Fields Of Gold

DFM-dubaiThe number of overnight visitors to Dubai jumped 7.5% to 14.2 million last year – almost twice the rate the United Nations World Travel Organisation had forecast earlier. India (with 1.60 million tourists) finally overtook Saudi’s 1.54 million visitors, to become the emirate’s biggest source market. As expected, Russian numbers fell by 22.5%, whilst the number of Chinese surged by 29.0% to 450k.

Ahli Holding Group, the developer of the upcoming Dubai Fox-branded theme park, has signed a deal with Marvel Studios to sponsor their next five film premieres, with releases between now and 2018. The movies will include Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy 2.

Select Group has appointed Jumeirah to manage its 508-unit residential development, Marina Gate. Located in Dubai Marina, the project is scheduled for completion by Q1 2019.

Yet another international chain likes the look of the local hospitality sector. One of the largest midscale US chains, AmericInn, is planning to open 20 properties in the region, including Dubai, over the next five years. Its regional partner will be Dubai-based Eaglewing Estates and Hotels Ltd.

GSA Group, the UK’s biggest student landlord (with a US$ 2.9 billion investment, covering 138 properties and housing 456k students) is to open their first purpose built property in Dubai. At a cost of US$ 30 million, Uninest will have 424 rooms, plus all the normal student facilities, and will be located close to Dubai International Academic City.

Singapore-based Robinsons is the latest international retail chain to open in Dubai. The first fashion store, a JV between Al Futtaim and the Chalhoub Group, will open in Dubai Festival City next year. Al Futtaim actually bought the retailer in 2008 and has three outlets in Singapore and one in Malaysia.

MAF opened its US$ 41 million City Centre Al Shindagha this week, bringing its total number of malls in the MENA region to 19.

Dubai Healthcare City is planning the world’s largest wellness facility, encompassing 810k sq ft, as part of its phase 2 expansion in Al Jadaf. The Dubai-based MAG GROUP, in conjunction with the US-based WorldCare International, will develop the WorldCare Wellness Village.

Another company is cashing in on the burgeoning healthcare sector, with Dubai-based Thumbay Group planning a US$ 327 million regional expansion, including 15 more hospitals over the next five years. Its founder president, Thumbay Moideen, is also looking at 100 additional pharmacies, 25 labs, 25 Nutri Plus Vita outlets and 25 Zo & Mo optical shops; these will require an additional 6k employees.

This week sees the 41st Arab Health Exhibition & Congress, with an expected attendance of 115k and 4k exhibitors. This will be a welcome income stream for both the local hospitality and retail sectors.

In its next financial year, starting 01 April, Emirates is expecting a net 11-plane increase to its fleet, bringing the total number to around 260. Over the year, a further 21 Airbus 380s and 16 Boeing 777s will be added, at a list price of US$ 14.5 billion, as 26 aircraft are being retired.

Last year, the Metro recorded a 1.5% increase in passenger numbers to 539.5 million as Dubai Taxi and public bus users fell by 4.7% to 207.5 million and 9.1% to 134.7 million respectively. The RTA is to acquire new trains required for their expansion plans which includes servicing 16 new locations and upgrading 19 others before Expo 2020.

February petrol prices are to fall by a further 7.0% to US$ 0.40 per litre for Special Unleaded 95.

Brand Dubai and Wasl Properties have signed an MoU to create public art displays throughout the emirate. This project, located at the Samari Retail community, will be the first of many that will transform parts of Dubai into an open-air museum, as the emirate is fast becoming a regional cultural centre.

After 11 years at the helm, Dubai World’s Chief Executive, Mohammed Sharaf, retired with immediate effect this week. He was responsible for building up an impressive portfolio of 65 global marine terminals and a company with a market value of US$ 14.3 billion.

The UAE was ranked second behind China in the 2016 Agility Emerging Markets Logistics Index, comprising 45 countries. Among the factors considered included business conditions, infrastructure and size in a survey of 1.1k global logistics executives. It was rated as having the best mix of connections, infrastructure and customs administration.

DEWA is spending US$ 71 million, over a 28-month period, for a 46km transmission network that will ensure uninterrupted water supply and increased water flow to Al Warqa’a and the Palm Deira.

Any IMF forecast has to be taken with a pinch of salt, as the august body is not the best in this field. Its latest effort shaves 0.5% off its October 3.1% UAE growth forecast. Citing public spending cuts and a deteriorating Chinese economy, it expects the country to see its lowest annual growth since 2010, with its fiscal deficit widening to 7.5% of GDP.

Kerzner International, reportedly 46% owned by the Investment Corporation of Dubai, is planning a US$ 2 billion Atlantis resort in Hawaii. ICD already has similar resorts on Palm Jumeirah (with a second one being built adjacent) and in China.

