Footprint In The Sand

dubai-expo2020This week, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum launched the official logo for Dubai Expo 2020. The winning design, out of 19k entries, is an authentic Emirati logo based on the 2002 find of a 4k-year old ring, at the Al Marmum archaeological site.

Following on from reports that local banks had lost a potential US$ 1.4 billion in bad debts, as people left the country, it was welcome news to see that these financial institutions have agreed to suspend any legal action against struggling SMEs for a period of three months. Such companies contribute over 60% to the country’s GDP and could further benefit from certain banks reducing seemingly exorbitant interest rates as well as a change in the law relating to insolvency.

Dubai Holding has added a new business unit – Family Entertainment and New Media – which will be responsible for Global Village and Arab Media Group, as well as any family destinations and new international production business communities. The new CEO will be Mohamed Al Mulla, who will be tasked to firm up investments in a mixed range of knowledge-based sectors.

The importance of the MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) sector to the Dubai economy was demonstrated by a 12.0% hike in delegate numbers to 2.74 million, visiting Dubai World Trade Centre. Last year, the venue held 396 trade events, with 38.9% (1.1 million) of the attendees being overseas visitors – adding value to the local travel, retail and hospitality sectors.

A recent report by real estate consultancy Core, the UAE affiliate of Savills, has concluded what many already knew – Dubai affordable housing is anything but. Although some banks will arrange mortgages for those on US$ 4k a month, that does not seem enough to buy a studio apartment for say US$ 170k. There are reports that legislation could be introduced for a mandatory 15% housing in all future residential projects – but even if that reduced purchase prices, it would still be out of range for the vast majority.

As has been the case in recent months, the Dubai hospitality sector continues to struggle. February STR Global data sees falls across the board, including occupancy rates down 3.5% to 82.5% and a 11.6% decrease in ADR to US$ 227, causing RevPAR to drop 14.7% to US$ 187. (These are still much better than ME hotels which show falls of 5.3% to 70.2%, 10.5% to US$ 50 and 15.2% to US$ 36 respectively.

Following a 5-year delay, it has been announced that Dubai’s 2nd tallest building, Marina 101, will open by the end of 2016. The 427 mt tower, costing US$ 355 million, will include the Hard Rock hotel (encompassing the first 33 floors), apartments (from floors 34 -100) and a Hard Rock Café & Lounge on the 101st deck.

The 110-bed Clemenceau Medical Centre will become the third general hospital in Dubai Healthcare City. The US$ 109 million facility, affiliated with Johns Hopkins Medicine International, will be built in conjunction with Khansaheb Investment and is expected to be finished by 2018.

The UAE – as chair of the Kimberley Process (a programme to stop the trade in blood diamonds) – is spearheading a drive to regulate the pricing of rough diamonds. According to experts, in the absence of such pricing, there is an increased potential for abuse in the supply chain.

It is interesting to note that three car rental companies have been closed for violating regulations that only allow rentals for a minimum of 24 hours; the three companies had been renting on an hourly basis, via a smartphone app.

After seven months of falling pump charges, April will see a hike in petrol prices. For example, Special 95 jumps 11.0% to US$ 0.41 per litre, whilst diesel increases by 11.4% to US$ 0.425. The upward movement is a direct result of the recent increase in oil prices, with Brent crude now hovering around US$ 40 per barrel.

A new Executive Council Resolution No (8) of 2016 will see departing passengers – including those in transit – from Dubai airports paying a US$ 9.50 fee.

Local philanthropist, Rajen Kilachand should be a happy man, as his Dodsal Group announces a gas find in Tanzania, with reported deposits of 2.7 trillion cu ft of natural gas which could rise to 3.8 trillion cu ft. That being the case, the discovery could be worth between US$ 8 – US$ 11 billion. The Dubai-based company signed a production sharing agreement with the Tanzanian government in 2007 and the chairman is confident that this find will boost the local economy and create new job opportunities. Dodsal is in bank negotiations to raise an additional US$ 300 million finance for further gas exploration and production.

It was reported that US$ 980 million, of which 50% was foreign sourced, was invested in Dubai Silicon Oasis last year. Projects included the Fakeeh Academic Medical Centre (US$ 272 million), Avenues Mall (US$ 136 million) and Axiom Telecom (US$ 54 million). The number of companies rose by 38.0% to 1.9k, with 78% of that total specialising in technology.

In order to improve and enhance existing and new networks, DEWA is planning to build 64 new substations; the 3-year project will cost US$ 490 million.

At the recent Etisalat AGM, the telecom operator, which posted a US$ 2.3 billion net profit after federal royalty, announced a US$ 0.022 dividend. The company also appointed Saleh Al Abdooli to replace Ahmad Julfar as its CEO.

