in JLT, which has quickly become a major global hub for trade and an interconnected business district.

Dubai Economy estimates that over 184k new jobs were created last year, as it saw new business licences jump 90.8% to 38.4k, year on year.; over 2019, the number of licences cancelled was down 1.7% to 4.9k. These figures seem to indicate that there has been a marked uptick in the emirate’s economic competitiveness and that the recent Foreign Direct Investment Law has enhanced overseas business interest.

For the sixth time, a tribunal of the London Court of International Arbitration has found in favour of DP World, in their case against the Government of Djibouti over the Doraleh Container Terminal. On this occasion, it was found that Djibouti had acted illegally when it forcibly removed DP World from management of the terminal in February 2018 and was ordered to restore the rights and benefits, under the 2006 Concession Agreement to DP World, by the end of March or pay damages. It has been estimated that the Dubai port operator has incurred losses of over US$ 1 billion. The Doraleh Container Terminal, a third owned by DP World, is the largest employer and biggest source of revenue in the country and has operated at a profit every year since it opened.

According to the General Civil Aviation Authority, the UAE has thus far invested US$ 272 billion in airport infrastructure development projects, spanning development projects across the country, and a fleet of 884 commercial aircraft. As the industry grows, (with latest numbers indicating 4.4.% growth in global passenger numbers this year to 4.72 billion), there is the need to keep up with the latest developments, especially in the ME which is one of the world’s fastest expanding markets.

An interesting statistic from sees used car values rising for the first time in the UAE – up by between 4% – 10% – while sales are accelerating. The study, analysing three million searches, also shows dealers selling vehicles 7.5 days faster than in 2018 and privately-owned cars are selling in 17.8 days, from 24.4 days. It also indicated that a new car will experience a drop in value of between 15% – 30%, within the first year,but that used cars are not depreciating as fast they used to. There is no doubt that sales of new cars over the past four years have slumped by up to 40% and that the average age of a car on Dubai roads is eight years. This shows that consumers are holding on to their cars longer, rather than trading in for a new model, which in turn has increased the demand for used cars and have started to push their prices upwards.

The founder and former CEO of embattled Drake & Scull International, Khaldoun Al Tabari, has been arrested in Amman, after failing to turn up before Abu Dhabi’s Public Funds Prosecution over criminal charges filed by DSI for fund mismanagement/misappropriation. This arrest will send shock waves for those corporate chiefs and senior personnel who have carried out financial misdemeanours in the past. It is believed that DSI itself hasfiled “15 criminal complaints against the previous management, members of the previous board of directors and some of their family members.” It has been reported that accumulated losses at DSI top US$ 1.1 billion and that their scale and nature were kept secret by previous management. The UAE authorities had issued a directive to freeze the bank accounts of Al Tabari and his wife, as well as to seize properties registered under their names.

There are reports that Amanat Holdings is considering a potential acquisition of a strategic stake in the ME operations of VPS Healthcare. If this were to go ahead, it would be in line with the ethos of the Dubai-based healthcare and education investment company to buy into established platforms to grow and scale profitably. VPS was founded in 2007, by Dr Shamsheer Vayalil, and is now an integrated private healthcare service provider in the UAE, with a growing foothold in Oman. Interestingly, Dr Vayalil is also Vice Chairman and Managing Director at Amanat Holdings but will not be involved in any discussions regarding this particular deal.

The bourse opened on Sunday 12 January and, 21 points down the previous week, was up 79 points (2.9%) to 2828 by 16 January 2020. Emaar Properties, having lost US$ 0.03 the previous three weeks, was US$ 0.06 higher at US$ 1.17, whilst Arabtec, US$ 0.06 lower the previous three weeks, was flat at US$ 0.33. Thursday 16 January saw the market trading only 175 million shares, worth US$ 84 million, (compared to 164 million shares, at a value of US$ 61 million, on 09 January).

By Thursday, 16 January, Brent, losing US$ 3.15 (2.6%) the previous week, shed US$ 0.54 (0.8%) to close at US$ 64.60. Gold, up US$ 80 (5.4%) the previous four weeks, rose a further US$ 4, closing on Thursday 16 January at US$ 1,556.

Following the death of Sultan Qaboos, his cousin Haitham bin Tariq has been sworn in as the new sultan of Oman. “After a meeting of the family which decided to appoint the one who was chosen by the sultan”, the 65-year old was sworn in on Saturday, a day after Sultan Qaboos, the longest-reigning leader of the modern Arab world, passed away. Having died unmarried and leaving no children or heir apparent, and following royal protocol, the royal family had three days to determine the successor and if they had failed to agree, the person chosen by Qaboos in a letter addressed to the family would be the successor. Many had theorised that another cousin, Asad bin Tariq, was the favourite to take over.

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince, Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has been appointed to chair a panel to oversee the construction of a new Indonesian capital, with SoftBank chief executive and founder, Masayoshi Son, and former UK Prime Minister, the ubiquitous Tony Blair. The appointment was made by the Indonesian President, Joko Widodo, on a state visit to Abu Dhabi.  The panel will advise on building the new US$ 34 billion capital, to be located on the island of Borneo, to ease the burden on the sinking and congested current capital Jakarta, with a thirty million population. SoftBank has already shown interest in part financing the establishment of a smart and green city and investment deals, worth an impressive US$ 22.8 billion, were signed between companies from the UAE and Indonesia.

2019 plane sales at Boeing slumped to just 380 jets – its lowest level in eleven years, as its main protagonist, Airbus managed to deliver more than twice that number at 863. Bearing in mind that orders – which deduct cancellations in their calculations – reported that new orders in 2019 were a miserly 54, compared to its European rival’s 768 planes. The main driver behind the dismal news was the grounding of its 737 Max in March, following two fatal crashes; ten months later, there is still no concrete news on when the model will fly again. Boeing has an order backlog of 5.4k, across its range of jets, as at the end of 2019. It is estimated that the US plane maker is bleeding US$ 1 billion a month and posted a US$ 3 billion negative cash flow in Q3. It will also face astronomic penalties and compensation payments in the months ahead.

2020 started no differently for the UK High Street which has been in the doldrums now for several years. Beales, founded in 1881 and one of the country’s oldest department stores, has warned that it could collapse into administration. If that were to happen, twenty-two stores and 1k jobs will be at risk if a buyer cannot be found; the company is in talks with two potential buyers – a rival retailer and a venture capital investor – and is also in negotiations with landlords regarding rent reductions. This week has also witnessed Debenhams closing nineteen shops and Mothercare’s 79 UK stores ceasing trading.

There was no surprise to discover that 2019 was the High Street’s worst on record, with retail sales falling for the first time in twenty-five years, declining 0.9% over the last two months of the year. Two major players have issued warnings. Superdry said that its profits could be wiped out after sales fell sharply over Christmas. Meanwhile, John Lewis has warned that its staff bonus may be in doubt, as Christmas sales, at its department stores, were 2% lower for stores open at least a year.

Having opened its first store in 1972 in Perth, the Australian-founded, Hong Kong-owned denim label Jeanswest is in a crisis that could see the end of the iconic brand and the closure of its 146 outlets in its home country.(Its overseas operations, in countries such as China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Russia and Indonesia, are not affected by the administration). Two other retailers are closing stores – Bardot with 58, over the next two months, and Harris Scarfe closing 21. Meanwhile Mosaic, with brands such as Noni B, Rivers, Millers and Katies clothing chains, noted that its sales took a hit in H2, especially in the 32% of its stores in regional areas, where the company said “consumer confidence has been particularly fragile”, being “directly impacted” by the bushfires. Its share value sank 20%, in two days’ trading, on Tuesday and Wednesday. Any upward movement in economic growth has been hampered by weak household consumption, with latest ANZ data seeing Christmas period sales 5% down year on year.

YTD, the Australian stock market has proved to be the best performing global bourse, as the ASX jumped 5.3% to exceed the 7,000 barrier (to 7,048) for the first time, driven by record interest rate lows and a recent improvement in US-Sino trade relations. The Central Bank has had to slash rates last year in a bid to stimulate a sluggish Australian economy. With investors earning next to nothing on cash, but being able to borrow cheaper money, they are turning to the share market which has meant that the ASX has a very expensive 18.2x price-to-earnings ratio. One consequence of this has seen the total Australian superannuation portfolio reach US$ 2.1 billion (AUD 3 billion) – up 13.8% on the year – with the average super fund returning 15.2%, the best since 2013. It has to be noted that because the local financial markets are relatively small, an increasing amount of “Australian money” is to be found invested in international markets.

Aided by enhanced household spending, the German economy managed to grow by just 0.6% in 2019 – its weakest performance in six years – as Q4 is expected to see growth of between 0.1% – 0.2%. There were weaker returns in business investment for machinery/equipment and an 0.5% decline in industrial production, excluding construction, whilst exports grew at a lower rate (0.9%) than in recent years. Despite marginally better returns in Q4, having nearly moved into recession the previous two periods, there is no doubt that Europe’s mainstay economy is struggling to generate growth.

A monthly 0.2% decline in December’s inflation rate to just 1.3%, (its lowest rate in over three years), makes am increase later in the month much more likely, as it is well below the Bank of England’s 2.0% target. There were price falls noted for women’s clothes and hotel room costs, although energy prices climbed 4.9% in December. However, with the UK economy barely crawling forward, there is little immediate chance of rates returning to the 2.0% mark in the near future.

