When All Is Said And Done

dubai-airportThe Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing reported a 9.3% increase in overnight visitors – to 8.2 million – for the first seven months of 2015. Although Dubai’s hotel occupancy level has been flat, at under 80%, it remains among the highest in the world, despite an increased supply of new inventory.

Next April, Dubai will host the 10th World Retail Congress, which will help cement its place as the world’s second retail destination, after London. As home to over 55% of the leading international retail brands and some of the biggest malls on the planet, this sector boasts turnover of well over US$ 20 billion and is a major driver for Dubai’s growing economy.

According to the MasterCard Muslim Travel Shopping Index 2015, Dubai is the world leader for Muslim travelling shoppers. It ranked ahead of Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, London and Istanbul that made up the rest of the top five positions.

It is estimated that the fast-expanding UAE MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) sector is valued at US$ 653 million and is an important contributor to both the retail and hospitality sectors. Next week, GITEX Shopper will mark its 25th anniversary and there is confidence that the event will better last year when there were 211k visitors, spending US$ 71 million; later in the month, the 35th GITEX Technology Week will witness the influx of 150k visitors from 150 countries. In Q4 alone, Dubai World Trade Centre will host sixty exhibitions and conferences, attracting 820k visitors.

Next week, Dubai will also host the Global Islamic Economy Summit (GIES). It is estimated that the current global Muslim market travel spend of US$ 142 billion will reach US$ 233 billion by 2020. Dubai is vying with the likes of Malaysia and Turkey to expand their share of this burgeoning Sharia-compliant market segment. Other sectors that would be of interest to the local market include halal food, with huge growth potential, and fashion, now that the emirate is promoting its Dubai Design District, d3.

A recent HSBC survey places Dubai as the number two city in the world after Singapore to start a business, based on business environments, infrastructure and work-life balance. It indicated that Dubai attracts 9% of expats looking to start their own business, compared to a global average of only 4%.

The UAE has dropped five places to 17th (out of 140 economies surveyed) in the latest Global Competitiveness Index. Although performing well in most sectors, it lost points because of the addition of a new indicator on tertiary education, in which scores were disappointing

Yet another report on the state of Dubai realty indicates that the downward price correction continues. Bayut.com indicated a huge variance in the sales “performance” over the past twelve months, covering studio apartments in different localities. Strangely, whilst prices jumped 29% in Dubai Marina, they were down in Business Bay to US$ 291k (13%), JLT to US$ 203k (12%) and Downtown (3%). Rents have remained relatively flat over the past year.

Reidin’s latest report shows annual falls to August of 10.4% in apartments and 8.0% for villas. JLL are a little more pessimistic, amending their 2015 forecast to a 15% fall in Dubai property prices. Earlier in the year, Standard & Poor’s forecast a 20% slump in the wake of the sinking oil price. Take your pick!

This week, Majid Al Futtaim announced a US$ 272 million “vertical” expansion of the 10-year old Mall of the Emirates. The project, covering 36k sq mt of the facility’s third floor, will make room for 40 retail outlets and an additional 12 for dining. This is just one part of the conglomerate’s strategy to double the size of its retail empire by 2020.

Further to three recent contract signings, totalling US$ 278 million, Drake & Scull Engineering has won a US$ 34 million tender for a mixed-use development in Jumeirah. The project, covering 72k sq mt, will include full MEP works and will be completed next year.

The 55-year old Dubai International announced another record month in August, with traveller numbers up 9.5% to 7.2 million, compared to the same period last year. With a YTD total up 12.4% to 52.2 million, it is well on its way to reach its 79 million target for 2015. Despite a shift of freight movements to the new Al Maktoum facility, cargo was also up – 5.3% to 207.4k tonnes.

Dnata has bought a 30% share – with an option to acquire a further 40% – in Airport Handling, a Milan-based ground handler; it will control operations at the city’s two airports and will take over the management of the 1.8k employees. This is another European investment by the Dubai-based company, where it now operates in over 40 airports covering cargo, catering and passenger handling.

There are currently 169 private schools in Dubai with a capacity of 255k students. By September 2016, this number will increase by 12.4% to 190 but whether this will see a reduction in school fees is highly unlikely.

There has been a shakeup in the country’s labour laws which will offer increased protection to employees and see the introduction of three new rules. These will cover the issuing of new work permits, labour contracts for workers from abroad and terminating contracts between employers and employees. It will also mark the end of the much criticised “kafala” system that strictly regulated entry and residence requirements and required employers’ approval for the changing of jobs.

