The Name Of The Game

dubai-libraryWith HH The UAE President Sheikh Khalifa declaring 2016 as the year of reading, it is apt to see HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum announce a US$ 272 million library which will include 2 million e-books, 1.5 million traditional tomes and 1 million audio volumes. The seven-storey building, covering 1 million sq ft, will overlook Dubai Creek and open late next year.

SsangYong Engineering & Construction and Belhasa Six Construct will build the US$ 1.4 billion Royal Atlantis Resort at Palm Jumeirah. The Investment Corporation of Dubai owns the 46-storey building, housing a 780-key hotel and 232 serviced apartments. The Korean company – whose last Dubai project was the Grand Hyatt in 2003 – has had a chequered past and applied for court receivership to reschedule debts two years ago. Subsequently, the ICD reportedly bought a controlling stake in SsangYong for US$ 182 million.

SsangYong, along with China State Construction Engineering Corporation, was also awarded a US$ 281 million Nakheel contract to build the 3-tower Palm Gateway. The 2-year project will see 1.3k apartments being built above the existing Palm Monorail terminal – along with retail, dining and fitness facilities.

With three new properties, adding a further 900 keys to its portfolio, Damac’s growing hospitality sector will boast 2.35k rooms and 8 hotels by the end of this year. Damac Hotels and Resorts is planning to have 13k rooms under its operation within the next four years.

Last year, Kier had a JV with Al Shafar General Contracting to build 700 apartments on the Bluewaters Island. This week, developer Meraas awarded the UK builder another US$ 36 million contract for infrastructure work.

Meydan is planning to redevelop its former beach club site in JBR, replacing it with a 5-star, 260-key property. Work has already started and the project is expected to take three years.

As expected, Dubai hospitality continued with weakening returns in December, as occupancy levels dropped slightly to 80.2% and average room rates down 4.6% to US$ 316. All other indicators also headed south – total revenue per available room by 10.3% to US$ 434 and gross operating profit per available room by 14.3% to US$ 201.

Meydan Sobha has announced phase 3 of its US$ 10 billion Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum City – District One project, due for completion late next year; handover for the villas of the first two phases is later this year.

Nakheel’s new hospitality division has opened the first of 10 new hotels – the 251-key ibis Styles in the Dragon Mart area. The retail hub has over 4k shops, with foot traffic reaching 100k daily.

The company also posted a 19.0% increase in 2015 profit to US$ 1.2 billion. Although still focusing on its core business – development – the company has been branching out into other sectors, including hospitality, residential and retail. During the year, Nakheel handed over only 847 residential units – which may surprise those analysts who were predicting an over-supply for the Dubai real estate market.

In a similar vein, the same doom and gloom merchants will be shocked to hear that Danube Properties has already sold 85% in its Ritz project of 452 units, located in Al Furjan. Notwithstanding Danube, there are other developers entering the low to mid-end of the local housing sector, including the MAG Group (in Dubai South) and Omniyat (IMPZ), with the Sobha Group now considering this sector.

Apparel Group, with a 55-brand portfolio including Tim Horton’s, Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, plans to add a further 300 stores to bring its total of outlets to 1.8k by year end. The Dubai-based retailer is expected to spend US$ 120 million this year to meet these ambitious targets.

John Lewis, the UK fashion department store, is set to open next year in Dubai Festival City. The 15k sq ft outlet will be located within the recently announced Singapore’s Robinson’s brand department store.

MAF reported that 2015 revenue surged 8.0% to US$ 7.44 billion, with profit up 6.0% to US$ 1.04 billion. Its healthy balance sheet shows total assets at US$ 13.9 billion, with a net debt of US$ 2.5 billion.

Emaar Properties has formed a new Sharjah-based property company with Sharjah’s Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) and Abu Dhabi’s Eagle Hills. Omran Properties will initially focus on real estate development including residential, retail and hospitality in the emirate. UK company Kier is also in discussions with Shurooq about establishing a JV construction firm in Sharjah.

It is reported that Adeptio, led by Mohammed Alabbar, has agreed to buy a 69% stake in Kuwait Food Co (Americana), via its purchase of Al Khair holding company. There has been no news on financial data but according to Thomson Reuters, the Kuwaiti-owned company, which has the KFC and Pizza Hut franchises, is valued at US$ 2.5 billion.

The locally based e-commerce site, Mumzworld, established in 2009, has received a financial boost of “millions of dollars” from a consortium of investors, including Endeavour Capital, twofour54 and Wamda Capital. The money will be used for expansion in the regional market, with an emphasis on Saudi Arabia. (According to Payfort, the fast expanding regional e-commerce market will be worth over US$ 13 billion by 2020).

Following recent redundancies in the local international banking sector – including HSBC (150 staff) and Standard Chartered – it is reported that Barclays will release 150 Dubai staff and close its Emaar Square office.