A third member of the nine-man Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee has come out indicating a willingness to cut interest rates further depending on how the economy has performed since the December election and whether economic weakness persists. Currently, the rate is at 0.75% and there is now the possibility of this being reduced to 0.50% when the next MPC meeting takes place on 30 January.

Positive news from Washington should help ease the tensions between the US and China, as regulators reversed their earlier decision to brand the world’s second biggest economy a currency manipulator, following an agreement that the yuan would not be devalued so as to make Chinese exports cheaper on the global stage. The facts that the Chinese currency had appreciated since August, at the height of the trade war, and the IMF confirming that the yuan was valued fairly, may have helped the decision. The Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, confirmed that “China has made enforceable commitments to refrain from competitive devaluation, while promoting transparency and accountability.”

Subsequently, the two superpowers signed a pact that was well received by both parties, with Donald Trump saying it would be “transformative” for the US economy and Chinese leaders calling it a “win-win” deal, that would help foster better bi-lateral relations. Part of phase 1 of the deal sees China agreeing to boost US imports by US$ 200 billion above 2017 levels and strengthen intellectual property rules, with the US agreeing to halve some of the new tariffs; the four way split will see manufacturing, energy, services and agriculture benefitting by US$ 78 billion, US$ 52 billion, US$ 38 billion and US$ 32 billion respectively. The two-year tit-for-tat trade war has seen tariffs of more than US$ 450 billion being levied on traded goods, with a negative impact on global economic growth and trade.

A Cavendish Maxwell report concludes that the falling prices in a sluggish property market represent a “silver lining”, with more buyer interest being generated by lower prices. The consultancy estimated that 2019 apartment declines averaged 15%, although some areas, including Discovery Gardens and JVT, posted bigger falls of 23%. Price declines for villas and townhouses averaged 18%, although bigger ones were noted in the Meadows (24.3%), JVT (22.8%) and Victory Heights (22.3%). In a simple equation, with incomes nudging higher (or even remaining flat) as property prices sink (and supply increases), the customer base is expanding. Add to the mix Expo, and more potential buyers, along with lower mortgage rates, then it is only a matter of time before equilibrium returns to the Dubai property sector. Hey Ho Silver Lining!



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SO you Win Again

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SO you Win Again

So You Win Again                                                                                          09 January 2020

Showing confidence in the Dubai property market, Emaar has introduced Burj Crown as its first launch of the year. The 44-storey, 400-unit luxury residential tower, designed by Hong-Kong based architecture firm LWK Partners, will be located in the heart of Downtown Dubai; it comes at a time when many believe that the almost five-year property bear run may have run its course, with latest figures showing that the number of 2019 transactions climbed over 20%, year on year, to 42k – its highest rate of sales since 2008.

WeWork’s second regional operation, following on from one opened in Abu Dhabi last year, will be located in One Central, near to the World Trade Centre. The co-working space provider is already accepting requests from start-ups and others; initially it will handle hot desk applications, but later dedicated desks and private offices will be made available for rent. The New York-headquartered company has yet to disclose price details for its Dubai base but monthly rates in the capital are set at US$ 300, with private office and dedicated desks for two people costing US$ 1,362 and US$ 708 respectively.

This week, on the occasion of his 14th accession anniversary, HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum set up The Dubai Council that will oversee six areas of growth for the emirate including: economy, citizens’ services, government development, infrastructure, security / justice, and health/knowledge. The Dubai Ruler introduced the initiative to “drive change in Dubai, oversee social and economic governance in the emirate, improve competitiveness, economic leadership and attractiveness of the emirate, to become the best city to live in”. He further added that “performance benchmarks shall be set and signed with all general directors in Dubai — and are to be approved by the Dubai Majlis”. The benchmark, which will include the goals and projects for each department, will be revised every two years. He also warned that “whoever fails to bring about a real change within the two-year period will be released from their duties.”

The following consultative heads were appointed as Commissioner Generals: Shaikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum – Dubai Economic Track,  Mattar Mohammed Al Tayer -Infrastructure, Urban Planning and Well-Being, Major General Talal Belhoul – Security and Justice, Abdullah Mohammed Al Basti – Government Development, Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer –  Health and Knowledge and  Major General Abdullah Khalifa Al Merri  – Citizens.

At. their first ever meeting, the newly appointed Dubai Council outlined a new drive for efficiency for the next five years, having been set fifty goals that must be met to boost growth, or face removal from their posts. Chaired by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, he stressed that there would be a new economic plan for the emirate and a new “urban plan” to improve living standards – and that the plans “will be implemented by the team… or we will replace the team”. He also confirmed that all publicly owned newspapers, radio and television stations and the government press office, Dubai Media Office, would come under one ‘Dubai Media Council’ and that personally, ”I have not stopped improving and changing over the past 50 years and I will not cease to do so.”

Dubai Taxi Corporation celebrated its silver anniversary this week and during the past twenty-five years, it is estimated that it has carried more than one billion passengers over 682 million trips. The RTA subsidiary has seen the number of taxis grow from just 81 in 1995 to its current level of 5.2k with the number of drivers increasing from 886 to 11.5k.

Uber has finalised its US$ 3.2 billion acquisition of Careem’s ME business, but the Dubai ride-hailing company will retain operational and brand independence, even though it is a wholly owned subsidiary of the San Francisco-based tech giant. With Careem’s co-founder Mudassir Sheikha remaining chief executive, the new board will comprise three Uber members and two representatives from Careem. Regulators in UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan have approved the deal whilst approval is still pending in Pakistan, Qatar and Morocco.

To encourage repeat visitors, the UAE has introduced the country’s first multi-entry five-year tourist visa to encourage travellers to visit more than once and spend more while they are in the country The Dubai Rulers want to establish the country as a ‘major global tourism centre” Further details, including costs, will be revealed later.

As expected, Dubai Gold and Commodities Exchange broke annual records for traded volumes in 2019, with investors capitalising on volatility in gold and currency markets, as there were 23.1 million contracts – 3.6% higher on the year – valued at US$ 866 billion. The three busiest months of the year were August, July and May with trades of 3.2 million, 2.3 million and 2.2 million respectively. Once again, the exchange’s best performing product was its rupee-based INR Quanto.

The bourse opened on Sunday 05 January and, 4 points up the previous week, was 21 points (0.8%) lower at 2749 by 09 January 2020. Emaar Properties, having lost US$ 0.03 the previous three weeks, was up US$ 0.01 at US$ 1.11, whilst Arabtec, US$ 0.02 lower the previous fortnight shed a further US$ 0.02 to US$ 0.33. Thursday 09 January saw the market trading only 164 million shares, worth US$ 61 million, (compared to 30 million shares, at a value of US$ 11 million, on 02 January).

By Thursday, 09 January, Brent, US$ 7.45 (12.2%) higher the previous four weeks, had hit the US$ 70 level during the week but eventually lost US$ 3.15 (2.6%) to US$ 65.14. Gold, up US$ 69 (4.7%) the previous three weeks, rose a further US$ 11 (0.7%), closing on Thursday 09 January at US$ 1,552. The first full week of the new year proved to be a tumultuous one with so much market volatility, not seen for some time, caused by the death of Iran’s Qasem Soleimani in a US-backed Baghdad security raid. Later in the week, a Boeing 737, operated by Ukraine International Airline, was shot down in Iran just after take-off from Tehran airport, under suspicious circumstances – again rattling the global markets.

Airbus has announced that it will increase the monthly number of its A320-series planes, assembled at its Alabama operation from five to seven, which will minimise  US tariffs imposed on European built aircraft; it will also assemble more A220s at its Mobile plant, bringing its US output to more than 130 aircraft a year. Last October, the WTO agreed that the US could impose duties on US$ 7.5 billion of European exports, in response to the illegal funding for Airbus jets; this included planes made in Europe but not to aircraft components shipped for assembly to Alabama. Currently, the European plane maker has seven other assembly lines for A320s – four in Hamburg, two in Toulouse and one in Tianjin in China.

BP has agreed to sell off US$ 625 million of its North Sea assets to Premier Oil, including the Andrew platform, and its controlling stake in five surrounding fields, along with its 27.5% stake in the Shell-operated Shearwater field.

There were two contrasting reports this week, involving two of the UK’s iconic carmakers. Aston Martin issued a profit warning on the back of a “very disappointing” 2019. After announcing that annual earnings could be almost half of those of the previous year, at US$ 175 million, its shares sank by 16.0%, whilst it posted that “challenging trading conditions highlighted in November continued through the peak delivery period of December resulting in lower sales, higher selling costs and lower margins”. Fifteen months after going public, its share value has slumped by over 76% to US$ 1.23; although core retail sales were 12.0% higher, its wholesale volumes – the number of cars the dealers have actually ordered – were down by 7.0% at 5.8k vehicles. Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce posted “very stable, robust” orders, selling a record 5.1k vehicles last year, driven by higher sales following the launch of the Cullinan SUV. It seems that Aston Martin will have to learn from its mistakes to get back on track – otherwise it will find itself on a slippery road to further bad news.

