A Night At The Opera

dubai-opera-houseDubai’s construction boom is being fuelled by Expo 2020, increased tourist numbers and the fact that the population is set to grow by 38.2%, to 3.4 million, over the next four years. A recent BNC report estimated that there are 3.7k projects, valued at US$ 400 billion, ongoing in the emirate. Of this total 0.8k are currently on hold whilst the value of those in an advanced stage totals over US$ 100 billion. Three of the prominent developments are the US$ 2.1 billion Sobha Hartland, the Royal Atlantis Resort and Residences – Palm Jumeirah (at US$ 1.4 billion) and DIC’s Innovation Hub PT-163 (US$1.2 billion).

At last, a good news report on the Dubai realty sector with Reidin/Global Capital Partners forecasting an imminent increase in residential prices. This has arisen because of an upturn in the economic environment and developers maintaining a tight rein on supply of new property.

It had to happen in Dubai – Six Flags plans to build the world’s biggest roller coaster at its theme park due to open next year. The operator already operates 20 theme parks in North America, including New Jersey which currently boasts the tallest ride in the world.

Azizi Developments has launched its Roy-Mediterranean serviced apartment project, located in Al Furjan. The 271-unit building will be the developer’s 12th to date. The developer has also reported that 85% of its US$ 95 million, 90-unit Royal Bay Residence, scheduled for completion by Q2 2017, has already been sold.

Already with ten properties in the country, Rezidor, part of the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, will open The Radisson Blu Hotel, Dubai Waterfront within a year and The Radisson Blu Hotel, Dubai Canal View, by Q1 2018 – both properties are owned by Nash’at Farhan Awad Sahawneh.

Nakheel, the poster boy of Dubai’s 2009 debt crisis, has repaid a US$ 1.2 billion sukuk, to mark the end of its March 2010 US$ 16 billion debt restructuring programme to finally become a debt free company. The developer will soon be back in the market, so as to finance its massive project portfolio, including 21k residential units, 14 hotels/serviced apartments and up to 16 million sq ft of retail space.

Australian contractor, Landlease is set to construct Damac’s 50-storey Aykon Tower in London – its first in the UK. Situated in Nine Elms on the South Bank, the 360 luxury apartments, designed by Versace Home, will be completed by 2020.

With 200 ZOOM stores already operating in the UAE, Emirates National Oil Company plans to open a further 30 outlets every year for the next decade. ENOC has expansion plans in other GCC countries and expects to triple its current turnover by 2030.

A group of Chinese investors, led by Miteno Communication Technology Co, has acquired Dubai-based Media.net for US$ 900 million. The contextual ad network employs over 800 staff and reaches more than 100 million US desktop users.

SICPA has signed an agreement with Dubai Municipality to ensure the safety and origin of the container and contents of bottled water in the emirate. The Swiss secure identification company uses smart track and trace technology to ensure the product’s authenticity and specifications. The initial contract will focus on five-gallon water bottles but will be rolled out to encompass halal and other food products.

Aramex has signed an agreement with Dubai-based NewBridge Pharmaceuticals, to provide global logistic services.

Although equivalent to just two days of holiday traffic at Dubai International, Dubai World Central saw H1 passenger traffic nearly double to 410k. The main factor appears to be the arrival of flydubai, which is gradually moving all its operations to the new airport. Within two years, the facility is expected to see passenger numbers at 26 million. Cargo traffic fell 2.9% to 430k tonnes over the same period.

Two high profile cases involving senior executives have been reported this week. An unnamed person at Dubai Financial Market has been charged with forging documents to embezzle US$ 136k. He has allegedly been accused of profiting from public funds, by forging three cheques totalling US$ 545k, one of which he encashed. José Antonio López-Monís, the MD of HLG since 2012, has reportedly been arrested in Dubai “as a result of a complaint filed with police”. No further details were immediately available.

