This Time Around

budapest_cityYet again there is talk of returning the QE2 to its former glory – this time as the focal point of the new Port Rashid Marina. As part of Dubai’s 2021 plan, DP World will develop the location specifically for luxury yachts. Phase 1, to be completed by 2018, will accommodate 400 smaller yachts up to 55 metres, whilst the second phase will have berths for 100 bigger vessels. The area will also include mixed-use residential and retail space.

The recent downward trend in the hospitality sector continues into January as average room rates, in 4/5 star properties, posted an annual 9.3% decline to US$ 313, according to the latest HotStats survey. Consequently, other key indicators headed south – including revenue per available room, 9.7%, total revenue per available room, 7.3%, and profit per room by 13.5%. The burgeoning mid-scale sector added a further 1k keys last year and is attracting more budget-conscious travellers away from the luxury side.

It seems that developers are taking little notice of predictions from the likes of CBRE and Cluttons. The former estimated that prices dropped by 15% last year and forecast a 10% fall this year, whilst the latter indicated that the 3%-5% fall last year would be replicated in 2016. Despite this mixed and negative news, Emaar, with a US$ 6.6 billion project backlog, is not about to change its plans, with Damac not slowing its construction strategy either – citing it has to meet demand. There is no doubt that the property market has bottomed out and the only question is when, in 2016, will it head north again?

Troubled construction company Arabtec has been awarded a US$ 300 million contract for twin 50-storey towers in Dubai. Work on the 228k sq mt site will start immediately and will be completed by Q4 2018.

Advet Bhambani Ventures is to start building the region’s first 5-star luxury hospital this year. The Nucleus Hospital, next to Dubai International Airport, will be a 150-suite facility which will include top of the range dining and concierge services. The company also has plans for a privately-funded critical care hospital and a paediatrics hospital. The three projects are expected to cost US$ 600 million.

In a bid to help struggling SMEs, the UAE Banks Federation has suggested the introduction of loan restructuring and suspension of payments in certain cases. Many companies are experiencing problems because of a struggling economy, low oil prices and high interest rates – in some cases at over 20%. Some entities have already defaulted on payment, with the owners leaving the country, owing banks an estimated US$ 1.4 billion.

After a 4-month slowdown, the headline Emirates NBD UAE PMI nudged higher in February to 53.1 (from January’s reading of 52.7), with expansions noted in output, new orders and employment. Although any mark of 50 indicates growth, it is noted this is some way off the 58.1 of February 2015.

With marked declines in the tourism and travel sectors – and only slight deterioration in the construction and retail areas – it was no surprise that the February Emirates NBD Dubai Economy Tracker Index fell from 50.7 to 48.9, month on month. Overall business activity in the private sector witnessed its first fall in over six years – but Dubai is still more likely to rebound quicker than most.

Standard & Poor’s is reviewing for a downgrade the credit ratings of some major oil-producing countries, including the UAE. This move is a belated attempt to reflect the impact that low oil prices have had on a country’s creditworthiness – any downgrade will result in higher borrowing costs.

By the end of Q2, work will start on the 14.5km extension to the Metro’s Red Line, 4km of which will be underground; the so-called Route 2020 will connect with the Expo site near Al Maktoum International Airport and its seven stops will include Discovery Gardens, Dubai Investment Park and Jumeirah Golf Estates. Work will start in 2017 on the 20.6km extension to the Green Line, connecting Al Jaddaf with Dubai Academic City. The RTA has also announced that Dubai Tram will see a 5km expansion, taking in Madinat Jumeirah, Burj Al Arab and Mall of the Emirates.

Adeptio, the Dubai-based investor group, headed by Mohammed Alabbar, has valued Kuwait Food Co at around US$ 4 billion. The company is looking to buy out the private company, known as Americana, and, at this price, it would be paying a 36% premium, based on the most recent stock price.

Following a September 2015 agreement with Harrison Street, to invest US$ 275 million in Dublin student accommodation, Dubai-based Global Student Accommodation will invest US 55 million in a second facility. The seven-storey building will house 500 students and should be ready by September 2017.The JV already has permission for a US$ 51.8 million student building in the south of the city.

There are reports that the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority is planning to apply for fifth-freedom rights that would see Budapest being used as a gateway for onward flights to the Americas. If successful, carriers – such as Emirates – could use the Hungarian capital as a staging point and this could be a precursor for similar arrangements in countries such as Portugal and Greece. For the past three years, the Dubai airline has extended its Milan flight to New York and there could soon be such flights from Switzerland to Mexico. If this gains any traction, expect some hostility from the European legacy airlines.

Etisalat, whose largest shareholder is the federal government, has a new chief executive. The current incumbent, Ahmad Julfar, resigned with immediate effect and will be replaced by former Vodafone Egypt chairman Hatem Dowidar, on an acting basis, ahead of the telecom’s June restructuring.

