A Sign Of The Times

A sign of the times that the Dubai economy is continuing to head in the right direction came from the Land Department which reported a 21% increase in H1 transactions to US$ 17.2 billion. With improved demand, especially for properties in certain areas, the market has stabilised and prices have begun to escalate. Of the 19,000 transactions recorded, mortgages accounted for US$ 8 billion or 47% of the total for the period. Overseas buyers generated US$ 7.7 billion of all the business.

Even Dubai Financial Market Company (PJSC) got in on the act by announcing a 140% increase in H1 Net Profit to US$ 11 million on Revenue of US$ 32.3 million. In addition, DFM trading value has rocketed from US$ 6 billion in H1 2011 to US$ 8.8 billion this period. (For the record, the Dubai Financial Market Index ended the week at 1572 up from the Sunday start of 1551).

A recent survey reported that business confidence in the non-oil sector moved marginally higher in June with the only hiccough being a contraction in export orders. This mirrors the current buoyancy in the local economy which has seen many of its indicators heading north whilst most of the world is going in the opposite direction.

Despite this plethora of positive news and the strong corporate results reported last week, Dubai Investments bucked the trend with a disappointing 54% fall in Q2 profits to just over US$ 17 million on Revenue of US$ 172 million (a fall of over 13% from almost US$ 200 million in Q2 2011). The company has assets of US$ 3.7 billion.

June saw a slight drop in the UAE money supply as the amount of local currency in circulation fell 1.3% to US$ 14.4 billion. However when this is added to monetary deposits of US$ 62.9 billion to give money supply aggregate M1 there has been a 1% increase to US$ 77.3 billion. Whilst bank deposits have decreased 1.6% to US$ 301 million, bank loans have risen1.5% to US$ 297 million and total bank assets have nudged upwards to US$ 471 million.

Indeed it seems that the value of remittances being sent home by expatriates is on the increase aided and abetted by  big recent devaluations in some of the currencies (including Pakistani rupee, Indian rupee, sterling, taka and euro). The World Bank estimates that remittances to developed countries will reach US$ 350 billion this year with India (US$ 58 billion), China (US$ 57 billion), Mexico (US$ 24 billion) and Philippines (US$ 23 billion) being the major beneficiaries. The GCC accounts for over 50% – or US$ 48 billion – of all remittances to South Asia and almost 30% – or US$ 36 billion – to the MENA region.

The GFC and the ensuing malaise here in Dubai are now distant memories as the emirate has sorted out its problems. This year, Dubai has about US$ 15 billion in debts maturing which will either be paid off or restructured. The yield on Dubai’s November 2014 Islamic bonds is currently hovering around the 3.25% mark which shows the market’s increasing belief in the emirate’s creditworthiness.

The opposite applies to the eurozone where confidence levels plummeted as the economy slid into deeper trouble and ever-worsening crisis. For example, Spain’s economy contracted for the third quarter in a row and will definitely require additional funds (a lot more than the US$ 120 billion being bandied about) from the European Central Bank.

The other basket cases are faring just as badly as Spain. Greece sees its credit rating dropping from stable to negative as its situation worsens with estimates that its economy next year will shrink a further 11%. The deepening crisis in Italy was highlighted by a Q2 0.7% contraction and a 2.5% year on year fall in its GDP. No wonder there is increasing concern in the markets that Italy will be going down the same road as Greece, Portugal and Spain, particularly since its debt burden represents 123% of GDP.

At the same time, France is expected to fall back into recession in Q2 when figures are announced and this contraction will continue for the rest of the year. More worryingly, Germany’s exports in June fell 1.5% and industrial output by 0.9% with further declines in the manufacturing and construction sectors. Germany is slowly being dragged under by its eurozone partners.

To further exacerbate the problem, the banking sector is bedevilled by a series of unwelcome drawbacks. The Libor scandal, which saw Barclays hit with a US$ 460 million fine, rumbles on with news that US bank, Berkshire, is suing 21 banks for damages over this alleged fraud. The London Interbank Offered Rate is fixed daily by the British Bankers’ Association and sets values on US$ 360 trillion of financial products. The fallout from this is bound to be massive and messy.

There is a good chance that Standard Chartered can join HSBC on the “Walk of Shame” as US regulators claim that the bank hid US$ 250 billion in transactions with Iranian banks. Although much larger than the US$ 16 billion that HSBC allegedly transacted, the modus operandi is similar – systematically disguising forex deals in contravention of US sanctions.

Another finance company in trouble is a leading market-maker on the NYSE. An IT problem last week saw US$ 440 million disappear from the books of Knight Capital. To save itself from going under, the company has had to agree to a US$ 400 million rescue deal with a group of Wall Street firms. Obviously a gold medal for gross ineptitude!

There is no doubt that the London Olympics have been a huge success but one has to question why such an event, that is supposedly promoting healthy living, lists McDonald’s and Coca Cola among its major sponsors.

On the subject of the Olympics, Jose Havelange, IOC member from 1963 – 2011 and former FIFA president , was named as a beneficiary of bribes from ISL, a company granted exclusive marketing and TV rights for the 2002 and 2006 FIFA World Cups. It was revealed that Havelange and his cohort and ex son-in-law, Ricardo Teixeira, received at least US$ 1.5 million and US$12.6 million respectively.

Unfortunately too many individuals are fiddling the system for their own personal greed, too many institutions – banks, media, government officials and politicians – are betraying the trust of their stakeholders and too many leaders are more concerned about their own welfare rather than the good of their country. Maybe it is just a sign of the times in which we live.

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