For the fourth year in a row, Mercedes-Benz came in as the world’s best-selling luxury-car brand, ahead of the likes of BMW AG and Volkswagen AG’s Audi. It posted a 1.3% increase in car sales to 2.34 million, with BMW posting a 2.0% increase in sales to a record 2.17 million cars last year.

In common with most countries, registration of new cars continues to decline in the UK which posted a fall for the third consecutive year – down 2.4% to 2.31 million, the lowest level since 2013; more of the same is expected this year. Not only is the industry facing serious challenges adapting to new emissions legislation, the slump is attributed to other factors such as weak consumer confidence, Brexit (inevitably) and confusion over clean-air legislation. What will be needed is a huge investment in electric and hybrid cars to steadily replace diesel vehicles which once accounted for 50% of all sales, and now only 22%, and heading south all the time.

Several UK banks, including Barclays, HSBC and Sainsbury’s, were impacted when foreign currency seller Travelex took its site offline to deal with a cyber-attack so as to contain “the virus and protect data”. The attack took place on New Year’s Eve and consequently firms, dependent on the Travelex platform, were unable to sell currency online during a major holiday period. Normally, Travelex delivers the foreign currency to stores for customers to collect, as well as operating the software that is used to buy the travel money and had to resort to manual operations in its branches.

Ahead of what could well be a turbulent 2020 for Italian banks, its government is in talks with the EU over a rescue plan for cooperative bank Popolare di Bari, the largest financial institution in the south of Italy. Over the past four year, the country has seen numerous banking crises that to date have cost the government, and other Italian banks, US$ 25.5 billion – with more in the offing. The bank was placed under special administration by the Bank of Italy last month and the Italian banks are committed to an immediate cash injection of US$ 345 million, as well covering up to half of a potential capital increase of US$ 1.6 billion for the bank. The bank has so far resisted changes, introduced in 2016, aimed at forcing large cooperative banks to turn into regular joint-stock companies to improve governance and management accountability; now it has no option, if it wants to receive the required fresh capital injection.

In the US, Ikea has agreed to pay US$ 46 million to the parents of a two-year old who died from suffocation after a 32 kg Malm chest of drawers fell on him in 2017. The unstable-designed product had been recalled a year earlier (the largest ever in the Swedish company’s history), following safety concerns after three other children had been crushed to death; in a combined settlement then, Ikea paid out US$ 40 million.

Having been forced to resign for his role in the money laundering scandal that engulfed Westpac, its chief executive, Brian Hartzer walked away with US$ 2 million, despite his bank being responsible for a staggering 23 million breaches of AUSTRAC legislation. This is just another example of the fat cat brigade looking after themselves because it is certain that those working in the lower branches of the institution would not have been treated as royally and possibly ended up in court.

Likewise, in the UK where it is estimated that within the first three days of 2020, FTSE 100 chief executives  would have earned US$ 38.5k – equivalent to the average annual pay of the typical employee; by the end of the year, their average pay would be US$ 4.5 million or US$ 1,176 per hour. This year, publicly listed companies, with more than 250 UK employees, will have to disclose the ratio between the CE’s pay and that of their average worker – and to explain the reasons for their executive pay ratios.

The year started well for one of the UK’s bigger presences on the embattled High Street as Next reported better than expected Christmas sales and increased its profit forecast to US$ 950 million; full price sales for the quarter to 28 December rose 5.2%. The retailer now expects 2020 profit to come in 3.9% higher, year on year, and while in-store sales dipped 3.9%, (not helped by cold and wet weather), its investment in on-line resulted in an impressive 15.3% revenue increase.

It seems highly unlikely that India will attain its fiscal deficit target of 3.3% of GDP this year, if the November deficit of US$ 1.2 billion is anything to go by, not helped by its revenue stream coming in at 50% of expectations. The country’s finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, noted that the recent corporate tax cuts would knock off US$ 315 million from government revenues. In the eight-month YTD, the fiscal deficit has already crossed over 14.8% of the budget estimate – a record high that could see the deficit touch 4.0% by the end of March; if the energy prices continue their upward trend, this would be an added burden for an economy that is dependent on oil imports. More worrying statistics see the public sector’s borrowing requirement rising to 8.5% of GDP and its economic growth at a six-year low in Q3 – compared to 7.0% a year earlier. Fitch Ratings has cut its growth forecast to 4.6% from a previous 5.6% estimate for the current financial year. Under present conditions, it seems a distant hope for prime minister Narendra Modi that India will become a US$ 5 trillion economy over the next five years.

The US labour market ended 2019 on a flat note with both non-farm payrolls only rising 145k in December (compared to 256k a month earlier) and wages by 2.9% – the first sub-3% reading in eighteen months. Unemployment held at a half-century low of 3.5%. The year-end figures are a reflection of an economy gradually slowing in a global environment of trade-policy uncertainty and sluggish growth. However, if the incumbent goes for a second term as president, there is no doubt that he will be re-elected if the economy continues in its record-long expansion mode. That means a lessening of tension in the tariff war and a continuing strength in the labour market. Both economic factors are in the hands of Donald Trump – what is not is any political fall-out outside of his immediate control.  In cold reality, if US personnel were killed overseas in theatres of war – or by terrorist attacks – then we would be looking at a different picture and a new 46th US President. Otherwise it will be a shoo-in victory for Donald Trump come November. So You Win Again.

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Don't Stop Me Now!

Don’t Stop Me Now!                                                                                       O2 January 2020

According to Valustrat, the falling rate of Dubai monthly property prices slowed in 2019, from 1.0% to 0.8%, year on year. The consulting firm indicated that its November Residential Capital Values stood at 75.9 points, dipping 0.9%, month on month, and 10.8% lower on an annual basis. The report confirmed that all locations saw prices heading south, within a range between 0.6% (International City) and Jumeirah Village Circle -1.1%. It also estimated that, since 2014, the weighted average residential price has slumped 32.8% to US$ 263 per sq ft. A positive indicator was a stronger, month on month, buying activity, with the overall eleven-month sales volume, both off-plan and ready homes, 25% higher than last year, with still one month to go. Not surprisingly, the top five traded properties were from Emaar, Damac, Nakheel, Azizi and Meraas.

The DLD and Property Finder have joined forces to introduce a new monthly price index to the Dubai market. Mo’asher (the Dubai House Price Index) showed that there was a 1.4% hike in house prices in November, rising from 1.121 to 1.134, month on month, with average house prices 0.8% higher at US$ 319k. A month earlier, there was a 23% rise in the volume of transactions and a 33% jump in the value of investments. The index will help consumers with up to date Dubai property prices on a monthly basis and Property Finder also hopes to release data on specific locations in the coming months.

Following successful launches last year in New York and Miami, David Yeo is to open In DIFC in Q1; Hutong, one of the first Chinese restaurants to be awarded a Michelin star, can also be found at London’s iconic Shard. Hutong in Dubai will feature an indoor restaurant, a lounge bar, a private terrace and two private dining rooms, as well as displaying Chinese-inspired interior design, inspired by ‘The Four Arts’ of the Qing Dynasty.

Dubai authorities are pulling out all stops to not only make the emirate the region’s leading destination but also one of the tops for global cruise visitors. On Sunday, the Mina Rashid cruise terminal dealt with 60k cruise visitors, as six vessels berthed, including TUI Cruises’ Mein Schiff 5, Pullmantur Cruises’ Horizon, MSC Cruises’ MSC Lirica, Jalesh Cruises’ Karnika, Costa Cruises’ Costa Diadema and Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas. The latter two were on their maiden voyages to Dubai.

Dubai Culture and Arts Authority has teamed up with the Roads and Transport Authority to create a series of public land-based artworks. The agreement was signed by Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, chairperson of the Dubai Culture, and RTA’s supremo, Mattar Al Tayer.  Under the Destination Land Art project, artists of different nationalities will work together to establish Dubai as a global centre for art and culture. The project also covers the rehabilitation of Zabeel High School, an iconic historical building, as well as supporting the development of the road network surrounding Al Fahidi Fort, a historical district founded in 1787.

It is estimated that the number of pupils, enrolling at some private schools for next term, has risen by almost 25%, with most consisting of children from families arriving in the country for the first time. For example, Taleem, which runs ten schools here and in Abu Dhabi, estimates that it “is currently looking at a 20% year-on-year increase in new enrolments for January.” Many reports last year pointed to the fact that an increasingly competitive private sector led schools to offer substantial discounts on fees to maintain their market share of pupils. According to the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, the eight new schools, due to open in Dubai before this September, will add a further 13k places for students in what could already be an over-populated market.

There were certain outlets that made their usual killings, on News Year Eve, because of their location close to the Burj Khalifa. Nando’s apparently charged US$ 681k each for at least 70% of their seats, whilst fast food chain Five Guys charged up to US$ 409. Charging a little less for ring-side fireworks seats were the likes of Starbucks and International House of Pancakes at US$ 327 and US$ 313, including food and beverages.

It was a busy New Year’s Eve for the RTA with over 2.1 million using public transport over the twenty-four hours – 3.6% higher, year on year. Of the total, 907k used Dubai Metro, 689k – taxis, 441k public buses, 52k marine transport and 37k Dubai Tram. Not many cities in the world could boast of having firework displays in ten different locations in such a relatively small area., with the Burj Khalifa putting on an impressive record-breaking 8 minute and 43-second-long show, featuring 1.4k kg of fireworks, watched by over one million in Downtown Dubai.