GEMS Global is seeking a US$ 250 million, three-year bank loan. The Dubai-based education provider operates 78 schools mostly in the UAE. In 2014, a combination of private investors – Blackstone, Fajr Capital and Mumtalakat – became “significant minority stakeholders” in its emerging markets sector.

After winning a US$ 545 million contract, earlier in the month, to build over 1k villas on Yas Island, it seems that Arabtec is in the driving seat for a US$ 1.1 billion order to build the new terminal at Bahrain International Airport. The Dubai-based company is expected to sign a JV with TAV Construction of Turkey – a company which it is currently working with on the Abu Dhabi’s Midfield Terminal.

Deyaar surprised the market with a 14.3% increase in Q4 profit to US$ 28 million, as many analysts were predicting losses. There was also a welcome 3.4% rise in 2015 profit to US$ 79 million.

Although its 2015 net profit remained flat at US$ 654 million, Mashreq reported a 13.7% fall in Q4 profit to US$ 152 million. Dubai’s 3rd biggest bank recorded US$ 272 million in impairment charges whilst there were increases in both deposits – 7.5% to US$ 20.1 billion – and loans / advances – 3.7% to US$ 16.4 billion.

Dubai Islamic Bank recorded a 62.8% jump in Q4 net profit to US$ 313 million, and a 37.1% hike in annual 2015 profit to US$ 1.05 billion, as revenue rose by 19.5% to US$ 2.1 billion. It seems that Dubai Islamic Bank will tap either the bond market, or have a rights issue, this year to raise extra capital to finance targeted loan growth.

Having already shed 16.8% of its value in the first three weeks of 2016 trading, the DFM opened Sunday at 2622 and recovered – up by 9.0% -to 2857 on Thursday (28 January 2016). Both bellwether stocks, Emaar Properties and Arabtec, returned to positive territory, up US$ 0.14 to US$ 1.33 and US$ 0.02 to US$ 0.32 respectively. Trading volumes on Thursday were much improved on last week at 634 million shares, valued at US$ 188 million, changing hands, (cf 297 million shares for US$ 88 million, the previous Thursday).

Brent crude bounced back this week surging 13.6% to US$ 33.22, following a massive fall of 19.6% in the first three weeks of the year. Meanwhile gold continues its recent bullish run rising US$ 18 to US$ 1,116 by Thursday (28 January) close. (This week the World Bank cut its 2016 oil price forecast by 27.5% to US$ 37).

A recent Moore Stephens report indicates that the oil price slide has resulted in 28 UK oil and gas services companies filing for insolvency last year, with estimates of US$ 200 billion worth of projects being cancelled.

Several international banks are having a torrid time as they start paying for their past “sins”. Deutsche Bank is expected to soon announce record losses for 2015 – totalling an estimated US$ 7.2 billion. Germany’s largest lender has been hit with both internal and external factors including government fines, write-downs, restructuring costs and difficult trading conditions.

The payment protection insurance (PPI) mis-selling scandal continues to haunt the big five British banks – Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, RBS and Santander UK. To date, these banks have already provided US$ 38.7 billion and it seems likely that they will absorb a further US$ 7.2 billion when 2015 results are announced. The country’s biggest bank, Lloyds, has taken the major hit so far – US$ 20 billion. Meanwhile RBS, 73% UK government, has indicated that it will set aside US$ 3.56 billion – US$ 2.1 billion (bad US housing debts) and US$ 700 million each for PPI and a Coutts write down.

JP Morgan Chase has resolved two long standing claims, totalling US$ 2.4 billion. The first was in relation to legal claims that it had drained Lehman Brothers (which subsequently collapsed) of cash during the 2008 GFC; the other involved Ambac over mortgage-backed securities. It also resolved the recovery of US$ 2.4 billion relating to Lehman’s claims involving derivatives transactions.

Facebook ended the year well with Q4 revenue up over 52% to US$ 5.8 billion and profit doubling to US$ 1.6 billion. Both revenue and profit figures headed north in 2015 – by 44% to US$ 17.9 billion and 25% to US$ 3.7 billion respectively.

A raft of corporate earnings this week indicates that the global economy may not be is such a bad shape that many analysts have led us to believe.

Facebook ended the year well with Q4 revenue up over 52% to US$ 5.8 billion and profit doubling to US$ 1.6 billion. Both revenue and profit figures headed north in 2015 – by 44% to US$ 17.9 billion and 25% to US$ 3.7 billion respectively.

Ford reported impressive 2015 results with a record net profit – up 21.3% to US$ 7.4 billion. After several plant closures and staff cuts, its European division reported its first profit since 2011 whilst poor sales and deteriorating market conditions in parts of Asia will result in plants being closed in Japan and Indonesia.

The latest quarter sees Visa with a net profit up 23.6% to US$ 1.94 billion as cardholders’ spend jumps 11.5% to US$ 1.305 trillion.

