Are You With Me?

dubai-museum-2The most recent project to be announced by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is the Museum of the Future, to be located next to Emirates Towers on SZR. According to the new law, a US$ 2.72 innovation fee will be levied by certain government agencies to help support both the building and its projects. The museum will be the focal point of the emirate’s innovation drive and will showcase the latest inventions.

The Q2 Knight Frank’s Prime Global Cities Index indicates a  4.5% fall in prime property prices, as luxury realty fell by 2.5%. Out of the 35 markets surveyed, Dubai found itself ranked 30th, mainly because of its strong currency, falling Russian and eurozone demand, along with geo-political issues.

Figures from Hotstats confirm that the local hospitality sector is going through a rough patch, with 4 – 5 star properties returning 9% falls in June occupancy levels to 68.4%. All indicators headed south, with total revenue per available room, revenue per available room and gross operating profit per available room all falling by 16.1%, 2.1% (to US$ 206) and 36.4% (to US$ 62) respectively.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide has endorsed an agreement with Dubai Properties to open four new mid-range properties by 2018. Under the Aloft and Element brands, this will add 816 rooms to Dubai’s portfolio and bring the number of its Starwood properties in the emirate to 19.

The Jumeirah Group has signed a management agreement with Oxley Holdings to operate the Jumeirah Kuala Lumpur Hotel – with 190 rooms and 273 residential apartments. The development will be completed by 2021.

Despite its Al Khail Avenue shopping precinct not due to open until 2018, Nakheel has announced that almost 60% of the retail space has already been pre-let. The latest agreement sees the Al Tayer Group taking 54k sq ft of the total 1.2 million sq ft available in the new mall which will have 350 shops.

It appears that Nakheel is also considering a second mall for its Al Furjan development – with the first having been fully leased even before its opening next year. This is part of the developer’s strategy to quadruple its retail portfolio, to 11 million sq ft, before 2020.

As the UAE has won the rights to host the 2019 Asian Cup, it now seems likely that a 60k-seater stadium will be built in Sports City, to host some of the matches.

Every week, it seems that the IMF has something different to recommend to the country. The latest includes a special 15% tax on vehicles, the introduction of some form of VAT and an extension of the existing 10% corporate tax to encompass most companies. If implemented, the world body estimates that an additional 7.4% of non-hydrocarbon domestic product could be generated.

The IMF also forecast this week that the UAE’s planned spending cuts would shave 1% off GDP growth each year until 2020. On the flip side, it expects that the country will benefit from the lifting of Iranian sanctions, with major fillips for the trade, tourism and realty sectors. It has been estimated that, in energy investment only, Iran will be spending US$ 167 billion.

Although still in positive territory, July’s Dubai Economy Tracker fell 0.9 points to 53.3 on the back of a strong currency and lower oil prices. However, the outlook is still bullish and business confidence remains at a relatively high level.

The emirate’s July inflation rate remained flat at 4.2%. However, with the recent deregulation of petrol prices, there may be a slight rise when August figures are available.

For the second year in a row, a LinkedIn survey indicates that the UAE is the global leader in attracting talent, with the four main source countries being India, UK, Pakistan and USA.

It has been confirmed that ‘Friends’ star, Jennifer Aniston, is being paid US$ 5 million to be the new face of Emirates. The newly married TV and film star follows on the heels of Nicole Kidman, who has recently signed a similar deal with Etihad.

Delta is cutting back on the number of its Dubai winter flights blaming the strong US dollar and “overcapacity operated by government-owned and subsidized airlines”. It is about time that such airlines stop finding inane excuses for poor performance and start providing what customers want – something they could learn well from the likes of Emirates.

A long outstanding dispute between Etisalat and the Pakistani government may soon be settled. In 2005, the UAE telecom provider purchased a 26% shareholding in Pakistan Telecommunication Corporation Limited for US$ 2.6 billion. The initial payment of US$ 1.8 billion was made but the balance has been left outstanding because of a dispute over certain properties to be handed to PTCL.