Dubai-based retail and hospitality company, Landmark, has signed an agreement with Abu Dhabi’s Reem Mall to open 23 stores. The 43-year old conglomerate represents some 55 brands and employs 55k in the MENA region and India.

Despite closing its flagship Oxford St outlet, within a year of its opening, Dubai-based The Toy Store is planning to open six stores in the UK. The RM Retail group also has operations in Bahrain, Oman and Qatar.

The London-based economic research consultancy, Capital Economics, has forecast that the UAE will record 2016 growth of 2.0% – its lowest level since 2010 – and down from the previous two years (2014 – 3.1% and 2015 – 3.8%); the good news is that they expect a pickup in 2017/18. The main drag factors have been attributed to the low oil price and fiscal tightening, in the wake of government spending cuts.

Drake & Scull, with a current workforce of 31k, is reviewing its business operations and looking for strategic investors to help boost its flagging business. With its share price having fallen over 10% since announcing a Q2 loss of US$ 57 million, and liabilities of US$ 1.7 billion, the Dubai-based construction and engineering company has been a casualty of the economic slowdown and delayed payments prevalent in the sector.

As reported in last week’s blog, DP World was planning to cut back on its immediate expansion in the wake of the global slowdown. Despite these softer market conditions, the port operator returned H1 increases in revenue – up 10.2% to US$ 2.1 billion – and profit by 50.0% to US$ 166 million.

As the banking sector sees diminished returns, mainly because of the low energy prices and a slowing global economy, many local financial institutions have been laying off staff. For example, earlier in the year Emirates Islamic cut 200 from its then 2.2k payroll and has just announced a further 100 redundancies, mainly in its SME section.

Abraaj Group is reportedly divesting its 66% share in Pakistan’s biggest utility company, K-Electric, thought to be worth in the region US$ 1.5 billion. It seems likely that a Chinese bidder, probably Shanghai Electric Power, will be successful but there are other Chinese and Pakistani companies showing interest in the Karachi-based power company, in which the government has a 24% stake.

The DFM opened on Sunday at 3472 and rose 0.6% to close the week on 3492 by Thursday (25 August 2016). Volumes, on the last day of trading were at 261 million shares, valued at US$ 97 million, (cf 122 million shares for US$ 53 million, the previous Thursday). Bellwether stock, Emaar Properties, was down US$ 0.01 to US$ 1.92, whilst Arabtec was also lower by US$ 0.02 at US$ 0.40.

Brent crude reversed its recent upward trend, closing the week US$ 2.00 lower at US$ 48.89; gold followed suit also down – US$ 32 – to US$ 1,325 at Thursday’s (25 August 2016) close.

Two of China’s major petroleum giants reported dismal results. PetroChina’s profit slumped 98% to US$ 80 million, whilst CNOOC posted a US$ 1.2 billion loss, compared to a US$ 2.2 billion profit a year earlier.

As with other major energy-related companies, it is no surprise to see Glencore Plc’s H1 profit sinking 66.0% to US$ 300 million. The company, currently valued at US$ 36 billion, has been undergoing major structural reforms including selling assets, divesting stock valued at US$ 2.5 billion, scrapping dividend payments and introducing massive spending cuts.

VW has settled week-long disputes with the Bosnian-based Prevent Group, supplier of seat and transmission components, and ES Automobilguss transmission-parts unit, which had halted production of its Golf hatchback and Passat sedan; the closure affected 27.7k employees. It is estimated that a closure of its Wolfsburg facility (responsible for its Golf production) would have cost US$ 113 million a week. The German carmaker is still reeling from the emission testing scandal for which it has already provided US$ 20.3 billion.

After several thousand job losses and aircraft sales, Qantas has managed to slash costs by US$ 1.2 billion over the past 30 months, including US$ 418 million for the current year ending 30 June. Consequently, with a record profit of US$ 1.1 billion, the shareholders will reap the reward of the 3-year restructuring plan, with their first dividend payment (US$ 0.05) in 7 years.

