Between A Rock And A Hard Place

Omran-DaqneeshHH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum has approved several projects as part of the emirate’s Traffic and Transportation Plan 2030. These include the Shindaga Crossing (to replace the current tunnel), several new marine stations, expansion to the Burj Khalifa metro station and a 120 mt JBR pedestrian bridge.

Emaar Properties continues with its recent flurry of launches; this time sees the release of two towers (52 storey and 46 storey) – Act One and Act Two. These residences, overlooking Dubai Opera, will house 718 luxury apartments.

Damac Properties is set to sell individual plots in its Akoya Imagine project, with prices starting at US$ 163k. The developer is also launching Tower 108 in JVC – a 33-storey building of serviced apartments, to be operated by Damac Maison de Ville.

A JV between Nakheel and Spanish hospitality giant, RIU Hotels & Resorts, has started work on the US$ 245 million, 4-star, 800-key resort hotel on Deira Islands. Situated on a massive 3.4 million sq ft plot, the project is slated to open in Q1 2019. Other developments on the man-made islands include Deira Mall and Deira Islands Night Souk.

UAE-based Dhabi Contracting LLC won a US$ 409 million Nakheel contract to build its 2 million sq ft Al Khail Avenue retail, dining and entertainment hub, including 350 outlets and a 252-key, 18-floor hotel. Located on the edge of JVT – a 13k residence community – the project is set for completion by early 2019.

Nakheel is also planning to launch a Dine-In Cinema in its 1.4 million sq ft The Pointe development, adjacent to Atlantis The Palm. The facility will be managed by Reel Cinemas, part of Emaar Entertainments, who earlier signed a contract for a 14-screen operation in Al Khail Avenue mall.

Adjacent to two of its other attractions, Dubai Safari and Pet Market, Dubai Municipality announced that its 20k sq mt, US$ 6 million Crocodile Park will open by the end of the year.

MarketView reported that residential property prices have fallen 12% on average, over the past 12 months, and 2% quarter on quarter – the 6th straight quarter of falls, resulting in a 12% year on year decline. CBRE put a slightly lower estimate on Q2 prices falls and expect an average dip of 3% – 5% in the coming months.

According to the latest RICS report demand for commercial property fell for the third quarter in a row caused by the ongoing economic slowdown and a disappointing take-up of increased supply.

Latest STR figures confirm that the Dubai hospitality sector (along with the rest of the region) continues to face tough market conditions. In June, occupancy levels sank to just 51.2%, compared to 67.5% a year earlier. Other indicators headed south, including average room rate (down 9.2%), revenue per available room falling 31.1% to US$ 88.30, total revenue per available room to US$ 187 and gross operating profit per available room to just US$ 12. (Currently, the emirate has 67 hotels, with 20.9k keys, in the pipeline to be built prior to Expo 2020).

June passenger traffic fell 1.0% to 5.9 million compared to a year earlier, although H1 numbers were up 5.8% to 40.5 million. Both June and YTD cargo figures for Dubai International were positive – up by 3.9% to 226k tonnes and 3.8% to 1.28 million tonnes respectively.

Wilo is expanding its operations in JAFZA South and is to build new offices, a warehouse and training academy on a 8k sq mt site. The German pump manufacturer expects the new facility to open in late 2017.

According to Qatar-based Al Maya Group, the owner of the failed BHS franchise in the UAE, five branches of the UK retailer will close, including four in Dubai – Al Ghurair Centre, Dubai Mall, Festival City and Lamcy Plaza.

The Fathima Group is set to develop a US$ 19 million, 100k sq ft food manufacturing plant, as well as a US$ 30 million corporate office and logistics centre in DIP. The UAE-based retailer is also set to spend a further US$ 54 million to open four hypermarkets in the country, two in Saudi Arabia and one in Thrissur in India.

According to recent reports, UAE personal debt has risen 7.5% to US$ 117.2 billion over the past year, equating to an average resident outstanding of nearly US$ 12k. It appears that as remuneration levels are not keeping up with increases in living costs, such as housing and education, people are having to borrow more.

DP World has signed an agreement with US company, Hyperloop One, to study the operation and financial viability of a tube-based transport system, for use at its home base of Jebel Ali. Reportedly the pods used – for both cargo and people – can travel at an impressive 1.2k kph.