Dubai Customs announced a 7.1% increase in the number of processed transactions in H1 to 4.5 million, as it becomes the first fully smart Dubai-government entity. According to its Executive Director of Customs Development Division, Juma Al Ghaith, transactions can be delivered by channels, including smart phone apps, mobile, B2G and Dubai Trade, on a 24/7 basis.

There have been top-level management changes at Dubai Holding, with the appointments of Abdul Latif Al Mulla as Group CEO of Dubai Properties Group, Naaman Atta Allah as CEO for Dubai Properties and Ton van Vilsteren as CFO of the Jumeirah Group.

The world’s largest chemicals distributor, Brenntag has acquired a 51% shareholding in Jebel Ali-based distributor, Trychem, for an undisclosed sum.  Tristar, who bought the company from ENOC in 2013, have also announced a JV with the Greek company, Skeberis Plastics, to build a 350k sq ft warehouse, at a cost of US$ 20 million.

Dubai-based Abraaj Group extended its interest in Turkey by acquiring a share in the medical supplies manufacturer, Yu-Ce Medical – its second foray into the country. Earlier in the year, it bought a share in the mattress maker, BRN Sleep Products. To date, the private company has invested over US$ 900 million (equivalent to 10% of its portfolio) in 28 global healthcare companies.

Dubai-based Investra Investments, along with the Banyan Investment Group, has acquired the Comfort Suites in Newport, Kentucky, with plans for a US$ 2 million renovation. This is the fifth deal between the two companies over the past 18 months, bringing their total spend to US$ 80 million.

There were disappointing results for four Dubai-based companies. Amlak Finance recorded an 87.1% fall in Q2 profit to US$ 2.0 million. Union Properties posted a 95.3% plummet in quarterly profit to US$ 5 million, as property management and sales revenue fell 59.5% to US$ 5 million. Drake & Scull released Q2 results indicating a 60.2% drop in profit to US$ 2.8 million, despite revenue jumping 18.2% to US$ 354 million. Meanwhile, Shuaa Capital reported falls in both Q2 revenue and profit – by 12.9% to US$ 14 million and 62.9% to US$ 463k respectively.

Troubled Gulf Navigation has seen a 72.5% jump in H1 profits to US$ 3.5 million, on the back of a 14.5% hike in revenue to US$ 19 million. It also announced that it had reached a settlement with one of its major creditors, Nordic American Tankers Limited.

Amanat Holdings reported a US$ 400k quarterly profit and that it was planning to buy a 35% shareholding in the Saudi healthcare company, Sukoon International. In May, it had acquired a 4.14% share in Abu Dhabi’s Al Noor Hospitals Group for US$ 68 million.

Since it is still in the pre-opening stage, it is no surprise to see Dubai Parks and Resorts post an US$ 8 million Q2 loss. The leisure complex is over 50% completed and still on track to open in Q4 next year, with over US$ 1 billion having already been spent on the project.

The 39-year old Emirates Investment Bank posted a 21.1% reduction in H1 profits to US$ 7.6 million, as Q2 profit was 58.1% down to US$ 1.8 million. Whilst deposits remained flat at US$ 816 million, total assets rose 9.0% to US$ 2.3 billion.

The DFMI started the week at 4123 and had fallen 3.3% by Thursday (13 August) to close at 3985. Bellwether stocks, Emaar Properties and Arabtec both lost ground dropping US$ 0.12 to US$ 2.04 and US$ 0.02 to US$ 0.61. Trading volumes on Thursday (13 August) continued to disappoint, edging lower compared to seven days earlier, with 219 million shares, valued at US$ 107 million, being exchanged (cf 253 million shares, for US$ 150 million, the previous Thursday).

Oil and gold have reversed recent weekly falls and were both up by Thursday – 1.4% to US$ 50.24 and 3.0% to US$ 1,118 respectively. However, YTD Brent crude is 12.4% lower from its 01 January opening of US$ 57.33 whilst he yellow metal has fallen 5.7%.

Two drug companies, Pfizer and Flynn Pharma, have been accused by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority of pushing up the price of phenytoin sodium capsules, an epilepsy treatment. It is alleged that the former sold the drug to Flynn at between 8-17 times its historic price who then sold it on to customers, at over 25 times the price previously charged by Pfizer. Consequently, the NHS saw its annual bill surge US$ 3.6 million to over US$ 77 million.

