Gambles Dubai with its financial reputation ?
Posted by 7starsdubai on November 30, 2009
original source Zawya
When you start building a third island shaped like a palm tree, intending it to be as big and crowded as Manhattan, you are crying out for a sober voice to bark: “Stop!”
But when that island is just one atoll in an artificial archipelago that would reconfigure the Persian Gulf coast into a thicket of trees, a map of the world, a whirling galaxy, a scythe and a sun that looks like a spider, what you need is some corporate restructuring. That, we learnt on Wednesday, was exactly what holding company Dubai World, the parent of Dubai’s chief coastal developer Nakheel, would get.
Last year, Robert Lee, one of Nakheel’s executives, showed me a map of the future Dubai Waterfront as his company put the finishing touches on the more modest Palm Jumeirah, the skyscraper- and villa-crammed island that started the trend.
“That’s crazy!” I said. “Bold,” countered Mr Lee.
Bold is probably not the word that the number-crunchers at Deloitte are muttering as they pore over the company’s books.
The Dubai government’s decision to postpone repayments on $3.5bn in Dubai World debts – seen by investors as the litmus test of the emirate’s creditworthiness – is the clearest sign yet of the dire state of its economy. Dubai’s fanciful island reclamation, a doubtful investment in an era of rising sea levels, was just one of the gambits that ushered this tiny emirate into the world’s consciousness.
Thankfully, many of these ideas wound up on the scrapheap. There is the cancelled Snowdome (although the city’s indoor ski slope lives on), part of a gargantuan amusement district that was to be larger than the city of Orlando it intended to rival. Also scrubbed is the $11bn Arabian Canal, a 75km moat that would have ringed the city. Enough of these sorts of schemes were built to make Dubai and the United Arab Emirates the holder of the world’s largest percapita environmental footprint.
Until Wednesday, investors were largely content to give Dubai the benefit of the doubt, given that ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum had assured the world that his emirate was good for its debts.
In a region where a man’s word already carries outsized weight, the blunt-spoken sheikh’s charisma had been built on the credibility of his pronouncements. It must be painful indeed for him to be seen as backtracking.
Sheikh Mohammed, whose family has run the emirate with astonishing stability since 1833, faces an acute test of his leadership and the clearest threat yet to his dreams for the city.
The ambitious sheikh wants Dubai to become the financial centre for a quarter of the globe, the under-served and fast-growing markets between Singapore and Frankfurt.
Wednesday’s announcement makes that goal less likely, damaging Dubai’s reputation among the investors and financiers it has worked so assiduously to court. “Naturally they are not amused,” says Eckart Woertz, chief economist at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Centre. “It will be a case of once bitten, twice shy should Dubai try to tap international markets again.”
In the longer term, the news could make Dubai’s rivals more attractive, persuading international companies to decamp to, say, Doha or Abu Dhabi. Unlike Dubai, those cities have sound, energy-based economies.
But for now they do not offer the same level of western lifestyle, nor can they match Dubai’s services in shipping, logistics, banking and air travel.
The emirate’s inability to repay also casts a shadow on the Maktoum family’s vital relations with its cousins who rule Abu Dhabi, the al-Nahyans, who seem to be letting their poorer kin sweat it out in public.
One wondered what price Abu Dhabi might demand for a full bail-out.
One plausible option was a tighter union among the seven UAE states, with maverick Dubai forced to trim its embarrassing ties with Iran and Israel. Dubai might also have been asked to merge its independent customs service into the federal bureaucracy.
Sheikh Mohammed may be calculating that Dubai’s foreign policy freedom is more valuable than its financial reputation.
There is logic in this.
The bankers in London and New York have been important in nurturing Dubai’s growth.
But the emirate’s ties with the region – Karachi, Mumbai, Riyadh and Tehran – are those that will make or break this city.
The writer is the author of City of Gold: Dubai and the Dream of Capitalism
By Jim Krane
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