x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Dubai looks for boom without bust as construction picks up

The revival of development projects shelved in Dubai in the early days of the global financial crisis, and the announcement of several new ones, comes as the emirate regains its lustre among international investors.

A Dh2.5bn drive to expand Madinat Jumeirah, above, is an explicit bet on the continued health of the tourism and retail sectors. Christopher Pike / The National
A Dh2.5bn drive to expand Madinat Jumeirah, above, is an explicit bet on the continued health of the tourism and retail sectors. Christopher Pike / The National

The revival of development projects shelved in Dubai in the early days of the global financial crisis, and the announcement of several new ones, comes as the emirate regains its lustre among international investors.

Many of the projects relaunched this weekend are those from the emirate's pre-crisis days - such as expanding the Business Bay Canal to the sea, thereby allowing passing yachts to sail to within a short distance of the Burj Khalifa.

But as borrowing costs fall and international liquidity rushes back, economists are wary of repeats of problems that led to the last property crash, approaching its third anniversary a week from today.

A Dh4 billion (US$1.08bn) raft of new developments would be a shot in the arm to the local real estate market, which is only now finding its feet, said Maren Baldauf-Cunnington, a senior economist with Aecom, the management and support services conglomerate.

"This development is very welcomed by the local construction industry, which has been impacted by a slower than usual Abu Dhabi market," she said.

"However, Dubai will have to be careful to avoid another boom and bust, with industry stakeholders having to ensure that the recovery in the construction sector is built on strong foundations rather than on speculation."

There are enough signals to suggest that the credit bubble of 2007-2008 will not be repeated, said Liz Martins, an economist at HSBC Middle East.

"Sentiment is improving," she said. "We're not going back to where we were in the boom years. Bank lending still is very weak … but global financial markets have been open to Dubai, and debt issuances this year have shown a degree of confidence in Dubai."

Dubai's appeal to international fund managers has been reaffirmed as large numbers of tourists arrive at the emirate's by air and sea, the property market strengthens and debt worries ease at companies, including Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority, the port operator, and DIFC Investments, the holding company owned by the emirate's financial free zone.

Dubai's government bond yields, which move in the opposite direction from price, have fallen substantially this year as international capital headed back towards the Arabian Gulf.

The emirate's 10-year bonds currently yield 4.43 per cent, down from 5.9 per cent at the start of the year.

Credit default swaps for Dubai, which reflect the cost of insuring the debts of a government or a company against default, have fallen more than 220 basis points since the start of the year to 246.5.

At current rates, it costs $246.53 to insure $10,000 of government debt for five years.

It is hoped that the Dubai Government's investment will also help to boost growth elsewhere in the emirate, particularly among small businesses.

A Dh2.5bn drive to expand Madinat Jumeirah is an explicit bet on the continued health of the emirate's most successful sectors - tourism and retail.

"The Madinat Jumeirah hospitality cluster seems to have done very very well," said Giyas Gokkent, the chief economist at the National Bank of Abu Dhabi.

"Expanding it makes sense … and will have a positive impact on the economy in the medium to long term."

The additional boost to the property market should also encourage other developers to return to the market, property analysts said.

"Real estate developments take two to five years for a development programme," said Ian Albert, the regional director of Colliers International Middle East and North Africa.

"We are now heading out of a negative cycle and prices are now increasing. Now is the right time for the Government to put money into these infrastructure projects.

It's this sort of direct infrastructure work which will lead other developers to come in and build."

ghunter@thenational.ae

lbarnard@thenational.ae