Driven by a late December surge from its 36th three-day anniversary, that netted US$ 30 million, Dubai Duty Free posted over US$ 2.0 billion in 2019 sales – 1.5% higher than a year earlier. In 2019, there were 24.3 million sales transactions, with 64.6 million units of merchandise sold. The sale of perfumes (which rose 2.0% on the year) was the best-selling item accounting for 15% of overall sales, equating to US$ 305 million, followed by liquor, cosmetics, tobacco and electronics.

One of the main reasons there was a 1.7% decline in Emirates passenger numbers to 58 million last year, compared to 2018, was an enforced reduction in operations because of a forty five-day closure of one of the airport’s two runways earlier in the year; accordingly, the number of Emirates flights in 2019 fell 3.1% to 186k. Over the past “year of recalibration”, Emirates has had to amend its fleet and network plans in the light of the fast changing political and socio-economic environment. Last year, the airline extended the number of its code-share partners to twenty-six with the addition of India’s SpiceJet. China Southern Airlines, Africa World Airlines, LATAM Airlines, and Interjet. Emirates also signed US$ 24.9 billion worth of agreements at November’s Dubai Air Show, including for fifty of Airbus’ A350s and thirty Boeing’s 787 Dreamliners.

Meanwhile Emirates has temporarily closed its US$ 88 million 1.6k hectare One&Only Wolgan Valley resort, as a result of the Australian bush fires which have ripped through the south-east of the country.

There are surveys and surveys and Which? UK has asked holidaymakers to rate recent trips to cities around the world. The study used certain parameters such as quality of the cultural attractions, accommodation, shopping, food, value for money and how crowded it was. There was good news and bad news for the emirate as its 62 points rated higher than Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Miami but the bad news is that it came fourth from the bottom of the survey, having been deemed “poor value for money”.  At the other end of the table, the top five were New Orleans (90 points), Singapore, Sydney, Chicago and Jaipur. In contrast, a survey by Post Office Travel Money, pointed to Dubai being one of the best long-haul destinations for British holidaymakers, more so because of the weakening dollar, down 4.5% last year; it estimates the cost of a one-week holiday package in early January, to be US$ 1.4k. On the downside, Dubai meals and drinks were the most expensive, at US$ 512, of the destinations surveyed.

For the first time, since petrol prices were regulated on a monthly basis, in August 2015, the previous month’s prices have been carried forward without any amendment. January prices will remain at US$ 0.578 per litre for Special 95 and diesel at US$ 0.648, as announced by the Fuel Price Committee. Then Special 95 was fixed at US$ 0.583 (up 23.6% from July 2015) and diesel at US$ 0.559 (down 29.0% on the month).

2020 will witness Dubai’s highest ever spending budget of US$ 18.1 billion, as announced by HH Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, as part of the emirate’s three-year fiscal plan (totalling US$ 53.4 billion). This figure is 16.9% higher than in 2019 and comes ahead of Expo 2020 and the Dubai Plan 2021. Over 30% of the spend is accounted for by salaries and wages and 24% taken by the health, education and social services. A further 12% will be utilised on construction projects, which includes sums for the continued development of Expo 2020 infrastructure, whilst 3% will be set aside to hedge and prepare for the big event. There is no doubt that the government is keen to take positive steps to move the economy forward in 2020. Estimates for public revenue this year are in the region of US$ 17.4 billion – year on year a 25% increase.

For the first nine months of 2019, Dubai’s non-oil foreign trade surged 6.0%, year-on-year, to US$ 277.6 billion, boosted by the contributions from the emirate’s fifty plus free zones. Of that total, exports showed a 23% increase to US$ 32.2 billion, whilst re-exports and imports both headed north, by 4% to US$ 85.0 billion and 3% at US$ 160.4 billion respectively. Volumes for the period were 22% higher as exports, re-exports and imports were all up by 47% to 14 million tonnes, 48% to 13 million tonnes and 13% to 56 million tonnes.   China remained the emirate’s number one partner, accounting for 27% of China’s exports to the Arab World and 29% of exports. The emirate’s top five trading partners were China, India, US, Switzerland and Saudi Arabia contributing US$ 29.7 billion, US$ 27.2 billion, US$ 15.5 billion, US$ 12.8 billion and US$ 11.4 billion. The top traded commodities continue to be gold (US$ 35.1 billion), mobile phones (US$ 32.4 billion) and diamonds (US$ 11.4 billion).

There are reports that the Arab world’s first commercial nuclear plant could start operations in Q1, with the first of four planned reactors, Barakah Unit 1, going live in Abu Dhabi. It will take several months before the plant starts full commercial operation, after it has loaded nuclear fuel. Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp and Korea Electric Power Corp will manage, operate and maintain the Barakah complex, which will eventually produce a combined 5.6k megawatts of power.

Dubai Aerospace Enterprises has bought back US$ 450 million of its own shares, with the early partial repayment of a note receivable from certain shareholders, as it strengthens its balance sheet ahead of the 31 December year end. The Middle East’s biggest plane lessor remains “committed to running our business with low levels of leverage and optimal amounts of capital.” The company operates from seven global locations, from which it serves the needs of 125 airlines, with its portfolio of 410 Airbus, ATR and Boeing aircraft, valued at more than US$ 15.5 billion. Its latest nine-months’ figures to September 2019 saw profit dip 10.3% to US$ 261 million, as costs rose, including depreciation and finance, by US$ 12 million and US$ 35 million, although revenue nudged up 1.2% to US$ 1.7 billion.

In the Dubai Financial Market, the value of foreign investors’ trade last year totalled US$ 28.7 billion, including buying and selling worth US$ 13.8 billion, with a year-end net investment of US$ 813 million.

The bourse opened on Sunday 29 December and, having shed 4 points the previous week, was 4 points higher at 2770 by 02 January 2020. Emaar Properties, having lost US$ 0.03 the previous fortnight, was flat at US$ 1.10, whilst Arabtec, US$ 0.02 lower the previous week, also did not move the scoreboard, remaining at US$ 0.35. Thursday 02 January saw the market with a New Year hangover, with almost non-existent trading of only 30 million shares, worth US$ 11 million, (compared to 169 million shares, at a value of US$ 37 million, on 26 December). Over the year, the bourse traded 235 points (9.3%) higher, ending on 31 December at 2765, whilst Emaar lost US$ 0.03 to close the year on US$ 1.10 and Arabtec shed US$ 0.17 to US$ 0.35.

By Thursday, 02 January, Brent, US$ 3.95 (6.3%) higher the previous three weeks, gained a further US$ 1.75 (2.6%) to US$ 68.29. Gold, up US$ 43 (2.9%) the previous fortnight, jumped a further US$ 26 (1.7%), closing on Thursday 02 January at US$ 1,541.

After a 1.4% decline in the global smartphone market, the International Data Corporation expects that, after three years of declines, the industry will bounce back in 2020 on the back of new affordable fifth-generation handsets and the rising popularity of foldable phones. A 1.5% increase will see shipment volumes top 1.4 billion units. A decade after the introduction of 4G units, which then accounted for 1.3% of total shipments, this year will see 5G handsets take up to 14% of the market. After eight years of development, Samsung finally released its Galaxy Fold, (which initially had screen problems), and Huawei’s Matt X – both with prices around the US$ 1.8k mark; when the initial euphoria dies, and prices come down, the market will see a marked rise in numbers.

New data from International Data Corporation sees consumer spending on technology in the Middle East and Africa climbing 4.1% to US$ 130.8 billion this year and that a five-year 3.5% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) is expected, with the figure to top US$ 149.4 billion by 2023. This year, 86.3% of sales will emanate from traditional technologies such as mobile phones, personal computing devices, and mobile telecom services, dominated by mobile telecom services (voice and data) and mobile phones taking 68.7% and 26.6% of the total spend. It is expected that growth in emerging technologies, (including AR/VR headsets, drones, on-demand services, robotic systems, smart home devices, and wearables), will register a 10.2% five-year CAGR and will account for 17.1% of consumer spending on technology by 2023 – up from its current 13.7%.

Reliance Industries has joined a conglomerate to set up a grocery delivery service that it hopes will rival Amazon, Flipkart and Walmart, and other existing local online retail titans, such as Big Basket and Grofers, in India. The new entity, JioMart, including Reliance Retail and Reliance Jio, is hoping that its massive mobile phone customer base will be a major boost to the start-up, as will its offer “free and express delivery” for a list of grocery goods, which currently numbers some 50k items. A unique selling point is that JioMart will connect local stores to customers via an app, rather than providing and delivering the goods itself. The sector is still in its infancy, with just a meagre 0.15% of the population using such services, and there are forecasts that over the next three years it will grow from its current US$ 870 million to US$ 14.5 billion – a huge jump by any measure.

There is no doubt that the past decade has been a disaster for the UK High Street, with many famous brands going into administration. Some managed a rescue deal with their creditors but there are many that have subsequently gone out of business forever. In April 2018, Toys R Us shut down all of its US and UK stores mainly because they did not keep up with the times and suffered from having massive unnecessary warehouses and not refreshing design and infrastructure. Earlier in the decade saw the demise of the Borders bookshop chain, probably killed off by Amazon and other  fierce competition. June 2016 was when the department chain British Home Stores, with debts of US$ 1.7 billion and a pension deficit of US$ 750 million, went out of business for good. The 88-year old retailer, with 163 stores, finally fell over because it failed to innovate and keep up with competition. Two years earlier, stationery store chain Staples disappeared from the High Street, after the UK arm of its business was sold to restructuring firm Hilco. Earlier a planned US$ 6.3 billion merger with fellow US office supply giant Office Depot was abandoned on competition grounds.  It failed to embrace e-commerce and lost business to cheaper alternatives.

