Slippin’ and Slidin’

Anybody with US$ 22 million to spare can become the proud owner of Lebanon, a 420k sq ft island, located in Nakheel’s The World Islands. This comes complete with chalets, a swimming pool, two beaches and a restaurant. Currently owned by an Indian businessman, it has been on the market since the beginning of the year. Although other islands are up for sale, this would be one of the few which has been developed.

This week, Azizi announced the launch of Fawad Azizi Residence – the developer’s third project in Dubai Healthcare City. At a US$ 93 million cost, it will comprise 396 units (201 studios, 165 1 B/R and 30 2 B/R) following the other two projects Aliyah Residences and Farhad Azizi Residence, with 346 and 634 apartments respectively.

Meraas has signed an agreement with Caesars that will see the Las Vegas-based operator manage two properties on Bluewaters Island. The two – an upscale 178-key “Caesars Palace” property and another with 301 rooms – will open in Q4 and will be the first Caesars’ branded hotels in the Gulf. Caesars Entertainment – which operates 39k hotel rooms and 53 properties in five countries – organises over 10k live entertainment show, some of which will find their way to Dubai.

Having secured funding, and expanded its workforce by 28.6% to 9k, Emaar Properties’ Indian entity will complete all of its 10k delayed residential units by the end of 2019. Over the past two years, it has finished more than 5k properties.

The Museum of Illusions is set to open on 12 September in Al Seef, near the Dubai Creek. The first such museum opened in Zagreb in 2015 and the Dubai entree will be the sixth branch to open since then; it will house eighty visual and sensory exhibits, including a Vortex Tunnel, which tricks visitors to think that the ground is moving, and Ames Room, where guests shrink or grow, depending on their position.

Dubai Airport Freezone Authority posted an 8.0% hike in H1 profits, driven by revenue increases in both government services (31%) and licensing – 10%. Over that period, there was a 43% rise in leasable area, including 63% and 29% increases in warehouse and office space respectively; the number of registered companies was 15% higher. DAFZA’s first project outside of its airport location, its Industrial Park, has an 82% occupancy rate.

As part of its strategy to provide easily accessible, personalised services to all its customers, du is to open nine retail outlets in the country. The Dubai-based telecoms operator is to employ fifty staff to service the centres.

Local petrol prices are set to rise as from Saturday, 01 September. Special 95 will be US$ 0.0054 higher (0.07%) at US$ 0.706 per litre, with diesel marginally higher at US$ 0.719.

A significant milestone is in the offing for Dubai International, as sometime later this year it will welcome its number 1 billionth visitor. The airport recorded its second busiest-ever month in July with 8.2 million passengers – 1.8% higher than a year earlier; YTD traffic, at 51.9 million, is up 1.6%. Cargo volumes, totalling 223k tonnes, were 4.8% higher but YTD figures of 1.49 million tonnes came in 1.6% lower.

A new report by PayPal and Ipsos sees UAE online spending to top US$ 9.8 billion by the end of the year. It appears that cross-border shopping has grown by 14.7% to US$ 3.4 billion, over the past two years, and is set to expand even quicker,  as the number of users has increased from 33% to 61% over the past twelve months. The US, India and China accounted for 53% of most popular cross-border shopping destinations – accounting for 22%, 16% and 15% of the total.

With the main aim of facilitating the sharing of information on financial sector innovation, an agreement has been signed by Dubai Financial Services Authority and the Monetary Authority of Singapore. This will see the referral of innovative FinTech companies between both authorities. The DFSA and MAS also agreed to work on projects including on the application of blockchain and digital/mobile payments.

Majid Al Futtaim, who introduced Ski Dubai, an indoor resort with 22.5k sq mt of indoor ski area, to the world in 2005, is set to operate the Wintastar Shanghai indoor ski park. The project, which expects 3.2 million annual visitors when it opens in 2022, is a JV between Shanghai Lujiazui Development (Group) Company, Wintastar Holdings, a subsidiary of KOP, and Shanghai Harbour City Development (Group) Co. With a gross floor area of 227k sq mt, including a 90k sq mt alpine-themed ski and snow park, it will be the largest in the world and will have three slopes, including one to Olympic standards.

In December 2016, 7 Days shut down and this week it is Dubai-based weekly tabloid newspaper Xpress. The paper, published by Gulf News, will still continue as an on-line newspaper and there will be no staff layoffs. This is another indicator that print news media belongs to another era.

Fitch Ratings expect UAE’s fiscal surplus to grow at 3.2% this year on the back of rising energy prices, and by 3.8% in 2019. Because of government measures to boost the country’s economy, public spending will head in the same direction which will inevitably cut into the expanded oil revenue. The government will also be seeking to grow other non-oil revenue streams and has already introduced VAT; however, there is a fine balancing act to ensure that the economy retains its competitiveness on the global stage.

