Joker In The Pack

This week, HH Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum launched a mega tourism and leisure project.  MGM Resorts International has been selected by wasl Hospitality and Leisure to develop and operate a “premier destination resort” on a 26 acre integrated island, close to Burj Al Arab. The development will include 1k rooms with ten villas and introduce the first MGM Hotel, MGM Residences along with a Bellagio Hotel to the region. The island, with a 1.2km corniche surround, will have all the usual retail and eating outlets.

Spread over 3.5 million square metres of area, Nakheel has awarded a US$ 50 million contract to Parkway International Contracting LLC to build its 375-key hotel, adjacent to Ibn Battuta Mall. The Avani hotel, to be managed by Thailand’s Minor Hotel Group, is part of a US$ 65 million project.

The Royal Bay project on Palm Jumeirah is 80% complete and will be completed by the end of the year, according to developer Azizi. The 90-unit building will include one-two bedroom units as well as two penthouses. The developer is planning a further 50 new developments this year!

Over the next four years, Paris Gallery plans to open 30 new regional stores that would see a 34.9% increase in outlets to 86 and in the number of its employees by 45.7% to 5.1k, with a projected retail area of 3.2 million sq mt.

Monday witnessed the opening of the US$ 326 million phase 2 of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park; the 200 MgW plant covers an area of 4.5k sq km and includes 2.3 million photovoltaic panels. The four-phase development is set to pump out 1k MgW on completion in 2020, with both phases 3 and 4 already awarded to a consortium headed by Masdar.

It was no surprise to see Dubai being ranked as the most popular choice for global companies setting up regional MENA HQs. Market research firm, Informineo, estimated that there was a 17% hike in the number of companies setting up in the region in 2016, with Dubai ahead of the likes of Johannesburg, Casablanca and Nairobi.

It is reported that the saga of Dubai-based online retailer Souq.com being acquired by Amazon.com may be coming to an end, with an agreement confirming the 100% takeover. No finances were available but it will probably be around the US$ 600k mark. A surprise last minute US$ 800million bid by Emaar Malls may spook the potential US investor.

The launch of the US$ 1 billon Noon.com will probably take place next month, following three months of beta-testing the ecommerce site. The venture between Mohammed Alabbar and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund will offer millions of items, from a wide selection range, including a focus on fashion, for online sale which will include a three hour, door-to-door delivery service and even an attractive returns policy.

Embattled Drake & Scull has sold its share for US$ 82 million in the One Palm project to its JV partner, Omniyat Properties. The development, due for completion next year, will house 90 apartments (at a starting price of US$ 3.8 million, up to US$ 54 million for a penthouse).

Dubai’s tourism sector reported a 12 per cent year-on-year growth in visitor numbers over the first two months of 2017, with over three million people visiting Dubai. The growth was driven by significant increases from the Chinese and Russian sectors.

HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has inaugurated the first happiness council in the world which will launch a yearly Global Happiness report. The Dubai Ruler also announced a 13-member council in the same week as International Happiness Day.

There was more news on the workings of the new VAT legislation, due to come into force on 01 January 2018 – this may be delayed because it is expected that all six GCC countries want to go “live” at the same time. The Ministry of Finance has set a US$ 100k minimum revenue threshold and any business with revenue less than that, or any company that offers services or goods that are non-taxable, need not register; however, those companies with a threshold of between US$ 50k and US$ 100k will have the option to register in October, if they so desire.

The VAT law has yet to be enacted by the UAE government but a 5% charge will be levied on all supplies of goods and services unless either zero-rated or exempted. To date, no notice of what is and what is not taxable has been given.

The Board of Commercial Bank of Dubai has approved a US$ 0.055 2016 dividend totalling US$ 153 million, as well as the go-ahead to update the bank’s US$ 3 billion medium-term note programme. However, it rejected moves to allow GCC nationals to own a percentage of the bank’s equity (not exceeding 40%) and to increase its capital by a further 5%.

Damac Properties’ shareholders will also benefit with the announcement of a 25% 2016 cash dividend, costing the company US$ 412 million

Gems Education announced that its H1 revenue had jumped 15.5% to US$ 539 million on the back of a rise in student numbers and a jump in average revenue per student. (The number of students in private education is at a record level of 265k and the growth is set to continue, with a further 20 private schools to open this year alone).