Dipping 3.4%, Dubai’s 2015 trade total of US$ 350 billion of non-oil foreign trade can be split between imports (US$ 217 billion), reexports (US$ 97 billion) and exports (US$ 36 billion). The three leading trading partners, accounting for over US$ 96 billion (or 27.5% of all trade) were China, India and the US, with the former contributing US$ 48 billion. With a value of US$ 50 billion, phones remained Dubai’s most traded commodity, with gold (US$ 32 billion), diamonds (US$ 26 billion), vehicles (US$ 18 billion) and jewellery (US$ 18 billion) making major trade contributions.

Dubai Investments has injected a further US$ 27 million in troubled Union Properties which will see it increase its share in Property Investments by 20% to 70%. PI build and own property in Dubai Investment Park, including the Green Community and Courtyard by Marriott.

Dubai Parks & Resorts is expecting to raise US$ 458 million in an April rights issue, with the funds being used to finance the development of its 4th theme park, under the Six Flags brand. It is expected that the total cost of the new facility will be US$ 728 million, with the balance (US$ 270 million) being debt financed. The Meraas park operator plans to open its first three parks in October.

The bourse had a flat week opening Sunday at 3319 to close 6 points up at 3325 by Wednesday (30 March 2016). Bellwether stocks, Emaar Properties and Arabtec, had mixed fortunes with the former down US$ 0.06 to US$ 1.60, and the latter up US$ 0.04 to US$ 0.45. Trading volumes on Wednesday were slightly down at 394 million shares, valued at US$ 138 million, changing hands, (cf 441 million shares for US$ 131 million, the previous Thursday).

Brent crude continued in negative territory, falling 3.3% (US$ 1.30) to US$ 38.62, whilst gold moved up US$ 10 to US$ 1,229, by Wednesday (30 March) close.

Chinese insurance company, Anbang, is slugging it out with Marriott as both try to acquire Starwood Hotels. It seemed that the extended battle had finally been won by the American company, when they tabled a US$ 13.6 billion revised offer last week. This has now been bettered by a US$ 14 billion bid but it is likely that an increased counter offer will be on the table shortly. Interestingly, Starwood would have to pay Marriott a US$ 450 million fee, if it were to accept another offer.

Despite a 7.5 year backlog of orders for 5.8k planes, Boeing plans to cut its workforce by 2.8% to 156.5k, with most redundancies being in its commercial aircraft division. The world’s largest manufacturer has been losing market share to its arch rival, Airbus, whilst seeing a slowdown in the number of new orders.

Taiwanese manufacturer, Foxconn has acquired 66% of Sharp for a reported US$ 3.5 billion, with the electronics company becoming the first ever major Japanese entity to be sold to overseas interests.

Acting before hostile moves are made, Yahoo is trying to sell its core business, including its internet arm and Asian businesses. The struggling internet company put the business up for sale last month, with possible suitors including Time Inc and Verizon Communications. It has also undergone a major cost cutting exercise which has seen its payroll cut by 15% to 11.5k.

Having bought the then Perot Systems in 2009 for US$ 3.9 billion, Dell Inc is now planning to sell the renamed Dell Services to Japanese-based NT Data Inc, for just over US$ 3 billion. As part of its restructuring strategy, the privately owned IT company is broadening its horizon and is in discussions to buy data storage provider, EMC, for US$ 67 billion.

The US Q4 growth figures were amended upwards from 1.0% to 1.4%, as consumer spending rose quicker than originally reported; however this is down on the 2.0% reported in the previous quarter. Consumer spending also moved up from 2.0% – initially reported – to 2.4% on the back of increased employment and rising wage rates. This good news was dampened by the fact that corporate profits recorded their biggest drop (at 11.5%), since the onset of the GFC, as pre-tax earnings fell 3.1% – the most in 7 years. Exports also fell by 2.0%. These disappointing returns could be a portent for companies to consider cost-cutting measures, including investment and hiring, as they are feeling the impact of the strong greenback.

Federal chair, Janet Yellen, remains cautious in her outlook for the US economy, indicating a slower pace for future rate hikes. The main drivers, as usual, were the volatile commodity markets and the economic slowdown in China. She did intimate that, in the event of problems in the US, the Fed would consider tools, such as negative rates and asset purchases.

It is reported that Omani officials have declared the US$ 6 billion Wahat Oman project to be a fake. Touted last year to become the region’s largest yacht port, along with five luxury hotels, residences, hospital and other leisure facilities, the scheme will remain a Footprint In The Sand.

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