The port operator has also seen its long-term issuer default rating upgraded by Fitch from BBB- to BBB, with the credit agency maintaining the company on a stable outlook.

Although H1 revenue was up 10.2% to US$ 2.0 billion (and 2.5% on a like to like basis), DP World has cut back on its ambitious expansion plans, in the wake of the global economic slowdown and softer market conditions. It will now delay both the 1.5 million unit expansion due for Terminal 3 until next year and construction of Terminal 4 until a later date, when trade conditions so warrant.

Shuaa Capital posted a Q2 loss of US$ 14 million, as revenue dipped 25.0% to US$ 12 million. The Dubai-based investment bank attributed the disappointing results to a US$ 15 million impairment charge, (relating to its SME lending unit, Gulf Finance), low oil prices and volatile financial markets. In June, the Dubai Banking Group, the global Shariah compliant financial investor of Dubai Group, divested its 48.3% shareholding in the firm to Abu Dhabi Financial Group for a reported US$ 98 million.

Another offshoot of Dubai Holding, Dubai Financial Group, has sold its 11.8% share in Egyptian investment bank EFG-Hermes to Natixix. Although no figures were available, the deal could be worth just over US$ 100 million. (In 2014, the ultimate holding company, Dubai Group, negotiated a US$ 10 billion creditors’ restructuring programme).

There have been mixed results emanating from the June reporting season. Amanat Holdings posted a US$ 6.5 million H1 profit – up from US$ 400k a year earlier. Meanwhile Amlak Finance recorded a six fold increase in half yearly profits from US$ 4 million to US$ 24 million, largely on the back of one-off sale of land plots in Q1. However, because of increased provisions (US$ 8 million) and a fall in real estate prices, the company made a Q2 loss of US$ 10 million. Damac saw a slowdown in Q2 profit, with a 37.6% slide to US$ 242 million, and H1 results down 27.0% to US$ 529 million.

Marka, a retail firm with 50 outlets and a further 19 to open this year, posted a US$ 5 million loss, despite an 18.2% hike in quarter on quarter revenue to US$ 24 million. Another company in negative territory was Dubai Parks & Resorts reporting a Q2 loss of US$ 16 million – almost four times the deficit recorded in the same period last year. Opening in October, the theme park expects first year revenue of US$ 654 million and a marginal loss of US$ 10 million followed by profits in the ensuing two years of US$ 29 million and US$ 68 million respectively.

Still in negative territory, Arabtec reported a Q2 loss of US$ 51 million, compared to a US$ 196 million deficit a year earlier, despite a 20.9% hike in revenue to US$ 589 million. The developer indicated that it has a current project portfolio of US$ 6.2 billion – 12.5% higher than this time last year.

Despite income from its properties rising 29.3% to US$ 10.6 million, Nasdaq Dubai-quoted Emirates Reit posted a 63.8% slump in Q2 profits to US$ 9.4 million.

The DFM opened on Sunday at 3524 and fell back 1.3% to close the week on 3472 by Thursday (18 August 2016). Volumes, on the last day of trading were at 122 million shares, valued at US$ 53 million, (cf 122 million shares for US$ 53 million, the previous Thursday). Bellwether stock, Emaar Properties, was down US$ 0.03 to US$ 1.93, whilst Arabtec was US$ 0.01 higher at US$ 0.42.

Brent crude continued its recent upward trend, closing the week US$ 3.81 higher at US$ 50.89; gold was also up – US$ 15 – to US$ 1,357 at Thursday’s (18 August 2016) close.

This week saw the death of one of the most corrupt sports administrators and the arrest of a leading Olympic official. Joao de Havelange was President of the Brazilian Sports Confederation for 25 years to 1973, President of FIFA from 1974 – 1998, Honorary President of FIFA from 1998 – 2013 and a member of the International Olympic Committee from 1963 – 2011. In 2012, Swiss prosecutors found that he and his son-in-law, Ricardo Teixeira, had taken at least US$ 41 million in bribes for World Cup marketing rights.

Meanwhile Ireland’s now infamous ticket tout, Patrick Hickey, president of the European Olympic Committee, was arrested in Rio for being involved in a lucrative ticket-scalping scheme. It is alleged that he could have made a US$ 3 million profit by using his status to help “transfer tickets to an unauthorised vendor who would set high fees and disguise the transaction as a hospitality package.”