FIFA has apparently instigated another internal enquiry into alleged corruption within the footballing charity. It is hoped that the enquiry, to be undertaken by US legal firm, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, will have better success – and a larger circulation – than the previous US attorneys’ report authored by Michael Garcia of Kirkland & Ellis. In May, nine FIFA officials and five marketing executives were implicated and indicted on taking more than US$150 million in bribes and kickbacks for media and marketing rights.

Charity is in the UK news for all the wrong reasons, including the latest potential scandal involving “Kids Company”, which was closed down last week. The Charity Commission is investigating allegations of mismanagement and “inappropriate spending”, with reports that, for example, MD, Camila Batmanghelidjh, had a personal chauffeur who received financial support for his daughter at a private school, with fees of US$ 47k. In addition, the vice-chairman, Richard Handover, had two of his children on the payroll, receiving in total US$ 78k.

Earlier in the year, it was reported that of the leading 150 organisations surveyed, at least 32 UK charity executives were paid over US$ 312k, with a median level of US$ 257k. When giving to charity, it is always a wise move to check where the money is being spent and how much goes on “administration”.

With less than a year to the Olympics, Brazil’s economic woes worsen. The world’s 7th largest economy saw its inflation rate of 9.6% hit a 12-year high – well above the government’s target of 4.5%; in a bid to reduce rising prices, the Central Bank has raised interest rates to 14.25%. The economy is set to contract by 1.5% this year, as the Chinese slowdown takes effect, whilst the unemployment level is at its highest level in over five years – slowing moving up with 1.9 million (or 6.9%) out of work in June. To make matters worse, the government is embroiled in numerous graft scandals, involving some of the country’s most powerful politicians – including current and former presidents, Dilma Rousseff and Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva – and major companies, such as Petrobas and construction giant Odebrecht.

To add to China’s current economic malaise, its July inflation rate of 1.4% is still a long way from the government’s target of 3.0%. Furthermore, with 8%+ falls in both July exports and imports, its producer prices, falling again for the 40th straight month, (and 5.4% lower than a year ago), along with July Caixin’s Purchasing Managers’ Index figure of 47.8 pointed to the urgent need for further measures to boost the flagging economy.

The yuan started Monday at 6.21 to the US$ and, by close on Thursday, was 3.1% lower at 6.40, following three days of currency intervention by the Central Bank. However some action was urgently required particularly when the currency had surged 13.5% over the past 12 months and when compared to Japan, a major export competitor, where the yen was over 60% lower than it was three years earlier.

This triple dip devaluation caught the market unawares and, as it has given a boost to the greenback, there is a possibility that there may now be a delay in the Fed’s decision to hike up interest rates. There is also every chance that a new currency war will occur, as countries take to defending their own economies.

Despite some good economic news emanating from the US, national debt now stands at US$ 18.1 trillion – just below the current debt limit. Once more, it will not be long before the government will stop operating as Congress bickers and forces President Obama to accept some of their legislative goals, prior to raising the debt limit.

Following a 2.2% Q1 contraction, the recession in Russia has deepened as Q2 sees its GDP fall by 4.6%, compared to the same period in 2014. The main drivers for this remain unchanged – international sanctions, low oil prices and a falling rouble.

The German Halle Institute for Economic Research has estimated that the country has saved a staggering US$ 109 billion, equivalent to 3% of GDP, in lower borrowing costs, as a result of the Greek crisis – with investors using Germany for a safe haven.

Meanwhile, a third bailout, for US$ 95 billion, was being discussed in detail this week, with Germany having reservations about Greek debt sustainability and the IMF role; the German Chancellor is keen to force through privatisation plans and pension reforms. The IMF is highly sceptical of the deal indicating that the country’s public debt was “highly unsustainable”; the global body estimated that it would take at least 30 years for all its debt to be cleared and there maybe the need for “deep upfront haircuts”. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will be hoping for an affirmative response from both Angela Merkel and Christine Lagarde to the question – Are You With Me?

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