Life Is A Highway

Jumeirah Beach witnessed two “smart” events this week. The first saw the Crown Prince, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, attend the maiden concept flight of the world’s first self-flying taxi service. The two-seater AAT (autonomous air taxi), supplied by German company Volocopter, transports people – without a pilot – and can remain airborne for 30 minutes and reach speeds of 100 kph. The RTA is planning to use the services in the future and has enlisted US-based JDA Aviation Company to oversee preparations for AAT flights and manage safety.

Meanwhile the Costa ‘coffee-copter’ (a specially engineered drone) carried out a one day trial delivering from its Jumeirah Beach Road drive thru store to “beach” customers, within 15 minutes of ordering.

The DMCC unveiled plans of its rebranded Uptown Dubai (formerly known as Burj 2020), located at the south end of JLT. The project will comprise seven towers, with 10 million sq ft of built up space. With two ‘super-tall’ towers (each over 300 mt high) on either side of the plaza, the district will contain 3k residences, office space, a number of luxury hotels, a twin-level central entertainment plaza – bigger than New York’s Time Square – and 200 retail outlets. Phase 1 will be ready by 2020, with the final two phases slated for completion by 2024.

Work has started on another of Dubai’s iconic landmarks – the One Za’abeel – featuring two towers linked by what is to be the “world’s largest cantilever”. With Alec Engineering the main contractor, the twin towers (67 and 57 storeys), will have a 210 mt sky concourse – The Linx, at a height of 100 mt. Both towers will sit on seven basement levels and three levels of podium. The developer, Investment Corporation Development, expects completion by 2020.

Prescott Real Estate Development announced a US$ 45 million residential and commercial project, Prime Views. Located in Meydan Avenue, the 225k sq ft development will include 133 one-bedroom units and 18 two-bedroom units, with completion by Q4 2019. The area will also have a health club, retail and food outlets.

Arabtec’s subsidiary, Target Engineering, has won a US$ 53 million Emaar contract for phase 1 of the Forte Project in Downtown. The work involves the construction of five basements for two residential towers and should be completed by the end of Q3 next year. In July, the same company won four contracts totalling US$ 79 million.

Sales in Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum City District 1 have gone well, with 520 villas already sold for a combined total of US$ 2.45 billion in its first two stages. The 267 villas in phase 1 are almost ready with the balance in the next phase completed by next year.

It is expected that Marriott will open six new regional properties in the coming months, with three destined for the Dubai market – Bulgari on  Jumeirah Bay Island, Renaissance in Downtown and a ‘W’ on Palm Jumeirah. To those who think the sector is saturated, the world’s largest hotel chain has 18 more properties in its Dubai pipeline.

Revenues and room rates continued their downward spiral into August, with latest STR figures showing declines in occupancy (down 5.9%) to 68.4%), average daily rates off 8.3% at US$ 115 and revenue per available room 134.7% lower at US$ 79. Despite YTD demand increasing by 4.8%, this was less than the 5.1% growth in new supply.

According to the latest MasterCard Global Destinations Cities Index, Dubai was ranked the fourth most popular in the world behind Bangkok, London and Paris. Last year, the emirate attracted 14.9 million visitors who spent a total of US$ 28.5 billion.

The Global Competitiveness Report ranks the UAE 17th in a listing of 137 countries in terms of competiveness – down one place from 2016. Despite this, the country is still the leading nation in the Arab world. The top three positions went to Switzerland (again), USA and Singapore.

A German study, carried out by auto parts retailer kfzteile24, has put Dubai as the second best city for driving out of more than 100 global locations! Just behind Dusseldorf, it came ahead of Zurich, Tokyo and Basel.

A Knight Frank report indicates that Dubai has the 18th most expensive global rent – at US$ 44 per sq ft – when it comes to high-rise buildings. Dubai’s rent, which has remained flat in H1 – is still some way off that of the top three – Hong Kong, New York and Tokyo at US$ 304, US$ 162 and US$ 140 respectively.

In yet another survey this week sees the country tenth in the HSBC Expat Explorer study of most preferred destinations for expats. UAE has moved up two places in the survey of 27.5k people around the world with Singapore, Norway and New Zealand in the top three places.

A report by Payfort expects the regional e-commerce market to double to US$ 69 billion by 2020, with the two main players, UAE (US$ 27 billion) and Saudi Arabia (US$ 22 billion) dominating the sector.  Some studies indicate that the UAE has the world’s highest social media penetration. (Coincidentally, the US$ 1 billion e-commerce site, noon.com, driven by the Emaar Chairman Mohammed Alabbar, goes live this Sunday).

There was no surprise to see that Dubai International recorded its busiest month ever in August with a 6.6% jump in passenger numbers to 8.23 million, compared to the same month in 2016. Despite a 1.7% decline in flight movements to 34.4k, the uptick was driven by a 7.2% hike in the number of passengers per flight to 246. In August, cargo handled reached 222k tonnes – a 10.1% month on month rise.