In 2013, Blockbuster, a highly popular video rental chain, with more than 9k stores around the world, saw the end of its UK and US stores. It failed to get into the DVD mail-order rental delivery service that Netflix started off with. 2018 was the year that Maplin, with 200 outlets and 2.3k staff, closed its doors. One of the biggest electronic retailers was not helped by weak consumer confidence and a slump in sterling following the Brexit vote – problems faced by most retailers at the time – but fell because it failed to utilise e-commerce to its advantage. Tie Rack was yet another that failed to focus on its core business and paid the price as it collapsed in 2013. At its peak, it boasted 450 global stores but as ties gradually fell out of fashion, the company was also hit by global recession and online shopping. Poundworld was another retail icon that struggled from the Brexit referendum that saw the pound drop in value, making imports more expensive.  The discount goods retailer, with 5.1k employees and 335 stores, also suffered from intense competition from the likes of Poundland and Poundstretcher.

Barratts Shoes, once boasting 400 stores, sold only its own brand of shoes but was badly hit by cheaper imports and by 2013 had finally closed 61 of its 75 remaining outlets. By that time, its shoes were comparatively more expensive than its competition and it had no brands to back them up. One of the biggest failures was Phones4U in 2014. The independent mobile phones retailer, with 5.6k employees and 700 outlets, collapsed when it lost vital deals, with EE and Vodafone pulling out of negotiations to agree fresh contracts; it focused too much on big contract clients and not on their various customer bases.

In a shock move – and an embarrassment to Japanese authorities – 65-year old Carlos Ghosn skipped the country and flew to Lebanon, just a year after he was arrested in Tokyo for financial crimes. The disgraced automotive supremo, and former head of both Nissan and Renault, said he “will no longer be held hostage by a rigged Japanese justice system where guilt is presumed, discrimination is rampant, and basic human rights are denied”. Although he denies all charges, claiming to be a victim of a conspiracy, his critics accuse him of a pervasive pattern of financial misconduct and raiding of corporate resources for personal gain. Both US and Japaneseauthorities consider that Ghosn and Nissan violated the law by being compensated US$ 140 million more than the company reported to shareholders. It is also claimed that he transferred personal investment losses to Nissan and also moved money from an Omani dealership to a company he controlled in Lebanon.

Nissan was also in the news because in a bid to deal with declining sales, reduced margins and slumping profits, senior management have been told to slash non-essential spending on the likes of unnecessary travel, sales incentives and promotional events. The cost-cutting drive will continue well past the carmaker’s 31 March financial year. The company is still reeling from the Ghosn scandal, as well as the departures of some senior executives and increasingly strained relations with its partner, Renault. Despite a wide-ranging turnaround plan last April to revive sales and boost profits, Nissan posted a 70% Q2 fall in profit and in November cut its full-year forecast to an 11-year low.

There appears to be strong interest to take over the Thai and Malaysian operations of Tesco, with several parties showing interest in an acquisition that could raise over US$ 7 billion for UK’s largest supermarket chain. Among those include Thai billionaire Dhanin Chearavanont’s Charoen Pokphand (CP) Group and Central Group, controlled by Chirathivat family. Tesco is keen to divest itself of its SE Asian operations, that include 2k hypermarkets and convenience stores in Thailand and seventy shops in Malaysia, to raise funds to restructure its core UK business.

The IMF has expressed concern about the state of the Turkish economy, highlighting the need for a comprehensive reform package to ensure more resilient growth, as its recovery remains “fragile” amid persistent fiscal vulnerabilities. It wants the government to adopt “prudent” policies to enhance stressed bank and corporate balance sheets and strengthen low reserve buffers; despite the recent introduction of fiscal stimulus, there has been a marked increase in the underlying deficit, expected to touch US$ 13 billion this year – and be 72.3% higher next year at more than US$ 23 billion. Its current bank interest rate stands at 7.75%, but the central bank has introduced measures that have raised reserve requirement ratios for foreign currency deposits and participation funds by 200 basis points; this is expected to result in US$ 2.9 billion of forex liquidity being withdrawn from the market and boosting official reserves. Inflation is expected to end 2019 at over 11%.

For a decade, Ireland has seemingly milked the likes of Google and others by offering an effective tax rate in the single digits on non-US profits – in some cases saving companies up to 75% in their tax bill if paid under other regimes. This would seem to be a win-win for both the Irish government and the tech giant, with another country losing out on its “rightful” tax. Now Google has decided to “play fair” and heeded President Trump’s warnings and 2017 tax law changes, by bringing its intellectual property ownership and licensing structures back to the US. There is no doubt that Ireland has benefitted greatly from this arrangement that has helped the country post yet another annual fiscal surplus this year, with critics arguing that it had become a dumping ground for multinationals’ tax avoidance policies. A US study estimated that in 2015, foreign multinationals moved US$ 106 billion of corporate profits to Ireland – a great fillip for the country’s coffers, as some of its EU allies missed out on their legitimate tax revenue.

2019 saw China launch a series of pro-growth measures including increased infrastructure spending, rate/tax cuts and reductions in the amount of cash banks must keep on reserve to boost credit. Furthermore, as from yesterday, financial institutions were prohibited from signing floating-rate loan contracts based on the previous benchmark bank lending rate, which will be priced in line with the Loan Prime Rate and linked to the medium-term lending facility (MLF), a key policy rate of the PBOC. The one-year LPR, currently standing at 4.15%, acts to make interest rates more market-driven and helps lower financing costs which in turn should push the economy forward. 2019 growth is expected to come in at around 6.0% – such a low figure has not happened in thirty years; more of the same is expected for 2020.

At year end, it is normal to look how the global economy has performed and look forward to what may happen in 2020.  

    2020Unit    2019201920182017201620152014
102.00Iron OreUS$lb28.37%91.5371.3071.2875.0047.0073.00
69.45Oil -Brent23.92%66.6753.866.6256.8236.457.33
7,777FTSE 10012.22%7,5426,7217,6887,1426,2426,548
3,400S&P 50028.88%3,2312,5072,6742,2382,0442,091

The table shows that all indicators moved upwards in 2019 except for cotton and, not surprisingly, the euro – down 4.50% and 1.93% for the year respectively. The blog expects that these two will continue their downward trend this year and that they will be joined by the Australian dollar, whilst the other fourteen markers continue to head north in 2020.

It will be no surprise to see the lucky country struggle this year but will probably not enter recession, which would be for the first time in nearly thirty years. Figures indicate that the Australian economy grew slower in the twelve months to June 2019 than it had any time since 2001. Its labour market will remain weak, as wage growth continues to disappoint, and inflation remains below the RBA’s 2.0%+ inflation target; there will be one final rate cut earlier in the year. Bubbling under the surface is the fact that the country has the world’s second-largest household debt, hovering around 120% of GDP. Then there will be the longer-term impact of the on-going deadly bushfires to worry the economy in. 2020.

With the upcoming US presidential election in November, the re-election of Donald Trump is almost certain so long as the economy continues to fire on all cylinders. This will mean that there will have to be some sort of resolution with regard to the Chinese trade tariff war and that the US dollar will be kept on the lower side to boost domestic exports. A weaker dollar will result in other leading currencies strengthening against the base greenback.

The global bourses will continue to move higher but at a much slower rate than was seen in 2019. It is interesting to note that the Dubaiindex stood at 3774 at the back end of 2014; five years later it has shed 1009 points (26.8%) to 2765 and is probably one of the few bourses not to have moved ahead over the period. 2020 will see a major boost, with the DFM being one of the best performing stock markets in the world.

2019 global growth – at 2.6% – was the slowest since the 2009 GFC and this year will see an improvement – by how much depends on some factors, including the potential end of the tariff war, as well as peace in the Yemen and other war-torn areas. On a global scale, it could touch 3.4% but the likes of the lacklustre EU will be lucky to top 1.0%, whilst most rich companies will hover under the 2.0% mark. China and India are expected to return around 6.0% growth again in 2020, with Indonesia posting over 5%. On a global scale, the two fastest growing economies will be Guyana (35%) and Rwanda (9%) and, at the other end, Venezuela (-21%) and Zimbabwe (-13%).

There is no doubt that 2020 will be a watershed for the local property market sector for numerous reasons including higher energy prices, the Expo halo, newly introduced government policies and the fact that since it has been under the cosh for more than five years, it could be time for the cycle to change. Expect to see some positive moves from the recently formed higher committee for real estate planning, headed by Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed, Dubai’s Deputy Ruler.  Another cut in bank rates could be a possibility and this will encourage more buyers into the sector. Finally, if the central bank were to ease the rules regarding the cap on lending to the real estate sector, that would indeed be a game changer for the sector.

