Number One

Sheikh-MohammedYet another indicator of the strength of the local economic recovery is the news that Dubai Mall’s sales jumped 24% in 2012 and its footfall was 20% up at 65 million visitors / shoppers. If this is any guide for the rest of the sector, all bodes well since retail accounts for 30% of Dubai’s GDP.

Across the board, UAE 2012 car sales have been impressive. Latest figures from Al Futtaim Motors, the exclusive Toyota distributor, show that the Japanese car maker has had a 32% year on year sales growth here. Mercedes has reported a 74% surge in the sales of its G Wagon range whilst its SUVs have increased by 38%. Other dealers have previously reported similar growth patterns.

Rarely a week goes by without mention of further property developments in Dubai. This week, there have been two major announcements. First, HH Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum has approved a US$ 1.63 billion plan by Meraas Holding for a new project off JBR. ‘Bluewaters’ Island will include the requisite 5-star hotel, residential and retail units as well as a US$ 272 million 210 metre Ferris wheel (naturally it will be the world’s largest); the complex will be connected to SZR by a direct roadway / monorail and to JBR by a pedestrian bridge.

Damac has launched a US$ 327 million project in Dubai Marina with the main contractor being Arabtec. Slated for completion by 2016, Damac Residenze, a 335 metre tower, will have an interior fit-out by the celebrated Italian designer, Fendi. No wonder then that prices will be in the region of US$ 8,200 per sq mt.

Welcome news for parents with children attending local private schools. The Knowledge and Human Development Authority has indicated that there will be no private school fee hikes in the next academic year. This comes only weeks after government directives ordered 2,000 basic food items be fixed for 2013 and that prices of some 6,600 imported medicines be reduced by up to 40%.

One little known fact is that Dubai sees over 30% of all global physical gold traded. Its mounting status in the yellow metal transactions will be further enhanced by the Dubai Gold and Commodities Exchange plan to establish a domestic exchange open to UAE investors to trade physical gold. Currently, the DGCE is one of the cheapest places in the world to trade gold. Meanwhile the bullion itself, hovering around the US$ 1,605 – 1,690 mark, has dropped more than 3% this year in contrast to strong performances from both platinum and palladium – up so far by 12% and 10% respectively. (The almost daily roller-coaster ride that is gold may lead the conspirators among us to consider that some sort of market manipulation may be afoot).

The substantial trade gap between the USA and UAE was further highlighted by 2012 figures showing a massive increase in their balance of trade from US$ 13.4 billion to US$ 20.3 billion. US exports to this country stood at US$ 22.5 billion whilst UAE exported only US$ 2.2 billion. A welcome fillip for Uncle Sam!

The past two weeks have seen the 17 listed UAE banks post favourable 2012 results with total year on year net profits rising by 11.4% to US$ 6.27 billion. Of the 23 national banks, 6 are not listed whilst there are 28 foreign financial institutions operating in the country.

Dubai-based bank, Shuaa Capital is slowly showing belated signs of recovery with a reduction in year on year Net Loss from US$ 80.0 million to US$ 16.1 million. Last year, the bank saw its Revenue jump 38% to US$ 37.4 million and its expenses drop by 45%.

DEWA announced a 6.4% increase in 2012 Net Profit to US$ 1.27 billion as its Turnover rose by 7.0% and cash generation by 1.4% to US$ 2.04 billion. At the end of the year, the public utility authority had total debts of US$ 5.6 billion, of which US$ 1.15 billion is due for repayment this year.

Not many airlines can boast of becoming profitable within three years from start-up – but flydubai can! In 2012, it posted net profits of US$ 41.4 million whilst carrying over 5.1 million passengers on its 52 routes. The CEO, Ghaith al Ghaith, is weighing up whether to add a further fifty aircraft to the low cost carrier’s fleet.

The locally owned baby store, JustKidding, has agreed a US$ 6.3 million franchise deal with the AMZ Group. Founded in 2006, it already has two Dubai outlets and, under the new arrangement, hopes to open a further three in the UAE as well as in Oman and Kuwait. Consequently, the forecast is for a fifteen fold increase in revenue over the next three years.

Dubai Financial Market Index tested the 1900 mark on Wednesday but later profit-taking saw the bourse close the week on 1894 – still 1.8% up since its Sunday opening and 16.73% so far this year.

With 2012 UAE sales up 15% and serving 50 million customers, McDonalds continues to dominate the local fast food sector. The American chain already has 109 outlets and with a 2013 investment of US$ 8.2 million will add another fifteen outlets. It hopes to increase its current 13% of the informal eating out market to 25% this year.

Just when horsemeat is getting all the press in Europe, the Dubai branded Calmelicious milk brand won EC approval to export their products into the bloc. The Emirates Industry for Camel Milk & Products, established in 2003, is home to the world’s largest camel milk and factory in the world. Although milk, chocolate and cheese are currently at the top of their export targets, EICMP is also in talks with cosmetic and medical companies that may have use for certain camel by-products.

A further sign of the global economic malaise comes with the world’s top steel producer, Arcelor Mittal, announcing a 2012 loss of US$ 3.72 billion. An 8.8% fall in European steel demand was the main driver for the company going into the red as the Indian conglomerate was forced to write down its European assets by US$ 4.3 billion, with an extra US$ 1.3 billion in restructuring costs.

Another company declaring a huge write-off is the beleaguered French auto-maker, Peugeot Citroen. Because of the dismal state of the European market, the company has deemed it necessary to write off US$ 6.3 billion in 2012.

Italy has been hit with further corruption probes. Giuseppe Orsi, Chairman of Finmeccanica, the country’s biggest defence company, has been arrested in connection with a probe into a US$ 560 million helicopter sale to India. Then there are the ongoing fraud enquiries relating to Italy’s third largest bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena and the state-controlled energy group Eni.

Despite protestations from its technocrats that the worst was over, the eurozone has plunged even deeper into recession with no end in sight. The Q4 GDP fall of 0.6% is the worst quarterly return in four years with its three powerhouses, Germany, France and Italy all showing falls of 0.6%, 0.3% and 0.9% respectively. There is an Arabic saying that in order to kill a snake you should go for its head rather than its tale; maybe these problems could have been avoided if authorities had dealt more expeditiously with its eurozone “tale” countries – Spain, Greece, Portugal. The end result is a distinct danger of a contagion effect that could negatively impact on many economies including that of Dubai.

HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum held a Q & A session at this week’s two-day Government Summit attended by 2,500 officials in Dubai. Covering a wide range of topics, he again reiterated his desire that he wanted his nation to be number one. He continued that “becoming number one is not impossible – the word impossible doesn’t exist in our dictionary… My nation and I, we always try to be the first because no-one remembers the second”. That is the reason why the Dubai ruler insists on being Number One.

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