Dubai World is one of four suiters bidding for a 67% stake in Greece’s second largest port, Thessaloniki, along with others from Germany, Japan and Philippines. The company is also in discussions with the Panamanian government about establishing a presence in the Canal area.

Largely because of the acquisitions of Jebel Ali Free Zone and its new Canadian terminal, DP World posted increases in both 2016 revenue and profit – by 5.0% to US$ 4.16 billion and an impressive 28.0% to US$ 1.13 billion respectively. Gross volumes, in a difficult trading environment, rose by 3.2%. A dividend of US$ 0.38 (up from US$ 0.30 in 2015) was declared.

Utilising a UK-based startup Splyt Technologies Ltd, Dubai’s Careem has allied with China’s Yidao Yongche to share resources. This will see both companies sharing one common app that will enable customers to use either company’s services without downloading new software.

In line with the 2016 state-run initiative, Government Accelerators, it is estimated that 1k Emiratis have already been hired this year in various UAE financial institutions. Companies have been encouraged to support the Emiratisation drive and it seems that this number will increase over the coming months.

Dubai Holding, with an asset portfolio exceeding US$ 35 billion, has a new chairman, with Abdulla Al Habbai taking over form the departing Mohammed Al Gergawi. The new incumbent will remain as chairman of Meraas Holding.

Despite a loan default by its Nigerian subsidiary, S&P have maintained Etisalat’s AA-/Stable/A-1+ rating. Its investment is insignificant with the loan not guaranteed by the parent company and comes on the back of that country’s dire shortage of US$, a falling currency and an economic slump.

Emirates NBD Reit, the country’s second real estate investment trust, had its first day of trading on Nasdaq Dubai and closed on Thursday 5.4% up on its opening price at US$ 0.336.

On Wednesday, much-troubled Arabtec announced that it would issue 1.5 billion shares, with a par value of US$ 0.272, in a rights issue – this figure is 15.6% higher than its Tuesday’s closing price of US$ 0.236. Shareholders, who do not participate in the scheme, will see their share value being diluted by 24.53%.

The DFM opened Sunday at 3520 and ended the week 1.7% down by Thursday (23 March 2017) at 3461. Volumes weakened considerably over the week, closing on Thursday at 153 million shares, valued at US$ 63 million, (cf 592 million shares for US$ 181 million, the previous Thursday). Emaar Properties has had better weeks, shedding US$ 0.06 to US$ 1.98, with Arabtec flat at US$ 0.24.

By Thursday, Brent Crude was US$ 1.18 lower (2.3%) to close on US$ 50.56, with gold again taking advantage of a volatile week, up 1.6% (US$ 20) to US$ 1,247 by 23 March 2017.

It seems that Apple has not paid any New Zealand tax, totalling US$ 282 million, for more than a decade, despite posting sales in excess of US$ 3.1 billion. The tech firm claims that its tax is paid in the USA, as that is the jurisdiction where its products and services have been created.

India’s largest telecoms company will be created with the merger of Vodaphone and Idea Cellular that will capture 35% of the country’s market share, 41% of the sector’s revenue and 400 million customers. The UK company will own 45.1% of the entity, once it transfers 4.9% to its new partner for US$ 579 million.

Following in Lufthansa’s footsteps, BA is the latest airline to launch a new long haul budget airline. Based in Barcelona, Level, the airline’s fifth brand, will initially utilise two A-330s and Iberia crew for journeys to Buenos Aires, LA, Oakland and Punta Cana (Dominican Republic).

The airline was also in the news this week for less salubrious reasons and has had to pay the EC US$ 114 million in fines for being in an alleged air cargo cartel with ten other carriers. The total penalty came to US$ 848 million with Air France-KLM worst hit, by a US$ 340 million fine.

Having rejected an earlier US$ 22 billion offer from US industrial chemical conglomerate, PPG, it seems that AkzoNobel will be approached again with a better offer. The Dutch company, maker of Dulux and Hammerite paints, had earlier stated that the initial bid underestimated its real value. The company has just opened a US$ 119 million paint factory in the UK.