It was no surprise to find that Dubai International has retained its position as the leading global international hub, with a 10.7% hike in passenger numbers to 78 million. In relation to passenger numbers, the ME carriers surpassed the rest of the world – with traffic growth of 10.5%, compared to the global average of 6.5%. Over the same period, aircraft movements were up 14.1% to 403.5k. (Although still the best performing region in the world, ME air freight dipped in December, growing by only 4%, but for the year was up 11.3% compared to the global average of 2.2%).

Emirates is still the most valuable global airline brand with a 17% jump in its value to US$ 7.7 billion – a figure that has almost doubled over the past 6 years. It is ranked 171st in the world’s top brands listing from the latest Brand Finance Global 500 report.

As part of the increased ME investment in the European hospitality sector, which has seen a US$ 5.22 billion spend over the past two years, the Al Habtoor Group has now six international hotels, having just acquired the 361-key Hilton Hotel Wembley in London. No financial details were made available but the Chairman, Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor, indicated, last December, that the Group had put aside US$ 545 million for 2016 overseas investments.

DEWA’s strategy is to see that 75% of Dubai’s energy is clean (solar, natural gas, nuclear and clean coal) by 2050, with 7% by 2020 and 25% by 2030. To help meet this target, the authority is planning a US$ 27.2 billion clean energy fund, partly to finance low cost loans to potential investors, and has now called for tenders from interested parties for advisory and regulatory development services.

Another indicator that the economic environment is not all doom and gloom was that the Department of Economic Development in Dubai recorded a 17.4% rise in the total number of licences (to 22.7k) issued last year. Furthermore, the number of renewed licences rose 7.8% to 102.8k.

The Australian Tax Office is reportedly chasing Dubai residents, Pankaj Oswal and his wife Radhika for an unpaid US$ 132 million tax bill. A six-day Perth court case has involved alleged fraud claims surrounding the now infamous “Taj on the Swan” in the state’s upmarket Peppermint Grove.

Dubai Police have failed to sell a rare 2002 Enzo Ferrari, impounded in 2012, because of an on-going Interpol enquiry which indicates that the vehicle may have been stolen property (or bought with stolen assets). A US buyer had bid US$ 1.6 million before the enforced removal.

Although Aramex reported a 36% fall in Q4 profits, it still has 2016 plans to purchase three more international firms, following its January US$ 81 million acquisition of New Zealand’s Fastway Couriers.

The recent sluggish real estate performance has hit Union Properties’ 2015 profit with a 49.8% fall to US$ 118 million. Revenues dipped by 29.5% to US$ 398 million, with total assets dropping 2.4% to US$ 2.2 billion. The company is in bank discussions to borrow US$ 202 million for project funding purposes.

Dubai Investments, 11.5% owned by the ICD, posted a 2.7% hike in 2015 profits to US$ 97 million, with its total asset base expanding a further 6.9% to US$ 4.2 billion. The company is expected to move into the burgeoning education and healthcare sectors, as well as targeting Saudi for further growth potential.

With impairment charges up 51% to US$ 116 million, Commercial Bank of Dubai recorded an 11.3% fall in 2015 net profit to US$ 290 million. Operating income was 5.0% higher at US$ 640 million but expenses surged 13.8% to US$ 234 million, as total assets rose sharply by 23.4% to US$ 15.8 billion. (Local banks, in line with their international peers, will have to closely monitor their loans, as impairment charges are reaching a critical high level – this could have a massive negative impact on the world economy).

DFM posted a massive 65.6% fall in 2015 profit to US$ 71 million, as a result of weak trading volumes for most of the year. Revenue was 51.9% off at US$ 123 million, with trading value 60.3% down at US$ 41.2 billion.

The DFM had shed 15.0% in the first 18 days of January but gradually recovered to close the opening month of 2016 only 4.9% down at 2998. The bourse opened Sunday at 2857 and continued its recovery – up by 11.1% – to 3058 by Thursday (04 February 2016). Both bellwether stocks, Emaar Properties and Arabtec, were again in positive territory, up US$ 0.20 to US$ 1.47 and US$ 0.01 to US$ 0.32 respectively. Trading volumes on Thursday were slightly down on last week at 458 million shares, valued at US$ 165 million, changing hands, (cf 474 million shares for US$ 131 million, the previous Thursday).

The month of January witnessed erratic trading in both oil and gold with Brent crude down 1.4% to US$ 35.90 and the yellow metal stronger, Both commodities strengthened this week – Brent crude up 17.8% to US$ 34.36 and gold by US$ 60 to US$ 1,158, by Thursday (04 February) close.

Having set a 30 million barrels a day production quota early last December, the end of January sees OPEC pumping a record 33.1 million bpd. Indonesia, currently with 815k barrels, re-joined the cartel on 01 January after a 7-year hiatus, whilst Nigeria increased production by 109k bpd to 2.03 million.