The UAE’s inflation rose to 3.78% in July, compared to 3.29% a month earlier. Since the beginning of the year (and the introduction of VAT), the index had fallen from 4.80% to 3.29% by the end of June, before creeping higher last month.

Six-year old Careem has confirmed that an IPO will not take place in the foreseeable future, as it still maintains focus on growing the platform, adding new cities and building new products. The Dubai-based ride-hailing app also denied rumours that it was in merger talks with Uber.

Investors in one of embattled Abraaj Group’s funds, the US$ 1.6 billion Private Equity Fund IV, are owed at least US$ 300 million, triple the amount first estimated. They have now requested the court-appointed liquidators, Deloitte and PwC, to remove the company as manager and stop Abraaj management fees forthwith. The investors’ council is unhappy with the “insufficient progress” made by the liquidators to stem losses in relation to “mismanagement and apparent fraudulent activity” by Abraaj and the general partner – and is threatening possible legal action. This week, the second bounced cheque case involving Ari Naqvi was settled out of court. The latest investor – following Kuwait’s Agility, York Capital and Abu Dhabi Financial Group – to show interest in acquiring most of its private equity funds’ business is Actis, a leading emerging market investor.

The DFM opened Sunday, 26 August, on 2816, and traded 0.8% higher to close the week on 2840. Emaar Properties was US$ 0.01 lower at US$ 1.37, with Arabtec also down US$ 0.01 at US$ 0.52. Over the month, both share values were lower – down from their August opening prices of US$ 1.44 and US$ 0.54. Volumes for the last week of August were weak at 184 million shares traded, valued at US$ 65 million.

By Thursday, 23 August, Brent, having climbed 4.2% the previous week, was up a further 4.1%, US$ 3.04, to US$ 77.77, with gold – jumping US$ 10 (3.3%) the previous week – US$ 11 higher to US$ 1,205.

China Petroleum & Chemical posted record high H1 profits of US$ 11.6 billion – 52.0% higher, year on year. Sinopec, the world’s largest refiner, benefitted from higher energy prices and better margins from selling higher-grade fuel products. Its shares have climbed 31.0% this year on the benchmark Hang Seng Index, which itself has fallen 7.5% over the same period.

Uber has decided to shift its focus to electric bikes and scooters (instead of cars) for short-distance inner city travel. The move will see the company, that posted a US$ 4.5 billion deficit last year, incur more short-term losses. In April, the ride-hailing firm invested US$ 200 million acquiring the bike-sharing company Jump.

In a bid to expand its presence in the self-driving car sector, Toyota is to invest US$ 500 million in a JV with Uber; this is a sector that the Japanese car-maker is trailing behind some of its rivals. The end product is to mass produce autonomous vehicles that would be deployed by Uber.

104-year old Aston Martin, is set to float on the London Stock Exchange which could value the iconic British sports carmaker at a mouth-watering US$ 6.4 billion. The IPO sees the company, which last year made its first profit since 2010, joining the likes of Ferrari which went public in 2015. It is thought that the company, whose main owners are Kuwaiti and Italian investors, will float at least a 25% stake to the public and that the flotation will go ahead later in the year.

In Australia, telecoms giants, Telstra and Optus, will now face increased competition following the US$ 10.8 billion merger of Vodafone Hutchison Australia and TPG Telecom. The former, owned by Hong Kong-based CK Hutchison and Vodafone Group, will have a 50.1% share and TPG, one the country’s largest internet service providers, the balance. Currently, Vodafone Hutchison Australia is the country’s third largest mobile operator, with a six million mobile customer base. On news of the merger, which has to be approved Competition and Consumer Commission, shares in Hutchinson rose by 44% and TPG by 18%.

July IATA figures indicate that ME air cargo growth continues to be the highest in the world at 5.4%, year on year, compared to the global average of just 2.1%; regional capacity was 6.3% higher and 3.8% on a worldwide basis. Global growth was at its lowest in over two years, with the tariff war being blamed for the slowdown.

Despite posting a record annual profit, up 14.3% to US$ 1.17 billion, driven by its non-international business, Qantas shares slumped 7.7% in early morning trading, before recovering somewhat by the end of the day. Investors were concerned that the forecast US$ 504 million increase in its fuel bill would impact on the airline’s bottom line, although CEO Alan Joyce seemed confident that the extra cost would be fully recovered in the domestic sector and mostly on its international routes. But in a competitive market, it is hard to see whether this will be possible and indicators are for flat earnings this year.

Air New Zealand’s results are also heading in the same direction, recording its second highest profit, but unlike its neighbour, it did warn that its future profit could be as much as 21% lower because of spiralling fuel costs.

