Time to burst that Expo 2020 bubble, can Dubai survive with $103 billion in debt?
Dubai still has some $103 billion accumulated debts. But this is low by the standards of many advanced nations these days that do not enjoy anything like the GDP growth prospects that await Dubai in the run-up to the Expo 2020.
The debts remain from the borrowing binge by government controlled and owned companies in the 2003-8 boom, with around $13 billion added in the past year, according to Barclays Bank. Still the question remains: how does Dubai intend to pay for the $43 billion in infrastructure spending expected over the next seven years?
UAE bond issues are still readily snapped by investors at modest interest rates. Aldar Properties recently issued a $750 million sukuk for a profit rate of under five per cent, less than half the cost of the borrowing that it was refinancing.
Dubai plc has been taking advantage of these low rates to refinance its debt over the past couple of years, so the real burden of carrying its debts is substantially reduced. Still there is the $20 billion bailout from Abu Dhabi from 2009 coming up for what will presumably be a roll-over or repayment this year.
Borse Dubai has $1.8 billion due between December and early next year. Could we see a debt for equity swap to combine the two stock markets of the UAE that will neatly handle this problem? Something similar happend when Dubai Aluminium was merged into Emirates Aluminium recently and by some estimates $4 billion in debt was wiped out.
Dubai’s Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is also still renegotiating a $10 billion debt rescheduling for his Dubai Group with a payments holiday of 3.5 to 12 years understood to be on the table. However, a combination of a surge in local real estate prices and a local economy enjoying its highest growth since the crisis are an enormous relief.
UAE bank balance sheets look the healthiest in five years with bad loans now fully written off and asset prices rising strongly. It is a virtuous circle with trapped money being released for investment, often back into the local stock market or real estate. Expect to see a lot more IPOs in the near future and new real estate launches.
High growth Dubai
The Dubai economy will grow at around five per cent this year. Still that is a far cry from the 13 per cent growth from 2003-8 that took the economy from boom to bust. But this is far above the developed nations of the world now struggling with huge debt burdens and low growth.
Their only option is to keep printing money to devalue their debts and pump inflation into their economies to stop nomimal prices collapsing. As they do so the price of oil is kept high despite low global economic growth. Those high oil revenues further pump up the UAE economy with the cash for new orders in the massive free trade zones of Dubai and to buy property and equities.
Indeed, you have to see Dubai’s debts in a different context. Borrowing to make an expanding economy expand faster is good business. That’s where the Expo 2020 is taking Dubai.