JAFZA posted a 2.2% increase in H1 profit to US$ 164 million despite a marginal 0.2% fall in revenue to US$ 266 million. During the period, capital expenditure was at US$ 198 million.

A Dubai Chamber of Commerce report estimated that the sale of bottled water in the country will top US$ 736 million by 2021, growing at a 9.3% compound annual growth rate. Of the current total, carbonated water accounts for just 1%, flavored water – 5% – and the balance distilled water.

Sunday will see the start of the new Excise Duty that will result in the current selling prices of both energy drinks and cigarettes doubling overnight whilst carbonated drinks will register a 50% retail price increase.

Meanwhile, October petrol prices will also change on the same day. Special 95 will see a 5.8% increase to US$ 0.555 per litre, with diesel prices up 5.0% to US$ 0.572.

DHL has announced a 4.9% hike in its regional annual general average price increase commencing 01 January 2018. The global express service provider indicated an additional rate increase for heavier (more than 300kg) and bulkier time definite international shipments.

Emaar’s chairman, Mohamed Alabbar, has been appointed a board member of Aramex; in July, several of his investment companies acquired a 16.45% in the logistics company.

By June, the federal government had a 6.7% budget surplus; YTD revenue came in at US$ 10.2 billion (equivalent to 78.4% of the 2017 total), as expenditure was lower at US$ 8.4 billion.

The country’s Q2 inflation – at 2.0% – was well down on the previous quarter’s level of 2.7%. There were increases in housing/utilities of 0.9% and food/beverages – 1.1% – whilst transport costs dipped 1.1%.

The country has launched a US$ 136 million Mars Science City project which aims to replicate a viable and realistic model of life on the Red Planet. The project, on 1.9 million sq ft of land, will include laboratories and agricultural testing facilities to be manned by a UAE team of scientists and engineers.

The UAE is using Japanese assistance in its plan to increase the region’s rainfall by cloud seeding. The researchers will follow the aircraft dispersing the seeds and measure their efficacy and a cloud’s micro-properties. The Japanese scientists, along with their local counterparts, will then further study the seeding effects in laboratory tests and information gleaned from aerial and ground-based measurements.

With its first of four planned nuclear reactors 96% complete, the UAE Energy Minister, HE Suhail Mohammed Al Mazrouei, announced it will open next year. Korea Electric Power Group is building the US$ 20 billion Barakah plant and when all four reactors are in operation, they will produce 5.6k MW of electricity every year. In its move away from fossil fuels, the country is aiming for 27% of ‘clean’ energy by 2021, rising to 50% by 2050.

The Islamic Development Bank has issued a US$ 1.25 billion sukuk on Nasdaq Dubai – its eighth on the exchange, bringing its total value to US$ 10.25 billion. The latest listing brings the bourse’s total value of sukuks to US$ 52.5 billion.

The DFM opened Sunday (24 September), at 3633 and fell 67 points (1.9%) to close the week on Thursday, 28 September at 3564. Volumes continued on the thin side, with trading of 137 million shares, valued at US$ 51 million, (cf 86 million shares for US$ 44 million, on Thursday, 21 September). Emaar Properties was down US$ 0.09 at US$ 2.31, with Arabtec down a further US$ 0.02 to US$ 0.78. For September, the bourse dipped 72 points, having started the month on 3638, whilst Emaar was only US$ 0.01 lower but Arabtec dropped US$ 0.11.

By Thursday, Brent Crude was US$ 0.73 (1.3%) higher on the week, closing at US$ 56.43, with gold continuing its recent downward trend, dropping a further US$ 6 to US$ 1,289 by 28 September 2017.

Scalia, owned by VW, has been fined US$ 1 billion by EU regulators for its role – with four other companies – in a 14 year cartel to fix truck prices. DAF, Daimler, Iveco and Volvo had already been fined a combined US$ 3.3 billion.

Fairfax Media is planning to divest itself of its Domain real estate business in a US$ 1.6 billion deal that will see shareholders receive one share in the new entity for every ten Fairfax shares owned. Australian analysts value each of Fairfax Media’s 2.3 billion shares at US$ 0.87, with one Domain share worth US$ 0.70.

Citing “continued investment in prices and infrastructure”, Aldi has reported a 17.0% slide in 2016 UK profit despite a 13.5% hike in revenue to US$ 11.9 billion. The German chain, with 726 stores in the country and plans for a further 70 this year, has a 6.9% market share and is regarded as having the lowest prices in the sector.

According to Moody’s, as it cut the UK’s rating one notch to Aa2, the country’s budget deficit will hover around 3% of GDP in the coming years and will not reach the government’s 2020 target of 1.0%. Even though the deficit has fallen dramatically since 2010, when it stood at 10%, the agency has indicated that the outlook had weakened somewhat after the fall of the Cameron regime which had pushed austerity measures a little too far. At this level, the UK will be one of the few developed countries whose public debt ratio is likely to rise – but probably no higher than 92% of GDP within the next two years.

