The Gambler

Dubai-Festival-CityAs the recovery in the emirate’s realty sector takes traction, Dubai’s biggest developer, Emaar Properties, has announced yet another launch for this weekend – 120 luxury apartments in its Burj Vista development. The two identical 20-storey towers will be located in the Downtown area.

Major retail developers, Al Futtaim Group Real Estate and Nakheel announced growth plans with the former adding eight new stores in Dubai Festival City with more expansion planned later in the year. Nakheel finally issued a tender for increasing the size of Ibn Battuta by 28k sq mt and adding 150 new outlets to its existing inventory of 270 shops and 50 restaurants. Contracts for its new US$ 681 million mall on Palm Jumeirah will be awarded within the next three months whilst phase 2 of its Dragon Mart will add a further 570  outlets by early 2014.

There are also reports that MAF may be interested in purchasing Abraaj Group’s share in the Spinneys ME franchise outlets excluding the UAE. Furthermore it expects to soon acquire Metro, the Egyptian supermarket chain, owned by the Mansour Group.

Emirates, along with the Canadian firm CAE, have just inaugurated a second pilot training facility in Silicon Oasis. The extra five full flight simulators will significantly enhance the airline’s pilot and technician training capacity. This is in addition to their Garhoud centre with its thirteen training bays, making it one of the largest of its kind in the world.

Dubai International reported April passenger numbers of 5.42 million and cargo of 200k tonnes – up 18.7% and 7.3% on the corresponding month in 2012. For the first four months of the year, passenger growth is up 16.3% to 21.9 million and cargo 11.5% to 704k tonnes.

Dubai Holding’s hospitality division, Jumeirah Group, is planning to take advantage of historically low interest rates by issuing a 6-year US$ 1.4 billion bond to finance future expansions including the US$ 680 million Jumeirah Madinat hospitality and shopping complex due for completion by 2015.

Likewise, it is no surprise to see reports that Majid Al Futtaim Holding is considering a bond sale – a week after buying the remaining 25% stake in Carrefour ME operations for over US$ 640 million. The company already operates fifty hypermarkets and forty-four supermarkets in the region under the Carrefour name and had 2012 revenue figures of US$ 5.9 billion.

The increased activity of Nissan in the Middle East is a reflection of the growing stature of the local car sector as its annual sales jumped by a whopping 26.2% with a 14.4% market share. Patrol and Sunny sales rose by 66% and 50% respectively.

This week HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum announced his Dubai Health Strategy 2013-2025 with plans to overhaul the emirate’s health sector including a major revamp of the existing Rashid Hospital. The  US$ 820 million redevelopment for the hospital include twin towers to house 600 patients, a 500-bed rehabilitation centre, two hotels and staff housing for 5,400 families.

Following the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, and the start of the GFC, the UAE Central Bank pumped in US$ 19.1 billion to shore up the local banks. The Commercial Bank of Dubai has now repaid its loan of US$ 408.7 million despite it not being due until the end of 2016. This follows hard on the heels of Emirates NBD repaying US$ 817.4 million last month. Such early repayments indicate how well the financial institutions have recovered from those dark days.

Signs of the good times returning to the UAE  were a 30%+ jump in the country’s 2012 current account balance to US$ 66.6 billion (with the surplus accounting for 17.3% of its GDP) and an impressive balance of payments surplus of US$ 10.0 billion. The country recorded a 15.9% surge in 2012 exports to US$ 350 billion comprising a 5.9% increase in hydrocarbons to US$ 118 billion and non-oil of US$ 232 billion. Total imports rose by 13.5% to US$ 222 billion.

With the value of oil at an average of US$ 112 last year, there are signs that this will drop to around US$ 105 in 2013. That being the case there will be a lag in revenue which will see revenue fall by around 3% and GDP may fall from 4.4% to 3.9%.

The Dubai Financial Market Index continues to defy gravity closing at the end of May on a high of 2367 points – with weekly, monthly, YTD and annual rises of 3.1%, 10.8%, 52.0% and 67.6%. These are impressive returns in anyone’s language but how long can it last? During the week, global equity markets saw renewed volatility which will continue into June mainly because of growing uncertainty about US monetary policy. Once again, Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 was down 5.2% on Thursday – slightly better than its 7.3% plunge a week earlier.

Overseas, Liberty Reserve’s founder, Arthur Budovsky and five others have been arrested and accused of aiding abetting criminals in illegal funds laundering more than US$ 6 billion. According to authorities, this could be the largest case of its kind in US history. The company operated as a virtual currency exchange and acted as a conduit for global cyber criminals to distribute and store their ill-gotten gains. Liberty’s virtual currency was used to trade illegal software designed to steal money from unsuspecting parties and financial institutions.

Two of the Big 4 accounting firms were in the news this week for the wrong reasons. Scott London, a former partner in KPMG, has pleaded guilty to insider trading in two companies that his firm audited – Skechers and Herbalife. This comes after his golfing partner had admitted receiving more than US$ 1 million in illegal profits as a result of London’s “advice”. The disgraced accountant is now facing up to twenty years inside as well as a US$ 5 million fine.

Deloittes have just appointed Dave Harnett as a tax consultant, ten months after he resigned as the UK’s top taxman with HM Revenue & Customs. This comes a week after several companies – including Amazon, Google Starbucks and Apple – were explaining why they paid so little UK tax. One of the main reasons was that tax experts found crucial loopholes in legislation – a definite tale of gamekeepers turning poachers.

Although no longer ruling the country, it is no surprise to see the earning power of four of the Labour grandees raking in money after life in  government. Gordon Brown, still an MP, is also a special UN envoy as well as chairman of the Policy and Initiatives Board of the World Economy Forum. Last year, he managed to earn an additional US$ 2.1 million.

Then there is BMM. Speculation around the ex-PM puts his personal wealth at over US$ 90 million, with most of this via his company, Tony Blair Associates, having apparent lucrative contracts with the likes of JP Morgan, Zurich Financial Services, the Korean UI Energy Corporation and the Kazakhstan government. Former Business Secretary, the Machiavellian Peter Mandelson has links with banking firm, Lazard Ltd, and is chairman of Global Counsel LLP a consultancy firm that advised Asia Pulp & Paper – a company linked with illegal logging and damaging habitat in Indonesia. Still recovering from his brother’s 2010 leadership coup, David Miliband has quit politics to take up a lucrative New York position as head of the International Rescue Committee.

What these examples illustrate is the cosy link between politics, big business, banks and quasi-government entities and the benefits that can accrue from contacts made (and probably assistance given) in the course of government work.

The eurozone crisis deteriorates by the day. Last month was the 24th consecutive month that the unemployment level rose in the bloc topping out at 12.6% in April with youth unemployment now at 24.4% as Greek and Spanish levels are at abysmal 62.5% and 56.4% respectively. Furthermore, twenty of the twenty-seven countries in the EU are on surveillance for breaking their own deficit and debt rules at 3% and 60% of GDP.

Even the European powerhouse, Germany, is struggling with a Q1 growth of just 0.1% (down 1.4% on the year) as exports and investments shrank.

Surprisingly, the UK is one of the best performing countries in Europe with growth rates of 0.8%. Despite this recent optimism, do not be surprised to see a mini devaluation (of around 10% to say Dhs 5 to the pound) over the coming months. With the departure of BoE Chairman Mervyn King, and the arrival of Canadian Mark Carney, there is a feeling that there will be a more aggressive approach to try and increase exports and UK competitiveness – and thus a weaker sterling currency. A sure case of the King of the Road being replaced by The Gambler.

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