BP came in with its biggest annual loss last year – US$6.5 billion – as low oil prices continue. Consequently, the company will slash a further 7k jobs (equivalent to 9% of its workforce) over the next two years, as it targets cost cutting measures totalling US$ 3.5 billion. Other companies are reporting similar results – Chevron returned its first quarterly loss in 13 years and Shell did not fare much better with Q4 profit down 45.5% to US$ 1.8 billion and annual profit sinking 80.0% to US$ 3.8 billion – its biggest fall since 2002. Unsurprisingly, the energy sector will slash 2016 spending to its lowest level in six years at US$ 522 billion, down 12.3% on 2015.

Not to be outdone by the energy companies, the world’s biggest steel company, ArcelorMittal, announced a US$ 7.9 billion 2015 loss – compared to a US$ 1.9 billion deficit in 2014. Although sales fell 20% to US$ 63.6 billion, over half the loss was attributable to a write down in its mining operations.

With its 2015 profit up 4.3% to US$ 4.9 billion, Google’s parent company, Alphabet surpassed Apple to become the most valuable listed company in the world, with a market value of US$ 568 billion. It was over five years ago that Apple surpassed another tech giant, Microsoft to become the world’s number 1.

Rolls Royce has been handed a lifeline with a recent US$ 2.7 billion order from Norwegian. The struggling UK company, whose market value has fallen by a third in the past 12 months, will manufacture and service Trent 1000 engines for 17 of the Nordic airline’s Dreamliners. The order could be extended if Norwegian take up the option for a further 10 planes.

With its Chairman, Subrata Roy, currently languishing in jail, the Sahara Group has reported debts of US$ 5.9 billion, including monies owing to 30 million investors. The Indian conglomerate is hoping to raise US$ 488 million if it can sell Grosvenor House Hotel in London’s Mayfair which it bought for US$ 677 million five years ago. Other assets under the hammer could include Mumbai’s Sahara Star hotel, 4 aircraft and its 42% share in F1 team, Force India.

A major Ponzi scheme, involving US$ 7.6 billion and 900k defrauded investors, has been broken in China. Police have arrested 21 employees of Ezubao – a peer-to-peer lender and the country’s largest online finance business which only commenced business in July 2014.

With Brookfield Infrastructure Partners still awaiting approval from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, another local company has entered the race to take over the ports and rail operator, Asciano. Qube is leading a consortium, including a Chinese SWF and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, in a US$ 6.3 billion counter bid for the logistics company, of which it already owns 19.99%.

Following a loss over the same period last year, Sony reported a 9-month profit of US$ 1.95 billion. The Japanese company’s growth in its PlayStation 4 video game consoles (with sales of over 30 million units since its November 2013 launch) and the recent popularity of the James Bond movie, Spectre, were the main drivers behind the recovery.

Both Rio Tinto and BHP have seen their share prices slide over the past year by 40% and 50% respectively. Standard & Poor’s have reservations about the two major Australian players in the mining sector, resulting from falling global commodity prices. Both companies have been placed on negative watch with BHP – the world’s biggest miner – having its rating cut a notch from A+ to A; Rio Tinto’s rating remained at A-.

A weak Ozzie dollar, sluggish global growth and recent turmoil in the financial markets are the main drivers behind consumer confidence dropping as the ANZ-Roy Morgan consumer confidence index fell 4.4% in January. Partly because of the index’s first negative start to a New Year since 2008, the RBA left rates on hold on Tuesday.

The Australian inflation rate, up 0.4% to 2.3%, is now within the government’s targeted band of 2.0% – 3.0%. A weaker currency is slowly resulting in higher imported costs and this is being closely monitored by the RBA, whilst there were the expected rises in communication, education and health expenses. On the flip side, falling oil prices have seen continuing falls in petrol prices.

Swiss prosecutors believe that up to US$ 4 billion may have been pillaged from the 1MDB fund, as they investigate the Malaysian account’s reported US$ 11 billion debt. The Swiss allegedly suspect “corruption of public foreign officials, dishonest management of public interests and money laundering”. PM Najib Razak launched 1MDB in 2009 and is also chair of its advisory board.

According to the January Purchasing Managers’ Index of 49.4, (its lowest level since 2012), China’s manufacturing sector continues to contract – an indicator that the New Year still sees the economy struggling. It also shows that all the monetary and fiscal stimulus measures, introduced last year, have not had the expected positive impact, whilst the country will struggle to meet its 2016 lower growth target of 6.5%.

The EPL reported record transfer fees this season of over US$ 1.5 billion, of which 83.3% came in the summer transfer window. Manchester City’s purchases of Kevin De Bruyne from Wolfsburg (US$ 79 million) and Raheem Sterling from Liverpool (US$ 71 million) were the two biggest deals of the season. Starting in August, for the next three seasons, TV rights have rocketed, with Sky paying 83% more at over US$ 6 billion and BT US$ 1.4 billion. Among the highest paid players in Europe are Ronaldo, Messi, Bale and Rooney whose annual earnings are US$ 81.3 million, US$ 75.4 million, US$ 35.8 million and US$ 27.5 million respectively. With that sort of money floating about, football is indeed The Name Of The Game!

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