x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Lending by Mubadala and GE hits $2bn mark

A high-profile alliance between General Electric and Mubadala Development to finance regional business ventures has so far arranged US$2 billion of loans.

A high-profile alliance between General Electric (GE) and Mubadala Development, a strategic investment company owned by the Abu Dhabi Government, to finance regional business ventures has so far arranged US$2 billion (Dh7.34bn) of loans, say executives.

The news came yesterday in the companies' first update on the deal since it was announced last year.

Mubadala GE Capital, as the joint venture is called, has expanded quickly since winning a Central Bank licence in January, said Ronald Herman, its chief executive.

The venture is aiming to help private-sector businesses develop. It also wants to address a lack of longer-term financing for mid-size companies and provide them with an alternative to banks for their borrowing needs.

"It is interesting to see the evolution of specialist financiers with a broad regional focus," said Raj Madha, a financial services analyst at Rasmala in Dubai.

"In general it is difficult for banks in frontier countries to provide long-term financing solutions, especially at the smaller end of the market, and particularly in specialist areas which are not necessarily well understood."

Mubadala and GE, one of the biggest industrial conglomerates in the world, announced the partnership in May last year. They each agreed to contribute $4bn to the 50-50 venture.

After obtaining a licence, the partnership by June had closed $1bn of loans and completed its first transactions in the UAE. It reached the $2bn mark this month, said Mr Herman.

While the goal is to make Mubadala GE Capital a financing stalwart in the region, most of its business so far has been in North America and Europe. Executives expect activity to shift gradually to the Middle East and Africa, but for now it is relying heavily on joint investments in the developed world with GE Capital, the conglomerate's financial services arm.

The Mubadala-GE venture has done about 45 deals in North America and Europe with GE Capital, Mr Herman said.

Those deals centre on the energy, industrial and health-care sectors, as well as loans for leveraged buyouts and big infrastructure projects of the type executives expect will be a significant part of the joint venture's business in the Middle East.

GE Capital, the hardest-hit of GE's businesses during the global economic downturn, expects to resume paying dividends to its parent company in 2012, it said recently. Executives expect the business to generate more than $3bn of profit this year, almost double the $1.7bn of profit it booked last year, as economic prospects improve.

The downturn had invigorated the GE-Mubadala joint venture, Mr Herman said, with economic instability sending interest rates on corporate borrowings higher, resulting in more income for players still willing to lend.

"Why would we do this structure where we co-invest with GE outside of the region? First of all, the returns are very attractive," Mr Herman said. "Right now, with the financing markets as they are, the rates of interest are very good by historical perspectives. This also allows us to build a very diverse portfolio, which is important to a financial services company. Lastly, it gives us the opportunity to learn from GE as we start to build our business in the [Middle East and Africa]."

Mubadala GE Capital has made a few deals in the GCC, however, including a loan to an energy services outfit in the UAE to fund its acquisition of another company. It has also financed corporate aircraft for a company in the region and funded the expansion of a manufacturing company in the Emirates, among other deals.

Once it moves into top gear, analysts say, the joint venture could help fill the gap in the availability of long-term financing for medium-size businesses. Banks across the Gulf typically do not give loans maturing in more than five years to smaller businesses, a factor that some say has inhibited the growth of the private sector.

"For any company that is looking to expand or set up its business, and needs longer-term finance, it's a value proposition," said Murad Ansari, a banking analyst at EFG-Hermes.