There has been yet another Chinese acquisition of a UK tech company – this time in a US$ 750 million deal, Canyon Bridge has bought Imagination. The chip designer decided to go ahead with a sale after its largest customer, Apple, announced in June that it would stop buying its products.

To some, Ryanair have been flying close to the wind for some time and their day of reckoning has arrived. The CAA, Civil Aviation Authority, had threatened the Irish budget airline with legal action for “persistently misleading” passengers about their rights, following the early September announcement of 50 daily flights to be cancelled until the end of October and this week’s suspension of 34 routes during the winter season. In all, the total number of affected customers amounts to 800k.

This week the US authorities slapped a draconian 220% import tariff on the sale of Bombardier C-Series jets that could impact on thousands of jobs in Northern Ireland. Consequently, the UK government has reacted warning Boeing, the instigator of the complaint, that its status as a ‘long-term partner’ is at risk. The US company is also having legal battles with Airbus, as both sides accuse each other of taking advantage of government subsidies. No wonder then that The Economist called Boeing’s action “a flight of hypocrisy”.

One UK industry that will benefit from Brexit is sugar beet. For the first time in fifty years, it will be in a position to produce and sell as much sugar as it wants; on the other hand, European competitors from the likes of Germany and France can do the same. Incidents, like what happened in 2015, will not happen again; because of a bumper harvest, British Sugar produced 1.4 million tonnes but could only sell 1.06 million tonnes, having to store the balance (at great expense) for the following year. 60% of the UK’s 2 million tonne consumption emanates from UK sugar producers, with 15% from the EU and the balance from the rest of the world.

If anyone was questioning the efficacy of Chinese companies, they will just have to note that the country’s August industrial profits jumped 24.0%, year on year, to US$ 101 billion – its highest increase in four years and 16.5% higher than July’s return. The main driver is a government-backed construction boom that has seen building material prices ratchet higher.

Fitch Ratings has concerns about China’s high debt levels and warned of the distinct possibility of local government bond defaults and its contagion effect on the global economy. The bonds, issued by Chinese local government financing vehicles (LGFVs), have increasingly utilised the country’s shadow banking sector, especially after official lines of credit diminished, as the central government introduced stringent regulations. It is estimated that LGFV debt equates to 5.4% of China’s GDP and that a massive US$ 605 billion of such bonds have been issued since 2015.

The Asian Development Bank has amended its April 6.5% growth forecast for China to 6.7% (and its 2018 from 6.2% to 6.4%); this is in line with the IMF’s latest estimates. In H1, China’s growth was at 6.9%, driven by impressive service growth, improving exports and strong domestic consumption. However, there are concerns that rising debt levels and the move to a more market and services-driven economy may drag growth rates lower; it is noted that S&P’s worries saw the agency cut China’s sovereign credit rating to A+ from AA-.

In August, with apparent self-interest in mind, the Brazilian government agreed to open up a vast 46k sq km Amazonian reserve (as big as Denmark) to commercial mining. Following indigenous and global concerns about the environmental damage that would result, the President Michel Temer decree has been revised to prohibit mining in conservation or indigenous areas.

The Bank of England has forecast that if there were a sharp economic downturn, the banks could lose US$ 41 billion on their lending on credit card and personal loans. This could happen if interest were to suddenly rise and there was a spike in unemployment levels. As there are worries in the increase in consumer debt, it has requested UK banks to hold an extra US$ 13.7 billion to guard against the increased “pocket of risk”. As inflation levels are nearer 3% than the BoE’s 2% level, expect interest rates to probably double to 0.5% in the coming months.

The ECB President Mario Draghi is confident that recent positive economic data will continue and the euro area economies finally have broad-based traction, driven by improving employment levels and consumer confidence. Although the inflation level has still not reached the 2.0% target, the bank admits that “a very substantial degree of monetary accommodation is still needed for the upward inflation path to materialise”. There is every possibility that the bank could consider the possibility of rate hikes and a tapering of its massive QE monthly purchases as early as next month.

As he had promised in his manifesto, Donald Trump is keen to overhaul the US tax system, including slashing corporation tax from 35% to 20% and doubling the amount individuals/families can deduct (before paying tax) to US$ 24k. There is no doubt that the tax system is cumbersome, complex and out-dated and any simplification would make the country more competitive. It will be interesting to see how some of the country’s big companies, that seem to hide profits in offshore locations, react!

One of the major decisions ever made in Saudi Arabia is that of allowing women to drive in the Kingdom. It is a sign to the rest of the world that it is committed to implementing ambitious economic and social reforms that can only benefit the long term future of the country and the region. To some of the women in the Kingdom, come June 2018, Life Is A Highway.

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