You’re So Vain

dubai-fountainAfter a relatively quiet period of reported new projects, Arady Developments – a JV between Deyaar Development and Dubai Properties Group – announced the launch of a 48-storey residential tower. Located in the Dubai International Financial Centre, this forms part of the 1.57 million sq ft Central Park plan. The building will house 426 apartments along with the usual accoutrements – swimming pools, exclusive shopping area and dining outlets – and will be completed by the end of next year.

There is a wide range of opinion on the state of Dubai’s residential market from an almost fully blown bubble to a continuing boom for the foreseeable future.  The former is driven by speculation, the latter by strong fundamentals of economic growth, rising population, increasing business confidence and strong demand. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. In the past four years, the number of residential units has risen over 37% to an estimated total of 360k and is expected to rise by a further 11% to around 400k by the end of 2015. What will shake the sector will be any dent in consumer confidence and a further deterioration in the global economy – both are distinct possibilities. Any market that climbs so quickly, in such a short time span, is heading for trouble!

Yet another international hotel group is planning to start operations in Dubai. This time, the 672-room TRYP by Wyndham Dubai, to be located in Al Barsha, will be completed in 2016. The US-based group is the world’s largest and most diverse hotel company, managing over 7,400 properties, and has signed an agreement with The First Group.

It is only two years since government-owned DP World was forced to restructure US$ 25 billion of debt. Since then, the company has had to sell off non-core assets, as part of its deal with creditors – the latest of which is reportedly its 50% share in Miami’s Fontainebleau Hotel for which it paid US$ 375 million in 2008. In July, the company sold Gazeley, the logistics warehouse developer, to Brookfield Asset Management.

Just as Emirates will soon start flights to a second Philippines destination, Clark, dnata has announced that it will take over airport handling operations there. This will be the Dubai-based air service provider’s 75th global location.

A major mechanical, electrical and plumbing contract – valued at US$ 113 million – has been awarded to Drake & Scull International for work on the new Louvre Museum, being built in Abu Dhabi. Another Dubai company – Arabtec – is the main contractor on the US$ 653 million development, due to be completed within two years.

In line with other free zones, the Dubai International Finance Centre, is showing impressive growth figures. In H1, there was a 7% increase in companies to 979 whilst the number of employees rose by 1k to 15k. The DIFC is working close to full capacity and is currently utilising 372k sq ft of space, not owned or managed by the authority. A recent survey puts Dubai as the sixth in the ranking of international business centres.

Confirming recent reports, it is no surprise to see Barclays plc decide to move out of retail banking in Dubai to concentrate on its core business of investment and corporate banking. Up to 280 employees are in danger of losing their jobs as the UK’s third largest bank is still reeling from a 17% drop in H1 global profits to US$ 5.6 billion. Furthermore, there are reports that, over the past three years, the bank has paid out US$ 10.9 billion in bonuses, US$ 9.4 billion in fines and only US$ 3.1 billion in dividends.

Two local entities are seemingly in the market to raise funds. Dubai Duty Free estimates it will need US$ 750 million for its expansion plans. In 2012, DDF took out a six-year US$ 1.75 billion syndicated loan – a first foray into debt finance in its thirty year history. Last year, revenue reached new heights, topping US$ 1.6 billion and with H1 sales already at US$ 874 million, it is expected to reach US$ 1.8 billion by the end of 2013. Meanwhile, Majid Al Futtaim Holding is hoping to raise US$ 1.5 billion using a revolving credit facility.

The country’s love affair with the US continues as H1 imports rose 25.2% to US$ 13.7 billion and exports, largely crude oil, increased by 11.2% to US$ 1.4 billion. Interestingly, the country is the largest ME market for US imports, accounting for 26% of the total.

Australians go to the polls this weekend in an election that will probably see Australia swearing in its third prime minister (Tony Abbott) within the past three months. The country has suffered from a slowdown in its resource sector and, until recently, an over-valued dollar and this has had a negative impact on its trade to the region. Although the UAE is still Australia’s prime market, latest trade figures indicate a 13.0% slump to US$ 4.7 billion.

For the first time, the World Economic Forum has ranked the UAE as one of the top twenty most productive economies in the world – moving up five places to number 19 this year. There was no real surprise in the top 5 – Switzerland, Singapore, Finland, Germany and the US – but a slight shock to see Qatar, the highest-ranked ME nation, at number 13. The report added that UAE could improve further by investing in the health and education sectors.

Although not in the top twenty of yet another report, the country has made significant progress in the recently released Global Built Asset Wealth Index. The study, which tries to quantify the value of all public and private property along with infrastructure, estimates its value at US$ 1 trillion! This gives a per capita built asset wealth of US$ 123k.

August saw no movement in the UAE PMI which stayed unchanged at 54.5 points – an indicator on how well the economy is tracking. Latest figures show that consumer price inflation remains static at an annual rate of 1.3%.

This could be a gilded week for some 10k residents who entered the month-long “Your Weight in Gold” campaign. Participants will receive 2 gm of gold for every kg lost over 5 kg and 3 gm per kg if they lose 10 kg or more.

The Dubai Financial Market General Index took a another pasting this week – largely because of the continuing regional geo-political unrest, especially in Syria. Having lost 6.6% last week, it opened on Sunday at 2523 points and nose-dived another 9.3% to a Thursday close of 2337.

There is an ever-growing feeling that the global stock markets are heading for a major downward revision despite many pre-GFC highs being recorded in August. In the US, Dow indicators such as EPS (falling), PE ratios (rising) and volatility levels (at historic lows) all point to a pending crisis.

There were two massive telecom deals this week with the largest, by far, the Vodafone sale of its 45% share in their US JV with Verizon for US$ 130 billion. (To put this into perspective, this figure is almost the same as Dubai’s reported public debt). The other deal saw Microsoft pay US$ 7.2 billion for Nokia’s mobile business, as well as licensing the Finnish company’s patents and brand name for the next decade.

Slow global growth patterns present the biggest economic s challenge as the G20 meeting this week in St Petersburg at a meeting which will be dominated by Syria. However there is mounting economic concern about the sudden fall of the BRIC economies which have been blighted by plummeting currencies and slowing growth. They will feel even more pressure if and when the Fed starts cutting back its QE programme, resulting in even more selling of the weak currencies.

Although there are promising signs out of Europe, all is not well. Attempts by some countries to rail in public spending and, at the same time, introduce austerity packages have proved counterproductive. Instead of stimulating growth and economic activity, it has resulted in reduced tax receipts, higher unemployment and increased benefit payments. Someone has to pay for this folly. In the event of citizens of say Spain and Italy seeing their bank deposits raided, like their Cypriot neighbours, the world will then see the eurozone in a real crisis.

Dubai has another world record and this time it can boast having six of the top 10 vainest skyscrapers (any building over 985 ft) in the world. A recent report has claimed that the emirate’s skyscrapers waste 19% of their total space. It can only be a matter of time before the fountain music in front of the vainest of all buildings – the Burj Khalifa with 29% of “wasted” space – will be changed to You’re So Vain.

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