Liquidity fears and merger rumours spread around Middle East markets
|Wednesday, 08 October 2008|
Optimistic property developers in the Middle East are unveiling billions of pounds worth of new projects in what is seen as a smokescreen to what is actually happening in the region's markets.
In Dubai the heads of real estate and construction companies are using the glitz of Cityscape, the world's leading property business show, to unveil luxury developments, almost vying with each other to be the biggest and the best.
But behind the scenes there are few smiles. Everyone is aware that the finance and real estate markets in the Middle East are facing meltdown just as they are in the rest of the world.
Even the UK government's £50 million bail out for a diving bank system and interest rate cuts has not been enough to calm the global turmoil. Italy is now considering a similar move to help its hard struck banks.
'Markets are likely to remain volatile. The step has reduced the perceived risk of imminent bank failures in the UK but it is far to early to say if nerves have been settled,' said Leigh Goodwin, analyst at Fox-Pitt Kelton.
Now there is increased concern about the Middle East and Asia. Exchanges in the Middle East are taking a hammering and many stocks are reaching record lows. Investors are uneasy and selling. In the past three days alone, Arab stock markets have lost £150 billion in value
'Speculation about the real estate sector slowing down and concerns of the liquidity crisis worsening both globally and locally are playing in the minds of the investors,' said Sherif Abdul Khalek, institutional accounts manager at Beltone Financial Securities.
'The lack of information and clarity from many of the companies also doesn't help. If they come up with official analyses of the company's position that would help alleviate investors' concerns,' he added.
Whereas property in the Middle East was until very recently seen as a safe place to invest, there is now panic. 'Money is being pulled out from the markets and is invested in safer instruments such as bonds and gold,' said Shiv Prakash, an analyst at Mac Sharaf Securities.
The big real estate players have seen large sums wiped off their worth. They include construction giant Arabtec, Emaar Properties and Tamweel. There are even talks of some of these giants merging as their financial situation deteriorates.
Emaar, whose shares have lost over 50% of their value so far this year, is about to begin a share buyback programme after its next quarterly statement due this month.
Dubai's Union Properties is considering a similar move. It too has lost over 50% off share values.
However some are admitting times are tough. Bahrain's Al Khaleej Development Co. said it expects some future projects and financing plans to be delayed as nervous investors are unwilling to throw money at big projects.
Mohammed Abdul Khaliq, executive director of Al Khaleej, which is building the $1.6 billion Bahrain Investment Wharf (BIW) industrial park, said schemes already underway would be unaffected. But as it relies on direct investment as one of its primary sources of funding then future development will be affected.
'It will delay projects. Investors are holding the cash so this will delay some of our activities and raising finance,' he confirmed.
There are also whispers that banks and lending institutions are cutting back. Few will openly admit they have less liquidity but some admit the mortgage finance industry is facing a challenging time in the Middle East.
Banks who invested with collapsed US investment bank Lehman Brothers undoubtedly suffered big losses. No one knows how much yet. As in the US, the UK and parts of Europe, the real extent of the banking crisis is hidden until governments are forced to take action to bail them out.
Cityscape is abound with rumours that Abu Dhabi Commerical bank and National Bank of Abu Dhabi have been undertaking merger talks. So far nothing is confirmed.
Wasim Saifi, Group Chief Executive Officer of Tamweel, said: 'Given the global credit crisis, mortgage providers are facing challenges to raise funds due to term mismatch between available funding sourcing and finance tenors. This creates a need for mortgage refinance entities and long-term liability instruments.'
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