Having jumped 4.0% the previous week, the bourse opened Sunday at 3250 and was up again by 3.2% to 3355 by Thursday (10 March 2016). Bellwether stocks, Emaar Properties and Arabtec, rose – the former up by US$ 0.08 to US$ 1.66 and the latter by US$ 0.03 to US$ 0.47. Trading volumes on Thursday were slightly higher on last week at 795 million shares, valued at US$ 281 million, changing hands, (cf 671 million shares for US$ 263 million, the previous Thursday).

Brent crude again confounded the doomsayers by jumping a further 8.0% (US$ 2.98) to US$ 40.05, whilst gold was up US$ 15 to US$ 1,273, by Thursday (10 March) close. On 20 January, crude prices had fallen to US$ 27.10 – their lowest level in 12 years. If the UAE pumps 2.9 million barrels a day, a rough calculation shows it is earning an extra US$ 37.55 million every day, equating to an annual US$ 13.7 billion, because of this price turnaround.

Despite having slumped to its biggest ever loss last year of US$ 6.5 billion, and announcing thousands more job cuts, the BP chief executive, Bob Dudley, saw his total remuneration package jump 20% to a staggering US$ 19.6 million! It’s a Crazy Mixed Up World.

For some years, Facebook has avoided paying UK tax by routing major sales through Ireland, where the tax rate is much lower. In a turnaround, it has decided that most of its advertising revenue, initiated in the country, will now be now taxed there at the current 20% rate. Whether other major multinationals, such as Amazon, Google and Starbucks, follow suit remains to be seen.

BMW has reported a 10.0% hike in annual profits to US$ 6.7 billion on the back of a 14.6% surge in revenue to US$ 102.7 billion. The 100-year old company saw its vehicle sales rise by 6.1% to 2.24 million.

Another German company did not fare as well, with energy firm, E.On announcing a second consecutive loss of US$ 7.8 billion (2014 US$ 3.5 billion), after a write down of assets totalling US$ 9.8 billion. With wholesale electricity prices at their lowest in 14 years, the other three German energy companies have also had to write down the value of their power plants.

As part of its probe into corruption and money laundering at state oil company, Petrobras, Brazilian authorities have questioned former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. He is just one of many leading politicians and executives who are under investigation, who allegedly used the money obtained by overcharging contracts to pay for bribes and electoral campaigns.

Although wage levels dropped by 0.1%, February saw 242k new jobs created in the US – well above market expectations of 195k. Unemployment levels remained at 4.9%, an 8-year low. However the trade deficit (US$ 45.7 billion) headed south again, as exports fell 2.1% to US$ 176.5 billion, with imports down 1.3% to US$ 222.1 billion – its lowest level in four years. The main drivers were the strong greenback and the global slowdown.

The ECB has been found to be treading water as its previous attempts to boost the eurozone have failed whilst it sinks to an inevitable downward path to deflation; the bank has amended its forecast from 1.0% to 0.1% inflation this year. In a last desperate attempt to turn the bloc’s fortunes around, the 1-year-old QE programme has been lifted by a third to US$ 89 billion a month, whilst the bank deposit rate has been cut by 10 points to negative 0.4% and the main rate down from 0.5% to zero. Previous measures by Mario Draghi to boost inflation and get the economy moving have failed – and this seems to be heading in the same direction.

At its annual meeting of parliament, Chinese authorities have indicated that 2016 growth will be at or above 6.5%, with more emphasis on the services sector. Last year’s figure of 6.9% was the weakest since 1990 which was driven by sluggish domestic demand, stalling investment and manufacturing overcapacity. Its latest 5-year plan will see the government attempt to improve the management and operation of both its interest rate and exchange rate markets and to introduce more regulation and private investment in the banking sector. Meanwhile, February trade figures reflect the problems facing China, as year on year exports sank 25.4% to US$ 126 billion and imports were down by 13.8%.

The FIFA scandals continue with Franz Beckenbauer being implicated in multi-million dollar payments to ensure the World Cup for Germany in 2006. The investigation centres on a US$ 10 million payment made in 2002 to a company owned by to the Qatari FIFA member, Mohamed Bin Hammam, which was then forwarded to former Adidas leader, Robert Louis-Dreyfus. It is alleged that this was to repay a loan used to buy votes in the 2000 election for the 2006 World Cup. Although the former German international refutes the claims, both FIFA and the German FA disagree with him.

Gianni Infantino has become the 9th FIFA president and follows in the steps of Joao Havelange and Sepp Batter who, between them, reigned over the corrupt, secretive and nepotistic football empire for 41 years. It is reported that 41 individuals and entities are facing corruption-related offences in the US. Maybe things will be different This Time Around.

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