Although official figures for 2019 have yet to be posted, it is estimated that there could currently be 522k apartments and 110k villas in Dubai.  By the end of the year, this will climb by 8.4% to 565k apartments and 120k villas, at which time the emirate’s population would have grown from 3.35 million to 3.6 million – a 7.5% annual increase. Inflation is expected to decrease from 1.5% to 1.0% over 2019, whilst growth figures will improve to above the global average. Then there is Expo on the horizon. The economy has bottomed out and it is about time that confidence returned to the emirate. After a Year of Happiness and a Year of Tolerance, now should be the Year of Confidence to get the economy moving. Don’t Stop Me Now!

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It's A Man's Man's Man's World

It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World.                                                        26 December 2019

The past twelve months to 30 November witnessed a record 44.6k real estate transactions and, despite all the gloom and doom in the market, this number represents the highest number of transactions in the history of Dubai real estate. For the first eleven months of 2019, a total of 36.8k residential properties have been sold in the emirate – a sure sign of improving market momentum after four years in the doldrums; sales for the period came in at US$ 20.9 billion.  If the trend continues into December, this year could be the best in a decade; this looks a distinct possibility particularly because November sales of 4.8k were 5.5% higher month on month, with total deals worth over US$ 2.5 billion. There are several factors pushing the market forward including favourable property prices, an-over supply, low interest rates, enhanced payment plans offered by developers, trying to improve cash flow (rather than profit margins) to get rid of surplus inventory, and recent government reforms to reduce on-costs.

The week, MAG Development broke ground on its upcoming US$ 544 million, 5.1k unit, MAG City project, it revealed that it is planning to list on the Dubai bourse. According to its CEO, Sar Haffar, ‘since it is in a preparation phase, I cannot commit to the date. It is going to take a bit more than a year’. The actual development, with 8k sq mt of retail space and 84k sq mt of public parks, is slated for a 2022 completion; China National Chemical Engineering Group Company has been awarded the contract for the construction of phase one.

A relative newcomer to the sector sees the opening of the 114-key The Lemon Tree Dubai Hotel on Al Wasl Road in Jumeirah, which also includes a wellness centre. The US$ 27 million property enters Dubai’s growing three-star mid-range sector and it is the sixteen-year old Group’s first regional foray. Lemon Tree Hotels (LTH) is India’s largest chain in the mid-priced hotels sector and operates 78 hotels in 46 destinations, with 7.9k rooms and over 8k employees.

This week finally saw the opening of the Address Sky View Hotel, a twin tower property, connected by a floating sky bridge, with 169 hotel rooms and 551 apartments. One of its stand-out features is a 70 mt long infinity pool, some 220 mt from ground level; it also boasts a glass slide which takes guests down, outside, from the 53rd floor to the Sky Views observation deck, and an adventure walk around the rim of the building (secured by a harness).

The same developer is in the UK news, with reports that Atkins, the British firm involved in the design and construction of The Address Downtown hotel, is being sued for negligence following the 2015 New Year’s Eve fire. At the time, the cause of the fire was down to an electrical short circuit on a spotlight, for which the developer submitted a US$ 339 million insurance claim, “revolving alleged negligence in the specification, testing and installation of the building cladding which is claimed to have exacerbated the fire, thereby increasing the damage to the building”.

Despite strong rumours to the contrary, Emaar Properties denied reports it was in the market to sell the observation deck of Burj Khalifa – At The Top. However, the developer “is currently considering a structured transaction wherein financing is being raised against the cashflows of At The Top business”. It is estimated that the facility generates around US$ 170 million a year and could be valued as high as US$ 1 billion.

November saw Dubai’s Department of Economic Development issue over 3.8k new licences of which 70.4% and 27.7% were for professional and commercial purposes respectively, with the balance taken for tourism and industrial. It is estimated that combined, they added over 10.8k to the emirate’s workforce. During the month, the agency dealt with more than 28.9k business registration and licensing transactions.

It is hard to believe that Dubai Duty Free celebrated its 36th anniversary last week and, for the occasion, held a three-day sale, with a 25% discount on a wide range of merchandise. Total revenue generated came to over US$ 57 million, with US$ 30.6 million being sold on the last of the three days, 20 December; there were 359k transactions. The three most popular sales items were cosmetics, perfumes and watches, with sales figures of US$ 15 million, US$ 10 million and US$ 9 million.

DP World is to invest US$ 500 million, as it has been awarded a 30-year build-operate-transfer, BOT, concession by the Saudi Ports Authority, Mawani. It is for the management and development of the Jeddah South Container Terminal, the country’s largest port with current volumes in excess of six million TEUs, as well as handling 60% of Saudi Arabia’s sea imports. The money will be spent on infrastructure to improve Jeddah Islamic Port’s ability to serve ultra-large container carriers, ULCC’s.

A recent RTA auction, of ninety number plates, managed to raise US$ 5.4 million, with the three biggest sellers being S70 – US$ 519k, AA99 US$ 496k and H333 US$ 264k.

As part of its 2017-2021 plan, the UAE Ministry of Infrastructure Development is to spend over US$ 2.7 billion on thirty-six projects, including security, education, health and services, along with federal roads and maintenance projects. A big portion will be spent on implementing and maintaining government buildings which will include six new health care centres, five government buildings, four schools and four road implementation projects.

Dubai’s Department of Economic Development’s Q3 survey shows that the consumer confidence index dipped 2 to 137, quarter on quarter, and by 3 YTD. The main drivers for the marginal decline appear to be a soft labour market – leading to insufficient work opportunities and no salary increases – and a global economic slowdown with the knock-on local effect of falling energy revenue. Consequently, consumer spending has been reduced, with respondents watching their dirhams, cutting back on recreational activities, taking cheaper holidays and delaying technology upgrades.

The UAE Central Bank has warned consumers about the rise in the number of scams that use its name to elicit private information about personal and bank account information. The Central Bank urges “the public to avoid responding to such calls, messages, and opening any hyperlink that may be attached, which may provide exposure to a malicious website and inform authorities immediately.” It reiterated that it ‘never conducts phone calls (unless a consumer complaint has been logged through the right channels with a reference number) or uses social media to contact individuals or businesses.”

It is reported that Limitless – a sister company of Nakheel and involved in planning large scale, mixed-use communities and waterfront developments – has lost a court case to Deyaar Development. The dispute, relating to the purchase of land, sees Limitless ordered to pay US$ 112 million and also the cancellation of a sales and purchase agreement. Furthermore, it was also forced to pay fees as well as compensation of US$ 17 million.

The bourse opened on Sunday 22 December and, having risen 90 points (1.6%) the previous three weeks was 4 points off at 2765 by 26 December 2019. Emaar Properties, up US$ 0.02 last week, shed US$ 0.01 to close on US$ 1.10, whilst Arabtec, up US$ 0.06, the previous three weeks, lost US$ 0.02 to close at US$ 0.35. Thursday 19 December saw continuing dismal trading of 169 million shares, worth US$ 37 million, (compared to 131 million shares, at a value of US$ 38 million, on 19 December).

By Thursday, 26 December, Brent, US$ 2.57 (4.0%) higher the previous two weeks, gained a further US$ 1.38 (2.1%) to US$ 66.54. Gold, up US$ 12 (0.8%) the previous week, was US$ 31 (2.1%) higher, closing on Thursday 26 December on US$ 1,515.

Having divested himself of most of the stock he held in the company he founded, it seems that Uber’s co-founder, 43-year old Travis Kalanick, is finally to step down from the nine-member board. Since September, he has liquidated over US$ 2.5 billion, equating to over 90% of his earlier stake in the company and will now spend more time with his latest creation, City Storage Systems – a start-up, establishing kitchens for use by delivery-only restaurants. Many Uber investors will be glad to see the back of the co-founder who had been involved in a series of damaging controversies.

Boeing has finally faced reality and realised that its embattled chief executive, Dennis Muilenburg, had become such a liability that he had to be removed from office.  He has been the unsuccessful voice of the plane-maker, following two fatal crashes that has forced the grounding of its top-selling 737 MAX since March. He has been replaced by board chairman David Calhoun, as chief executive and president, with the company finally admitting the need to “restore confidence” and “repair relationships with regulators, customers and all other stakeholders”. Only last week, Boeing temporarily shut down MAX production and was not sure when the plane would return to the skies. Whether Boeing’s new leadership will keep their promise that it will “operate with a renewed commitment to full transparency, including effective and proactive communication with the [Federal Aviation Administration], other global regulators, and its customers,” remains to be seen.

According to Tencent, the MENA (Middle East and Northern Africa) games market will jump 25% by 2021 to US$ 6.0 billion from its estimated US$ 4.8 billion for 2019. The local sector is in in nascent stage, accounting for only 3.2% of the US$ 148.8 billion global market this year. In a market overview, The Future of the Games Industry & Ecosystem whitepaper indicated that the way people consume media is changing and that technological enhancements are boosting the evolution of how people now use entertainment. It also looks at the future prospects for the video games sector, including the rise of mobile gaming and cross platform gaming, the growth of eSports in the region, and the potential of games to bring positive benefits for economic and social development.

There is no doubt that the likes of Black Friday, Cyber Monday and e-commerce in general have seen a marked reduction in the traditional Boxing Day sales shopping. In the UK, it is expected that 2019 could see the biggest annual decline in a decade, which has been hit further by bad weather. Forecasts indicate that sales will be 5.1% lower than last year, with total spend of US$ 4.8 billion – and that four in ten of UK adults will still spend US$ 241.

