Common sense is the currency of rational minds — in this respect Dubai may be short on change. On November 25, Dubai World, the wholly owned subsidiary of the Dubai government, announced that it would request a 6-month standstill on all payments and debt servicing of some $11 billion due to creditors in December — effectively giving notice that the further $49 billion the company has outstanding may also be beyond its means.
The announcement came after the markets closed for the four-day Eid al Adha holiday, during which time the company maintained complete silence while the news shook the financial world, prompting panicked investors to line up at the doors of Gulf markets to dump exposed portfolios when bourses reopened on November 30. As they waited in the Gulf, financial markets from London to Beijing shed share value in fear of their own exposure.
Dubai and Abu Dhabi markets dropped instantly at the opening bell, followed closely by other regional markets. The next day, Dubai World released a statement confirming it was in talks with United Arab Emirates banks to restructure $26 billion in debt. The company said restructuring could consist of “deleveraging options,” “asset sales,” and “formulation of restructuring proposals.”
“We would expect a decision to come out of [the discussions] on what assets underlay the liabilities, and what the plan is for liquidizing those assets so that bondholders get some partial repayments,” said Raj Madha, director of equity research at EFG-Hermes.
As executives and Dubai authorities prioritize Dubai World’s obligations behind locked doors, the rest of the financial world can do nothing but wait and watch the markets.
The markets react
By the middle of November 2009, the financial world seemed optimistic — and with some justification. The Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI) index had recovered 48.9 percent of losses incurred during the downturn, while the MSCI Emerging Markets index had fared even better, recovering 58.13 percent. The MSCI Arabian Markets index — Gulf Cooperation Council, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia and Lebanon — also followed suit, albeit with a little less vigor, recovering 30.89 percent of their losses.
After the announcement that Dubai World could effectively not pay its debt on time, that recovery quickly went into regression. In just two days of trading the Dubai Financial Market (DFM) dropped 12.5 percent and the Abu Dhabi Stock Exchange fell by 11.6 percent. Dubai’s indices for real estate, as well as investment and finance, saw some of the worse losses, down 18.1 percent and 15.5 percent respectively.