Having been hit with write-downs of US$ 2.0 billion ensured that Australia’s Woolworths posted a US$ 926 million annual loss – following last year’s profit of US$ 1.6 billion. Closing its hardware sector and underperforming stores were the reasons for the impairment provisions. It plans to sell its failed hardware chain Masters, with 8k staff, to Metcash for US$ 124 million.

Following its failed April attempt to take over Allergan, in a massive US$ 160 billion deal, Pfizer has confirmed that it is set to acquire US cancer drug firm, Medivation, for US$ 14 billion. The 12-year old company had seen its share value double over the past six months and the offer of US$ 81.50 per share was 21% higher than at the close of trading last Friday.

The US Treasury is not happy with the EC and its tax dealings with the likes of Amazon, Apple, DHL and Starbucks. It has accused the bloc of applying new laws retrospectively, overstepping its powers and targeting US companies. Although it acknowledges the problem of lucrative tax breaks introduced by countries such as Belgium, Ireland and Luxembourg, I guess their main beef is that the US taxpayer loses out.

With the hawkish Urjit Patel set to replace Raghuram Rajan as governor of the Reserve Bank of India, it seems that, although the market is a little nervy, there will be no immediate change in policy; accordingly, an early interest rate cut is unlikely. The new incumbent will have to keep an eye on inflation, as it has edged higher to 6.07% – well above the central bank’s 5.0% short-term target.

It is not all doom and gloom in the UK with certain sectors benefitting from the weaker pound. A CBI poll found that UK export orders have hit a two-year high with goods becoming cheaper for overseas purchasers, following the mini devaluation in sterling in the wake of the Brexit vote. Another report – by Global Blue – estimated that overseas visitors spent 7% more in tax free shopping in July than the same month in 2015.

There was also good news for the UK auto trade, with over 1 million vehicles built in the first seven months of the year – the first time since 2004 and 12.3% higher than the same period in 2015.

Another plus from the vote could see even closer ties with the UAE and expanded trade opportunities. In Q1, total trade topped US$ 1.8 billion, with imports of US$ 1.3 billion, reexports – US$ 0.4 billion – and US$ 0.1 billion worth of exports.

However, one potential loser is Scotland, with the national government there projecting an annual cost of US$ 14.5 billion, as a result of the June referendum, as well as tax revenues falling by US$ 4.9 billion. Furthermore, Scottish government’s North Sea energy revenue slumped by 97% to just US$ 79 million, compared to US$ 2.4 billion last year (and US$ 15.3 billion, seven years earlier). Consequently, the country’s fiscal deficit now stands at US$ 19.5 billion, equating to 9.5% of the country’s GDP.

It seems that so far Brexit has had little impact for the EU, although the bloc’s economy is still somewhat subdued. August’s Markit’s flash composite PMI for the Eurozone nudged up 1 notch to 53.3. Remarkably, France reported strong growth in its service sector, whilst Germany, although still healthy, headed in the opposite direction. However the bloc’s travel and tourism sector has been badly hit by recent terrorist activity and floods, with France the biggest casualty – the World Travel and Tourism Council estimate the French sector’s contribution to GDP will fall from 2.9% to 1.1%, with a loss of an estimated US$ 850 million in H1. With consumer confidence still low, Q3 EU growth will remain subdued at 0.3%, with little change in the 0.2% inflation rate.

The new opera house will have to pull out all stops as it joins the ranks of the likes of La Scala, Teatro di San Carlo, Teatro Colon, The Royal Opera House, The Bolshoi and Sydney. However, with its state-of-the-art audio-visual technology and innovative design, the 2k-seat venue will not only become the regional cultural hub but also a global centre for opera, theatre and the performing arts. At its opening this week, the Dubai public have the opportunity to see Plácido Domingo and become the first of many to spend A Night At The Opera.

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