Boxing Day is set to differ in Australia, with a record spend at retail outlets following what could well have been the worst Christmas shopping season since the GFC, driven by the mix of drought and bush fires, along with the creeping menace of e-commerce which now accounts for over 7% of total sales.. Boxing Day spend is expected to top US$ 1.8 billion as the Aussie tradition is being kept alive. From Boxing Day to 15 January, Australians are expected to spend more than US$ 13.3 billion.

There has been little surprise that a white male has been appointed as the 121st governor of the Bank of England, a decision made by the UK government; the role has been given to Andrew Bailey, currently heading up the Financial Conduct Authority. This comes when the likes of Christine Madeleine Lagarde and Kristalina Georgieva are now in control of the European Central Bank and the IMF respectively. Dame Minouche Shafik – a former deputy governor of the Bank and a director of the London School of Economics – was a frontrunner for the governor’s job. Does the Bank of England have a woman problem?  Maybe there is – with only one woman serving on the nine-strong  (with eight white males) Monetary Policy Committee which sets and announces policy eight times a year; less than a third of senior positions are filled by females.

With the Bank of England set to start monitoring Lloyd’s of London, their lack of diversity (as noted above) may worry a few in the insurance set-up. It seems that as the Lloyd’s whistleblowing hotline was out of service for sixteen months, about 1k staff members had no way to anonymously report issues such as sexual harassment or bullying. Ever since Bloomberg Businessweek published a critical article reporting that female workers had faced inappropriate comments as well as physical attacks from male colleagues, the 330-year old market has been trying to clean up its act. A later internal report indicated that 8% of employees had witnessed sexual harassment over the past twelve months. In the upper echelons of the UK financial sector, It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World.

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Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?                                                              19 December 2019

This week, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum issued the “50-Year Charter for Dubai”, which includes nine articles from his future vision for the emirate, envisioning the life he wishes for everyone living in Dubai. He said “we shall develop our plans and projects and reinvent new ideas. 50 years ago, the founding fathers shaped our life today, and next year, we will shape the coming five decades for the future generation”. At the same time, two new Cabinet committees were established, one to lay out a comprehensive development plan for the next 50 years, including health, education, housing, transport and food security across the country, and the other, focussing on the organisation of the major celebrations to be held in honour of the 50th anniversary of the UAE in 2021.

Figures from Property Finder Group’s Data Finder show that 38.2k residential units were completed up to the nine months ended 30 September, with a possible 6.5k expected over Q4, bringing the total for the year to  a possible 45k; this would be the highest annual figure for several years and 31.9% higher than a year earlier. Over the past year to September, the emirate’s population has grown over 5.4% to 3.34 million. The consultancy expects 2020 will bring less new projects, as developers focus on completing existing projects and selling their inventory of completed units in response to reduce the levels of future supply. Of the 13.2k units slated for completion over the six months to March 2020, 87% are apartments.

Meanwhile, Knight Frank indicates that Dubai prime property prices, that are expected to be 3.7% lower this year, will decline at the slower rate of 2.0% in 2020, despite the fact that this sector posted slight increases – of 0.2% and 0.3% – over the past two quarters. It is felt that sales and demand will nudge higher, whilst supply will witness a significant jump. Everybody is hoping that Expo 2020 will act as a catalyst to boost demand in this sector. Those who left Dubai a decade ago and bought in Vancouver have done well – with prime residential prices 80% higher compared to Dubai’s 8% decline.

The DCCI estimates that the construction sector added 6.4% to the emirate’s GDP, driven by Expo 2020 and government-led infrastructure projects, with the impact to continue well into 2022. Furthermore, there are 4.8k ongoing projects in Dubai, equating to 42% of the country’s total number; on a national basis, the construction sector contributed US$ 33.2 billion to the UAE GDP and has US$ 48.4 billion of works in the pipeline. Other key factors include Dubai’s drive towards economic diversification, a steady population increase (7.3% higher in 2018 and 4.8% so far this year to 3.345 million) and continuous infrastructure projects.

In February, Meliá is set to open its first regional ME hotel in Dubai, located in the Opus.. Designed both inside and out by the late Zaha Hadid, the property will have 74 rooms and 19 suites along with 96 serviced apartments; it will also have fifteen restaurants, three of which will be run by the hotel, along with a spacious pool and a 7k sq mt gymnasium.

The Gevora on SZR has another three years as the world’s tallest hotel but will lose this distinction to the Ciel, the First Group’s Dubai Marina project, currently under development in Dubai Marina, and due to open in 2023. Designed by architectural firm, Norr, Ciel will reach a height of 360.4 mt – four metres higher – and will house 1.2k luxury suites and serviced residences. It will also feature a glass observation deck, providing 360-degree vistas across Dubai Marina, as well as a rooftop leisure deck with a swimming pool, fitness centre and steam rooms.

Following the 251-room Ibis Styles, Nakheel has just opened its second hotel in Dragon City, the Premier Inn at Dragon City, located in closed proximity to Dragon Mart. The eight-storey property, featuring a 320-seat restaurant and a Costa coffee shop, is Nakheel’s fourth hotel – the other two being located at Ibn Battuta Mall. Its first residential component – a twin-tower apartment complex with over 1.1k units – is under construction.

Dubai added two more ‘supertall’ buildings (over 300 mt) to its portfolio this year with The Address Residence – Fountain Views III in Dubai (332 mt) and Noora Tower at 307 mt; this year has seen 26 such structures being completed in the world bringing the total to 170, compared to 76 in 2013. The number of buildings above 200 mt totalled 126, as the UAE, with eleven completions, trailed China and the US with 57 and 14: however, these three countries accounted for 65% of total builds.

MAF and Dreamscape Immersive will open their first international venture in Dubai next week, located in the Mall of the Emirates; with two successful launches in both Los Angeles and New York, Dubai will be their first international entrée. The location-based VR entertainment company, backed by some of Hollywood’s heaviest hitters, will initially feature three immersive adventures which will transport viewers to fantastic new worlds.

The RTA is asking private companies to submit proposals for constructing about 1.5k bus shelters in a move to ramp up the use of public transport and improve the infrastructure needed. The Dubai government is keen on promoting PPPs (public-private partnerships) and, in this case, the contract on offer would be for up to three years, with the winning bidder operating and maintaining the shelters for ten years, renewable to a similar period.

With an annual spend of US$ 27.9 billion, Dubai has become the third biggest city in the world when it comes to international tourism spending that contributes 11.5% to the emirate’s GDP. The report, by the World Travel & Tourism Council, also noted that this spend in the MENA added US$ 92 billion to the global tourism GDP. Dubai can thank the arrival of international visitors as they account for 89% of the spend.

A US$ 1.25 billion Etihad Rail contract has been awarded to a Chinese JV, (involving China Railway Construction Corp and National Projects) for construction civil works and construction for stage two of the country’s rail project. The work involves a 145 km rail track, connecting the Fujairah and Khorfakkan ports to the network at the Dubai-Sharjah border. Financing of Stage 2, linking the UAE and Saudi Arabia from Fujairah Port to Ghuweifat via  Mussafah, Khalifa Port and Jebel Ali Port, will be through the UAE Ministry of Finance and the Abu Dhabi Department of Finance. When the 1.2k km rail network is complete, there will be connectivity between the country’s ports, airports and manufacturing hubs which will in turn boost freight volumes, enhance its logistics sector and facilitate trade; it will also improve UAE’s global position as one of the world’s leadinglogistics and transportation hubs.

Mohammed Alabbar has a few words to say to Amazon and that is “go back to Seattle”, as the Noon chairman is worried that the region’s e-commerce sector will be taken over by foreign players, if no local action is taken. Noon’s founder Mohamed Alabbar believes it is his duty not to let the region’s fast-growing e-commerce sector be dominated by foreign players and that Amazon and its billionaire founder Jeff Bezos should “go back to Seattle”. In an interview with WIRED magazine he is quoted as saying “We want Noon to do well because we don’t want just one guy to sell baby milk to our kids. I will not allow that. No way will that ever happen. I don’t want one company to control the life of my people.” Noon was established in 2017 as a US$ 1 billion JV between Mohamed Alabbar and Saudi Arabia’s state-owned Public Investment Fund. He considers this stand to be his duty to the Arab people, warning that if no action is taken now “the Middle East will either be left behind or will be occupied by foreign powers. These foreign powers are digital banks, digital companies, digital media—there’s no need for military.”

Following allegations by US short-selling firm Muddy Waters, which raised “serious doubts” about its financial statements, London-listed NMC’s shares slumped by 32% on Tuesday, equating to some US$ 2 billion being wiped off its market value. The country’s largest healthcare provider refuted the claims made which questioned the group’s asset values, cash balance, reported profits and debt levels. Prior to Tuesday, NMC’s shares had gained more than twelve-fold since its 2012 listing and issued a statement stating that “NMC will review the assertions, insinuations and accusations made in the report, which appear principally unfounded, baseless and misleading, containing many errors of fact, and will respond in detail in due course.”

With shareholders finally agreeing to Dubai Islamic Bank acquiring Noor Bank, the new banking entity will have assets of nearly US$ 75 billion making it one of the largest Islamic financial institutions in the world, as well as enhancing Dubai’s position as the leader of the Islamic economy. Investment Corp. of Dubai, the emirate’s main state-owned holding company, is the largest shareholder in DIB with a 28%, as well as being a major investor in Noor Bank.