Last November, IAAF president (from 1998 – 2015) Senegalese Lamine Diack was arrested in France on suspicion of corruption and money laundering. It was alleged that he had received Russian kickbacks for covering up positive doping tests of their athletes. A later World Anti-Doping Agency report stated that corruption was “embedded” in the world athletics body and that Diack was responsible for organising and enabling the conspiracy and corruption.

Recent events just serve to confirm that along with the shenanigans of Sepp Blatter and his cronies, sporting world bodies, such as the IOC and IAAF are just as rotten as FIFA. It does not take too much imagination to think that other sports could be tarnished by the same brush.

Cisco Systems is set to cut its 70k workface by 20%, as the network equipment maker focuses on shifting its core business from hardware to software-centric. The US company is not the only tech giant laying off staff and follows the likes of HP Inc (33k), Microsoft (18k), Nokia (15k) and Intel (12k).

The Walmart-owned supermarket chain, Asda, one of the UK’s “big four”, posted its 8th successive quarterly fall with a Q2 7.5% drop, following a 5.7% decrease in the previous quarter. A five-year US$ 2 billion investment plan to revive the supermarket’s fortunes, which will see reduced prices and enhanced ranges, aims to keep in touch with Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Morison’s along with the ever expanding threat of the newcomers – Aldi and Lidl.

It is interesting to note that online sales in the UK now account for 14.2% of all retail purchases having jumped 16.7% in July. One company taking advantage of this change in consumer buying habits is Amazon. The online retailer, having already invested US$ 6.0 billion in the country over the past five years, is planning a 55% jump this year in its workforce to 15.5k.

The bad man of UK retailing, Sir (?) Philip Green, has been told not to “swan about” on his newly acquired US$ 131 billion super yacht in Greece and return to sort out the mess he left when he sold BHS for US$ 1 to former bankrupt Dominic Chappell. The retail chain collapsed in April with 11k job losses and a US$ 900k pension black hole affecting 22k former staff.

A UK study has revealed that 23% of all insolvencies in 2015 were the result of late or non-payment of accounts, with the problem rapidly deteriorating. If there were a government strategy to address this problem, then many of the 16k SMEs that failed last year would still be adding value to the economy.

Unemployment figures in the UK continued to fall – in Q2, 52k fewer meant that 1.64 million (equating to 4.9%) people were out of work whilst 31.8 million were in employment at the end of June. Pay growth – at 2.3% – also improved on the previous month. These are the best employment figures since August 2005.

Despite a seasonal increase in tax receipts, UK’s budget surplus at US$ 1.3 billion was lower than market expectations and 16.3% lower than the surplus in July 2015. Q2 public borrowing, at US$ 31.0 billion, was 11.0% lower than a year ago but this is still below the government’s 26% target; this in turn restricts what Chancellor Philip Hammond can do to boost the post Brexit economy when he launches his autumn budget later in the year.

Although CBA posted a 3.0% hike in annual profits to US$ 7.0 billion, another credit agency has voiced their concern. Low wage growth, historically low interest rates, surging house prices and record household debt are the main drivers that prompted Moody’s to down grade Australia’s banking system (as well as the big 4 banks – ANZ, CBA, NAB and Westpac) from stable to negative. Private sector credit has jumped 12% to 155% of GDP since January 2014, as bank profits fall following the commodity slowdown. (This week, Woodside Petroleum posted a 50% slump in H1 profits to US$ 340 million, on a 9% hike in revenue to US$ 1.9 billion, as BHP recorded a massive US$ 6.4 billion annual loss).

While it has issued earlier warnings the same agency has maintained the country’s prized AAA rating – one of the few in the world. Moody’s reaffirmed its stable outlook on the basis that Australia has managed somehow to escape much of the economic malaise faced by other developed countries.

However, the country that relies a lot on its Chinese relations (especially trade and travel) could be heading for a bumpy ride. Earlier in the year, the Turnbull government blocked the Chinese from acquiring S Kidman & Co, that owned almost 1% of the country’s landmass, and this week stopped them bidding for power generator, Ausgrid. Worries about security were deemed more important than economic benefits. To add to their woes, it seems likely that another leading trade partner, USA, may lean on them to assist if freedom of navigation in the South China Sea becomes more of a problem and action has to be taken. How the Chinese would react will not be to the liking of Australia – a country that will find itself Between A Rock And A Hard Place!

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