The DFM opened Sunday at 3625 to eventually move 6 points lower to 3619 by Thursday (01 October). Of the bellwether stocks, Emaar Properties was up US$ 0.01 to US$ 1.78, with Arabtec gaining US$ 0.03 to US$ 0.53. As expected, trading volumes on Thursday were again disappointingly low, but up to 219 million shares, valued at US$ 108 million, (cf 160 million shares for US$ 70 million, the previous week).

Oil and gold both moved south this week so that by Thursday (01 October), Brent crude had closed 1.1 % lower at US$ 47.64, with gold falling US$ 34 to US$ 1,113.

Mick Jagtiani, the chairman of Dubai-based Landmark Group, with over 2k regional retail outlets, is also a major investor in the UK’s Debenhams. He is one of several stakeholders who are unhappy with the company’s CEO, Michael Sharp, and his attempts to boost flagging sales and restore the department store giant to its former profitability levels.

Another week sees another political scandal – this time involving Northern Ireland’s former First Minister Peter Robinson. It seems that both the UK’s National Crime Agency, along with the US Department of Justice, are investigating allegations concerning US$ 23 million of “success fees” in the sale of Project Eagle, owned by Nama (National Asset Management Agency) – Ireland’s “bad bank”. It is reported that the fee would be split between five parties, including Mr Robinson who has refuted all allegations. The 850-unit portfolio was eventually sold off in April 2014 for US$ 1.9 billion to Cerebus.

Discredited German carmaker Volkswagen continues to take flak over its diesel emission testing scandal, as its CEO Martin Winterkorn resigns. By Thursday, its preference shares were trading at US$ 99 – a huge drop over the past six months, when in March the value was US$ 291. Following the revelation last week, the company had lost more than US$ 22 billion in market value. It faces fines of US$ 18 billion in the US at a time when the Paris prosecutor is investigating “aggravated deception” and the Swiss banning the sale of new VW diesel cars. It is a fair bet that the scandal will inevitably envelop other manufacturers but for now VW faces massive fines, possible criminal charges and class actions from a pack of hungry US lawyers.

Interestingly, the EU’s Transparency Agency estimates that the auto industry is second only to the finance sector in the use of lobbyists. Furthermore, the Germans are considered the most powerful, spending at least a reported US$ 10 billion, with VW employing 43 to cover their interests in the European corridors of power. Another example maybe of the uncomfortably cosy relationship between big business and politicians!

With the slump in commodity prices, the Swiss conglomerate, Glencore has seen its share value dive from a November high last year of US$ 506 to US$ 139 on Thursday (01 October). This is better than its position on Monday morning when 17.4% of its value was wiped off in the first two hours of trading, as its share price fell to US$ 102.

The company employs 180k in over 50 countries with the main sectors being energy (turning over US$ 132 billion), metals (US$ 66 billion) and agriculture (US$ 26 billion). Despite its massive position in the market, some analysts see its 2015 revenue falling at least 25%, from its US$ 12.9 billion in 2014.

When two heavyweights, like VW and Glencore, go into meltdown simultaneously, the financial world is in deep trouble. The following table is a good indicator that the world is not only facing huge political problems but also is in an economic quagmire.

    Unit %age 30 Sep 15 30 Jun 31 Mar 01 Jan 15 01 Jan 14
      3 mth          
Gold US$ oz -5.11% 1,114 1,174 1,182 1,186 1,236
Iron Ore US$ lb -8.06% 57 62 63 73 135
Oil – Brent US$ Bar -22.76% 48.70 63.05 54.93 57.33 102.50
Coffee US$ lb -7.63% 121 131 134 161 260
Cotton US$ lb -11.76% 60 68 83 62 86
Silver US$ oz -7.08% 14.57 15.68 16.62 15.77 20.15
Copper US$ lb -9.16% 2.38 2.62 2.75 2.88 3.37
AUD US$   -7.79% 0.71 0.77 0.76 0.81 0.89
GBP US$   -3.18% 1.52 1.57 1.48 1.53 1.64
Euro US$   0.00% 1.11 1.11 1.08 1.21 1.38
Rouble US$   -16.67% 0.02 0.02 0.017 0.017 0.03
FTSE 100     -7.05% 6,061 6,521 6772 6548 6730
CS1300     -27.53% 3,195 4,409 3480 3532 2291
S&P 500     -8.53% 1,887 2,063 1990 2091 1831
DFMI     -12.09% 3,593 4,087 3600 3774 3370
ASX All Ord     -7.89% 5,021 5,451 5450 5415 5352

There have been no positive signs in Q3, with all the above indices in negative territory. The short-term view is grim, with economic slowdowns endemic in most countries, as growth rates in emerging markets are forecast to fall to 3.6% this year. Add the on-going problems in China, which can only worsen, continuing low commodity prices, recession in Japan and Russia and worrying signs from the US and the perfect storm is fast approaching – When All Is Said And Done.

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