The bourse opened on Sunday 15 December and, having risen 43 points (1.6%) the previous fortnight, was 47 points (1.7%) higher at 2769 by 19 December 2019. Emaar Properties, having shed US$ 0.04 the previous fortnight, gained  US$ 0.02 to close on US$ 1.11, whilst Arabtec, up US$ 0.05, the previous two weeks, gained a further US$ 0.01 to close at US$ 0.37. Thursday 19 December saw continuing dismal trading of 131 million shares, worth US$ 38 million, (compared to 105 million shares, at a value of US$ 44 million, on 12 December).

By Thursday, 19 December, Brent, US$ 0.69 higher the previous week, gained a further US$ 1.88 (2.9%) to US$ 66.54. Gold, having declined US$ 23 (1.5%) the previous three weeks, was US$ 12 (0.8%) higher, closing on Thursday 19 December on US$ 1,484.

IATA expects air cargo to recover somewhat next year, by 2.2%, following an expected 3.3% contraction in 2019, with revenue 8.0% lower – the weakest year for air cargo volumes since the 2008 GFC. This improvement is subject to a resolution to the US-Sino trade war and average oil prices around the US$ 63 level (as oil accounts for 25% of airlines’ costs). However, an expected uptick in global growth next year will have an obvious positive knock-on effect on air cargo markets and, even if this were to happen, there will be increased pressure on yields.

In January, Boeing will temporarily halt production of its troubled 737 Max airliner, which has now been grounded for nine months, with a further delay expected, dampening the plane maker’s expectations of returning to the air this year. Only last week, lawmakers were advised that US aviation regulators were aware, following the first crash in October 2018, that there was a risk of further accidents suggesting that there could be more than a dozen more crashes over the lifetime of the aircraft unless changes were made to its design.

As expected, Fiat Chrysler and PSA Group have joined forces in a US$ 50 billion deal, to become the world’s fourth largest carmaker. The merger is expected to result in annual cost savings of US$ 4 billion, with the current PSA boss Carlos Tavares becoming its chief executive. Earlier in the year, Fiat Chrysler pulled out of a US$ 29 billion merger with Renault, following pressure from the French government which had a 15% stake in the latter. Last month, Fiat Chrysler found itself in court, being sued by General Motors, claiming it bribed union officials over many years to gain advantages that cost General Motors millions of dollars.

The co-founder and chief executive of Bet365 is still the highest paid in the UK, raking in a US$ 360 million salary plus dividends of US$ 60 million as a 50% shareholder. Denise Coates, who saw a 25% hike in her salary, as the popularity of online gambling continues to grow, used her first-class degree in econometrics when she identified the potential of online gambling in 2000 and invested in the domain name Bet365. Whilst the company made a 19.7% increase in annual profits to over US$ 1 billion, her other investment, as owner of Stoke City, saw her lose US$ 10 million last year.

Oscar Wylee is in trouble with Australian authorities for blatant misrepresentation, following on a week after Coles faced the wrath of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. Coles had advertised that it would pass on AUD 0.10 per litre drought levy it advertised as supporting local dairy farmers but only forwarded AUD 0.035. Although the consumer watch dog reckoned it had a strong case to allege misleading conduct by the retailer, it did accept their offer to pay AUD 5 million+ to the Norco Dairy co-operative, as settlement. Meanwhile, the glasses chain, with 52 outlets and an active on-line selling platform, had advertised that it would give away a second pair  for every unit sale – it is alleged that only 3k had been donated, even though 300k had been sold over a five-year period to the end of last year. Oscar Wylee has strongly refuted the claim, saying that it had donated more than 350k pairs of glasses to charity organisations, along with monetary donations totalling AUD 131k.

The fall-out from the 2018 Royal Commission on Banking continues with APRA launching an investigation into the handling of alleged money laundering breaches, involving Westpac’s directors and senior managers. The regulators will look at their “fundamental deficiencies” and whether they had breached the Banking Executive Accountability Regime (BEAR). To make matters worse, the bank has also been taken to court by financial crime agency AUSTRAC over more than 23 million alleged money laundering breaches.

Meanwhile, regulators have taken the NAB to court for allegedly breaching company laws on more than 12k occasions. And that the bank is in serious danger of having to pay out billions of dollars if ASIC wins its case; the case is based on claims that the big-four bank collected almost US 500 million in fees but did not provide any financial advice and then making false or misleading statements in fee disclosure statements from December 2013 to February 2019.

Ongoing political problems have had a negative impact on passenger numbers at Hong Kong International Airport, posting its biggest annual decline since June 2009; the annualised 16.2% decline in November saw passengers down to just over five million. Over the previous three months, there were 12%+ falls, driven by on-going violent protests that started in June.

There seems to be no end to the economic (and political) crisis in Lebanon, as caretaker prime minister Saad Hariri requests both the World Bank and the IMF, as well as foreign donors, for “technical and financial support”. The country has a public debt of US$ 86 billion plus one of the highest debt-to-GDP ratios in the world at 150% of GDP. The Lebanese pound, which is pegged to the greenback, is trading on the local black market 33% lower. Even if external finance were to occur, there could be severe macroeconomic instability with the possibility of debt restructuring leading to a currency devaluation, resulting in major currency losses for private investors. Last week, the major banks were instructed to halve interest rates on foreign and local currency deposits.

For the first time since 2016, the Japanese government has resorted to issuing deficit-financing bonds to make up for a tax revenue shortfall, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe continues to struggle to balance the budget. The additional issue of US$ 20.3 billion is an indicator that, despite the leader’s best efforts, “Abenomics” has failed and that the government will continue to have difficulties trimming debt issuances and raising revenue. The government has cut its current fiscal year tax income by 5.2% to US$ 575 billion, not helped by the on-going trade tariff war and a slump in exports.

The Bank of Russia has lowered its base rate by a further 0.25% to 6.25% – its sixth cut in 2019 and bringing the rate down 150 basis points from its year-opening figure of 7.75%. The bank indicated that there may be further rate reductions early in 2020, as “disinflationary risks still exceed pro-inflationary risks over the short-term horizon.” With both inflation falling below the government’s 4.0% target, and economic growth lagging behind expected goals, the government has had to introduce more robust economic measures.

In the past, German lawmakers have usually opted for a balanced budget approach, without the need for issuing new debt, and some still argue that its ‘black zero’ balanced budget policy is a useful approach to achieve sound finances. However, Chancellor Angela Merkel is being challenged by her Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners for some sort of stimulus package to bolster the country’s flagging economy. In line with its EU neighbours, Germany is struggling because of the trade war, a slumping car industry and worries about the outcome of the UK leaving the bloc. Everybody knows that over the past seven years, the ECB has failed to reach its 2.0% target and a more aggressive approach in economic management is badly needed.

With the imminent departure of the Canadian Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, it seems that one of the front runners to take over is Egyptian-born Dame Minouche Shafik, who would become the first female incumbent in the bank’s 325-year history. She worked for fifteen years at the World Bank, where she was its youngest vice-president at the age of 36, following which she moved to the UK, becoming the most senior official responsible for the UK government’s aid programme. She then took a position with the BoE as deputy governor to Mark Carney but left to become director of the London School of Economics. There will be several interested parties vying to help running the finances for the fifth biggest global economy including another female, Shriti Vadera, who is chairwoman of Santander UK, and Andrew Bailey, another former governor of the central bank.

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority is concerned that the four global tech giants could be having a negative impact on digital advertising in the country and that the likes of Google and Facebook may have become entrenched in the UK market “with negative consequences for the people and businesses who use these services every day”. It is estimated that Google accounts for 90% of the US$ 7.8 billion search advertising revenue in the UK and that Facebook takes about 50% of the total UK US$ 5.2 billion display advertising revenue. There is no doubt that traditional newspaper and magazine platforms are losing their market share, resulting in their ability to continue to produce valuable content for their readers. The regulator is worried that a lack of “real competition” could mean higher advertising costs, being passed on to consumers, and that people may be missing out on “the next great new idea from a potential rival”.

UK unemployment rates continue to fall and quarterly October figures of 1.281 million were the lowest level since January 1975; the employment rate rose to an all-time high of 76.2%, equating to 32.8 million. Vacancies have fallen for the tenth month in a row and are now below 800k for the first time in two years. However, annual wage growth rate slowed 0.1% to 3.5%, quarter on quarter, but with inflation hovering around 2.0%, pay is still increasing in real terms.

As expected, the Trump administration agreed to suspend some tariffs, of around US$ 160 billion, on Chinese goods and to cut others by 50% in some cases, with Beijing promising to increase US farm products purchases by importing US$ 50 billion in US agricultural goods in 2020 – this is more than double the amount purchased pre-the tariff days in 2017. Negotiations are taking place in troubled political times, with the US supporting the Hong King protests and criticising China’s camps for ethnic Uighurs. The on-going trade war is probably the biggest cause for the slowdown in the global trade and economic environment. Donald Trump ended the week becoming the third of forty-five US presidents to face impeachment charges; this comes some eleven months before next November’s presidential elections. There is no doubt that he is one man who will not be asking himself Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

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