The world’s biggest e-commerce business, Alibaba Holdings beat market expectations with a mega 31.9% jump in revenue to US$ 3.8 billion as net profit more than doubled to US$ 1.9 billion. Maybe the Chinese are finally beginning to spend more.

Six months after being hived off from eBay, PayPal announced impressive Q4 results. Quarterly revenue and net profit both headed northwards by 16.9% to US$ 2.56 billion and 28.3% to US$ 367 million.

Both Apple and Samsung reported slowing growth in smart phone sales but had impressive Q4 results. The US company had record sales revenue (US$ 75.9 billion for 74.8 million i-Phones) and profit (US$ 18.4 billion) but expects revenue to fall to just over US$ 50 billion in the next quarter. Samsung recorded a softening in Q4 profit which fell by 40% to US$ 2.7 billion, as revenue dropped 2.7% to US$ 165.5 billion. Increased competition from Chinese manufacturers, such as Xiaomi and Huawei, is having a negative impact on both companies.

Yet another international hotel chain is entering the midscale sector. Hilton International has introduced “Tru” (its 13th brand), to target the younger market, with a price of under US$ 100. To date, the hotel operator has signed over 100 franchise agreements in the US, with the first property opening by the end of the year.

Tesco is facing problems on two fronts. The Supermarket ombudsman has found that the UK supermarket chain “knowingly delayed paying money to suppliers in order to improve its own financial position”. Furthermore, it could be in line for a massive fine, of more than US$ 720 million, following a Serious Fraud Office’s investigation into its 2014 US$ 470 million accounting “black hole”.

Talking of black holes, Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Najib Razak, has been cleared of corruption charges, involving the mysterious deposit of US$ 681 million into his personal bank account in April 2013. It appears that the money was a “gift” from a member of the Saudi Royal family (but this has not been confirmed by the donor). US$ 620 million was apparently returned later in that year but there is no mention, in the Attorney General’s report, on the remaining US$ 61 million.

In a surprise move, the Governor of the Bank of Japan, Haruhiko Kuroda, has introduced negative interest rates to the beleaguered economy. The so-called “Kuroda Bazooka” sees benchmark rates at minus 0.1%, in a bid to encourage banks to lend more and to try and lift the economy out of its low inflation cycle – currently at 0.1%. The bazooka is more like a peashooter – the economy needs structural reform, not tinkering with monetary policy.

As widely anticipated, the Federal Reserve did not move on the current 0.5% interest, whilst striking a fairly bullish note on the progress of the US economy. It was obvious that the recent turmoil on the global markets abrogated any possibility of a January Fed hike and, under the current economic scenario, it is difficult to see any rise this quarter.

Recent remarks from ECB’s Mario Draghi seem to indicate that the central bank would consider further loosening of monetary policy to kick-start the sluggish eurozone economy. Despite the ECB already having a monthly US$ 65 billion stimulus package in place, its current 0.2% inflation rate continues to be way short of the 2.0% target.

After an estimated 3.7% contraction in 2015, it seems more of the same for the embattled Russian economy, with both international sanctions and low oil prices continuing into the New Year. Worrying falls in capital investment, 8.4%, and retail sales – 10%, have not helped the situation. Rising inflation, 11% interest rates, a weakening rouble (on Monday trading at 78.87 to the greenback), a 10% fall in real wages and 4.4 million unemployed may yet see social unrest on Russian streets.

Adidas has delivered a body blow to the beleaguered IAAF president Lord Coe as it terminates its long-standing sponsorship arrangement with the world athletic body. Some reports indicate that it could cost the organisation about 18% of its total 2015 revenue of US$ 42.8 million. The German firm still maintains its commercial links with tainted FIFA and in 2014 signed a kit deal with Manchester United worth over US$ 1 billion! It seems strange that the sports good company has taken the moral high ground with one sport but not the other.

Interestingly, International Sport and Leisure, which collapsed in 2001 with debts of US$ 220 million, had long been associated with FIFA (as well as the IOC and IAAF). The Swiss-based marketing company was infamous for paying bribes totalling millions of dollars, including US$ 39 million to Blatter’s predecessor, Joao Havelange, Ricardo Teixeira and Nicolas Leoz. Its former chairman happened to be Horst Dassler – the son of Adidas founder, Adi Dassler.

The UK government may come to regret its decision to settle Google’s outstanding tax bill at what to many looks like a sweetheart deal. The US IT company agreed to pay outstanding tax of US$ 187 million on balances dating back from 2005, at a rate calculated to be less than 3%! The all too cosy relationship between government and big business, as well as the apparent lack of transparency in such deals, is not a healthy sign for any economy, moreso when public coffers suffer. The likes of Amazon, Google, Starbucks et alia will soon have to realise that the country is not All Fields Of Gold.

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