Dubai Requests Jubilee
Dubai World Seeks Debt Standstill
“This debt-laden city-state said Wednesday it would restructure its largest corporate entity, Dubai World, a conglomerate spanning real estate and ports, and announced a six-month standstill on the group’s debt. The government said its Financial Support Fund, a fund set up to manage Dubai’s debt earlier this year, would start to assess and valuate the extent of the restructuring required. As part of that assessment, it said officials intend to ask lenders for a debt ‘standstill’.”
Debt Insurance Prices Soar
A Bad Omen
“No other country built a ski resort in a desert. No other country constructed an archipelago of 300 artificial islands, complete with a man-made reef colonized by parrot fish. But even if Dubai is a gaudy outlier — a sort of Donald Trump of a nation — the bankruptcy of its flagship investment company, Dubai World, holds a warning for others. The nonchalance with which global financial markets have reacted is not reassuring in the least. The lack of alarm is alarming.
Start with the size of the Dubai bankruptcy. Most analysts reckon the emirate will end up defaulting on more than $30 billion. That’s up from the $26 billion advertised at Dubai World but perhaps less than half of the city-state’s accumulated $80 billion debt. Dubai’s bust will be larger than South Korea’s 1998 debt restructuring, which involved $22 billion worth of loans, and not much smaller than Russia’s default that year (which affected loans worth $40 billion). The South Korean and Russian traumas spread panic around the world. Nowadays, investors yawn at losses that don’t run into the hundreds of billions. This is a touch complacent.
The threat of sovereign defaults, disowned state-company debts and continuing commercial real estate troubles comes amid a recovery that is extraordinarily precarious. It is based on fiscal stimulus from governments, but government debt ensures that this game has to stop at some point. It is based on the printing of money by central banks, but a combination of political backlash and inflation fears will eventually close down this game also. To rescue the global economy, governments have exacerbated the flaws responsible for making the system weak. China has too much export capacity; it is building more. China has an undervalued currency; it is weakening further. Meanwhile, the United States has a low national savings rate and is home to financial behemoths that are “too big to fail.” But the U.S. government has been forced to add to the public debt and broker consolidation in the banking business.
Given these troubles, Dubai should have been a wake-up call. Instead, global stock markets have risen since last weekend. We are witnessing the sort of rally that chart-watching traders know well: the kind where investors shrug off most bad news, so you might as well jump on the bandwagon. When this mentality sets in, prices inevitably rise too far. At the end of the trend there is usually a bubble.
Abandoned Mercedes Auctions
Driven down by debt, Dubai expats give new meaning to long-stay car park
“For many expatriate workers in Dubai it was the ultimate symbol of their tax-free wealth: a luxurious car that few could have afforded on the money they earned at home. Now, faced with crippling debts as a result of their high living and Dubai’s fading fortunes, many expatriates are abandoning their cars at the airport and fleeing home rather than risk jail for defaulting on loans. Police have found more than 3,000 cars outside Dubai’s international airport in recent months. Most of the cars – four-wheel drives, saloons and “a few” Mercedes – had keys left in the ignition. Some had used-to-the-limit credit cards in the glove box. Others had notes of apology attached to the windscreen. “Every day we find more and more cars,” said one senior airport security official, who did not want to be named. “Christmas was the worst – we found more than two dozen on a single day.””