How the mighty have fallen! Wonga, launched in 2007, is in the throes of going out of business – a sorry state of affairs for the payday lender which only recently was one of Britain’s fastest-growing consumer finance companies. Five years ago, the company, that became infamous for its sky-high interest rates on short-term loans, was looking at a US$ 1 billion New York IPO; only three weeks ago, the company received an emergency US$ 13 million cash injection, at which time its valuation was put at just US$ 30 million. It will be interesting to see who may be interested in acquiring the business and whether its fortunes can be reversed.

Although open for investment, Liverpool FC owners have confirmed that the club is not for sale. This comes after reports that Abu Dhabi-based Sheikh Khaled Bin Zayed Al Nayahan had made a US$ 2.6 billion bid earlier in the year. If the sale had gone ahead, it would have dwarfed the Glazer’s 2005 US$ 1.0 billion 2005 takeover of Manchester United which still remains the most expensive in football’s history. The 18-times English champions, now managed by Jürgen Norbert Klopp, was bought by the then known as New England Sports Ventures, for US$ 390 million in 2010; this year, KPMG valued the club at US$ 1.9 billion.

A major change will see Lloyd’s switch their auditors, PwC, who have been the bank’s auditors since 1865, to be replaced probably by Deloitte. The other two members of the Big 4 seem to have been ruled out; EY already audits RBS, Standard Chartered and several other major lenders, whilst KPMG is considered a “non-starter” because of its role as the auditor of HBOS, which Lloyds TSB bought during the 2008 banking crisis. Under recent EU rules, banks must rotate their auditors every five years.

On the subject of auditors, regulators are looking at how the big audit firms monopolise the market for the larger audits and there are reports that the nine larger entities may agree to place a cap on the number of FTSE 100 companies that any single accountancy firm can audit. To the outsider, the market looks a little skewed in favour of the big players.

Latest estimates points to the fact that Q2 growth in the Indian economy, driven by an improvement in manufacturing and exports, could be 7.6% -a tad down on the 7.7% growth noted in Q1 but still impressive. Union Minister, Arun Jaitley, is confident that the US$ 2.59 trillion economy, having overtaken France this year, could well become the world’s fifth largest if it surpasses the UK next year. This comes despite higher energy prices and a weakening rupee, trading on Thursday, 30 August, at a historic low of 71.42 to the US$ (and down 11.8% from its 01 January opening of 63.88).

Although Venezuela still dominates South American economic news, Argentina is back in the news. It is reported that President Mauricio Macri has requested the IMF to speed up a three-year stand-by US$ 50 billion loan package to support the country’s austerity programme and bolster the country’s weakening currency.  The government has agreed to slash its 2017 3.9% budget deficit to 2.7% this year and to 1.3% of GDP next year. Some hope! Not for the first time, the peso is under great strain, having lost over 50.5% to the greenback this year, whilst inflation is rampant. By Thursday, the peso was trading at 38.53, having lost 19.0% the previous two days, as the government ratcheted up interest rates by 15% to 60%! In June, the economy contracted 6.7% with an annual 0.6% negative growth rate.

The Trump administration appear confident that a trade agreement with Mexico is imminent, as their bilateral NAFTA differences are being resolved; this could be followed by Canada rejoining talks to get their differences fixed and their annual US$ 1.2 trillion trade running smoothly again. The Mexican Economy Minister, Ildefonso Guajardo, is on record that he will endorse nothing until Canada signs a new agreement.

The July US trade deficit in goods grew 6.3% to US$ 72.2 billion from US$ 67.9 billion a month earlier. Both wholesale inventories and retail stockpiles were both higher – by 0.7% and 0.4% respectively – as the consumer sentiment index climbed to 97.9. Meanwhile, the Conference Board’s confidence index rose by 5.5, month on month, to 133.4, despite analysts forecasting a dip to 126.8; this figure is the highest in over eighteen years. Such figures indicate that the US economy is in rude health and the forecast for the rest of the year is more solid growth. Q2 growth touched an annualised 4.2% – its fastest rate in four years – and an H1 expansion of 3.2%. The main driver continues to be the US$ 1.5 trillion tax cuts ushered in late last year along with the front-loading of soybean exports to China before the introduction of tariffs.

The honeymoon is over for Emmanuel Macron, with his government becoming increasingly unpopular and which now has to reform social spending. His pre-election promises included a boost for both jobs and growth which have not transpired; indeed, the growth forecast next year has already been cut from 1.9% to 1.7% and this in turn will bump up the public budget deficit from its current level of 2.3% of economic output to 2.6% this year and as much as 3.0% by the end of 2019. From being a man of the people, when elected last year, the French President’s aloof leadership (in line with many of his recent predecessors) and a scandal involving his personal Moroccan body guard, have seen his approval rating plummet to just 34% – a record low. (Even Donald Trump has a higher rating of 41%). For Argentina, Venezuela, Wonga, many emerging markets’ currencies and Emmanuel Macron, it appears that they are all Slippin’ and Slidin’.

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