Achy Breaky Heart

Dubai has just hosted the four-day 2012 World Congress of Cardiology Scientific Sessions. This congress is a meeting place for the world’s leading cardiologists and other health-care professionals and brought in over 10,000 delegates from ninety-five countries. This is just the type of conference that Dubai thrives on and the knock-on effect for the airlines, hotels and retail segment is immense.

This conference comes as a timely reminder that 25% of deaths in the UAE are heart-related and that such cases are rising at an alarming rate, especially among the young. Its three main causes have been listed as hypertension, diabetes and obesity.

Whilst these problems have a long way to go before being solved, news this week that Dubai has plans to double the price of cigarettes later in the year. Surely such a hefty hike will see a substantial decline in the smoking habit and can only be good news when one considers that tobacco users are ten times more likely to contact lung cancer than non-smokers.

If only such a price hike could be rolled out to include certain fast foods and fizzy drinks. Then we might see a healthier, leaner and fitter emirate, together with less strain on the medical facilities here. Guess who are three of the main sponsors for the 2014 FIFA World Cup – hardly an advert for healthy living!

An indicator of investor confidence returning to the market came with the news that, after a three year hiatus, Dubai is planning a US$ 1.5 billion sukuk. It is hoped that this, in turn, will lead to lower borrowing costs for Dubai companies as the emirate continues its economic rebound. It is expected that the five-year securities will be priced in the region of 5%, with the ten-year bonds at 6.5%.

As a matter of interest, one report puts the current Dubai government’s direct debt at US$ 30 billion (or less than a third of the valuation of Facebook).

Next week will see Dubai host the annual four-day Arabian Travel Market (ATM) which will result in a massive cash injection for the emirate as 2,400 exhibitors, and an expected 50% increase in visitors, participate in the Middle East’s largest travel and tourism event.

A recent World Travel and Tourism Council report shows that travel and tourism will contribute a massive US$ 50 billion or 13.5% of the UAE’s GDP this year. In addition, the industry employs over 170,000. Little wonder that the government has, for some time, actively marketed this sector on the world stage and with obvious success.

There is little doubt that the 2008 boom days are fast returning to the Dubai hospitality sector. Following on the twelve new hotels being opened in 2011 (with 3,600 rooms), it is expected that 2012 will fare even better with eighteen new properties (6,600 rooms) due for completion. This year will see Dubai boast over 400 hotels (60,000 rooms) and almost 200 hotel apartments (22,000 flats).

Although not as buoyant as the tourism sector, there was a snippet of good news this week for commercial real estate as rents have appeared to stabilise despite there still being a 40% vacancy rate. It is astounding that the available space this year will increase by a further 16% (10 million sq ft) to over 70 million sq ft. As is the case with any real estate, there will be pockets where returns will be higher. For example, DIFC sees rates of US$ 70 per sq ft whereas JLT has rents as low as US$ 10 per sq ft.

Further positive signs from Dubai-based Habtoor Leighton Group came with the announcement that it had been awarded a US$ 150 million contract in Saudi Arabia which will boost the company’s order book to well over US$ 4 billion. This is an indicator of how well the construction sector has recovered from the 2008 melt-down.

The end of April inevitably sees companies announcing their Q1 results. It was pleasing to note that Dubai’s largest bank, Emirates NBD, beat market analysts’ expectations with a US$ 175 million profit – more than tripling its 2011 Q4 return. The emirate’s second largest lender, Mashreq bank, also saw an increase in Q1 earnings to US$ 74 million.

As of Wednesday this week, the Dubai Financial Market was up 22 points to 1660 from last week’s close. With summer fast approaching, the market may remain range-bound in the 1600s for the immediate future.

Further afield, a Q1 2012 estimate of UK economic growth (or rather the lack of it), sees a 0.2% contraction with the country having its first double dip recession in nearly forty years. This comes hard on the heels of a 0.3% decline in the GDP in the previous quarter.

Although not as severe as the 2008 recession, when there were five quarters of decline, the current eurozone problems may well exacerbate what should be a shallow dip. Political crises in France, Belgium and Holland, allied with the economic malaise of most southern European countries, do not help the country as it prepares for the Queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations and the Olympic Games.

These European problems, along with on-going regional tensions, will have repercussions for Dubai. What impact they will have on the emirate remains to be seen but we are unlikely to witness a summer of discontent that could enflame parts of Europe.

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