It is reported that two tobacco giants – Japan Tobacco International (owner of Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut) and L&B – are interested in acquiring an equity stake in cash and carry company, Palmer & Harvey. The UK private company, employing over 4k, with annual revenues in excess of US$ 5 billion, has concerns following Tesco’s proposed US$ 4.7 billion takeover of Booker.

An indicator that some growth is returning to the luxury goods market came with the news that Hermes had posted a 13.0% jump in its 2016 profits to US$ 1.2 billion; this comes a month after its nemesis LVMH also reported record profits. Coincidentally, on Thursday it was reported that the De Beers Group had acquired the remaining 50% stake from LVMH in De Beers Diamond Jewellers.

Another week and another South Korean family in trouble. This time four members of the Kyuk-ho “chaebol “  (dynasty), behind the US$ 81 billion Lotte Group, were in court on charges including embezzlement, tax evasion and fraud.

Lithuanian rogue, Evaldas Rimasauskas, is a clever person. Between 2013-2015, he managed to extract over US$ 100 million from two US tech firms in a polished phishing scam. These two unnamed and unwary victims were tricked into sending money into various Asian bank accounts, using a Latvian company with a bogus name identical to an Asian-based computer hardware manufacturer.

It seems that 17 UK-based banks could have been involved to the tune of US$ 738 million in a US$ 20.8 billion Russian money laundering scam, involving 96 countries, including the UAE. Allegations by The Guardian indicate that the money was moved out of Russia between 2010 – 2014. If true, it would not be the first time that the banks’ conduct has been found wanting – and it will be the customers who pick up the tab again for any fines levied.

Brazilian authorities have suspended 33 government officials relating to allegations that meat processors have been selling rotten beef and poultry for years, as three plants have been closed and a further 21 under scrutiny.  Among the companies under the spotlight are BRF, the leading global poultry producer and JBS, the world’s largest beef exporter; Brazil is the world’s leading red meat exporter.

There have been some disappointing economic data emanating from the eurozone, with a weakening of the trade surplus, by 32.0% to US$ 16.9 billion, as a result of exports lagging by 0.6% whilst imports jumped by 4.1%. Meanwhile January construction output was down 2.3%, month on month, driven by a 7.7% slump in civil engineering production. Inflation levels continue to move north, up two notches on the month, reaching 2.0% in February – and accelerating at its fastest level in over four years.

This week’s G20 finance ministers’ meeting failed to renew their long-standing free trade pledge – and just a year after it declared its promise to “resist all forms of protectionism”. This change has arisen because of President Trump’s approach that he believes in free trade but also in balanced trade, allied with his “America First” policy.

Poor old Donald Trump – he gets blamed when the stock markets either go up or down. On Tuesday, Wall Street had its worst trading day since his election, with the Dow dipping 1.14% to 20,668, the S&P 500 by 1.24% to 2344 and the Nasdaq falling 1.83% to 5794. The main driver was evidently whether he would be capable of delivering his promised tax cuts, especially as he having problems with his healthcare legislation.

As expected, the UK government announced that 29 March will be the start date for formal talks for the country to exit the EU. This is more than nine months since the Brexit referendum and now article 50 in the Lisbon treaty will see discussions start formally.

The UK economy still defies its many critics and will continue to grow this year despite inflation hitting 2.3% (and eroding disposable incomes) but helped by an increase in both exports and investment. The main drivers behind the high inflation figure come down to rising food and fuel prices, mainly as a result of a 13% fall in sterling following the Brexit referendum.

UK house prices continue to head north, albeit at a slower rate of 1.3% month on month, compared to 2.0% in February. On an annual basis, growth came in at 2.3%.

Still serving as a sitting MP (which some may think is a full-time job in itself) and “earning” US$ 94k plus expenses, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne has just been appointed the editor of London’s Evening Standard. Furthermore he is thought to earn a further US$ 818k for advising fund management firm Blackrock for one day a week; he is also chairman of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership as well as a speaker at the Washington Speaker’s Bureau. In October alone it was reported that he picked up US$ 400k for speeches (including US$ 175k for two with JP Morgan). Of all the 625 MPs, the member from Tatton is unfortunately far from being the only Joker In The Pack

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