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  • Thursday, November 20, 2008

    Economic Downturn in Dubai

    So, how are they going to stop it? Well, you even hear of deflation in Dubai, the spiral effect has hit the middle east and any coffee shop you go to, there is talk of doom and gloom.

    1. Create a facility that could make funds available to companies that need help as other sources of financing dry up.
    2. Revisiting sovereign and corporate debt and methods of company operations
    3. Make the Dubai Government the first point of call for struggling companies. If companies in Dubai fall, Dubai falls

    It's all about refinancing - not bailing out.

    Dubai pledges steps to counter downturn

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    Noura Al-Kaabi

    Who is Noura Al-Kaabi? She is the young Emirati who heads up Tawasol,at twofour54 and will no doubt spearhead growth going forward. It's good for the UAE, good for twofour54 and is good for Emiratis. She will become a rolemodel for media - and for the numerous graduates coming out of the programmes at Zayed University and HCT.

    And the success of twofour54 will catapult her onto the world stage. As the success of twofour54 is established, she will become the face of that success.

    “We will bring together local, regional and international companies who share our vision and are related to film, broadcast, digital publishing and music industries,” says Al-Kaabi, who holds a bachelor’s degree in management information system from the UAE University.

    A new day is borne. We wish her well.

    Twofour54 set to become center of excellence for Arabic content creation
    Noura Al Kaabi

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    Monday, November 17, 2008

    The United Arab Emirates as a Country Brand

    Some would argue that country brand indices are irrelevant, and that all it offers is a chance for a some consultants to make some cash from their skills in telling us that which we already know.

    Some people do think that a country, a city or even a region constitutes a brand in their own right, and now a few countries are currently working on strategies to spruce up their brand images. Those of you from Abu Dhabi will know of the Abu Dhabi Brand Office with its brand guidlines, great brochure, and facebook page (!) defining what Abu Dhabi is. There is a place for this because some people don't know what or where Abu Dhabi is. but in this form it is somewhat like a Corporate Communications department of a large corporate, define what logo can be used and where.

    In other cases, in the case of exports, for example, the thinking goes something like this: once a country has become known as an exporter of quality branded goods, the country’s product brands and its place brand will work together to raise expectations overseas. Country branding should then become part of a self-perpetuating cycle: as the country promotes its consumer brands, those brands will promote the country. It's a bit like getting on the rosta to pitch to big clients. But it's a little trickier that this - to think of Dubai as a brand, just as coca-cola is a brand is a big mistake.

    The question of brand is a tricky one. Arguably, in many quarters, Dubai has a greater brand presence that Abu Dhabi and the UAE. Why is this - because of what it has done from redefining itself as a tourist spot. But the brnad of Dubai has translated to the whole of the UAE - and the latest 2008 country brand index from Future Brand does not place the UAE anywhere in the top 10, although there is a strong showing in certain areas.

    Countries were ranked across 30 distinct categories providing a perspective on strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. The rankings speak to qualities that compel consideration and assets that shape country reputations, perceptions and experiences.

    Art & Culture
    Resort & Lodging Options - 1
    Ease Of Travel
    Rest & Relaxation
    Natural Beauty
    Shopping - 2
    Fine Dining - 10
    Outdoor Activities & Sports
    Friendly Locals
    Value For Money
    Rising Star - 2
    Standard Of Living - 10
    Ideal For Business
    Easiest To Do Business In
    New Country For Business - 2
    Conferences - 7
    Extend A Business Trip
    Political Freedom
    Most Like To Live In
    Quality Products
    Desire To Visit / Visit Again
    Advanced Technology - 10
    Most Impressive Last Year - 2

    So the UAE, doesn't feature in everything, and doesn't feature in the overall top 10, but is strong in a few areas, notably resorts and shopping. And maybe that is what the UAE means to the world these days.

    Whatever you think, there will always be those that think national brands are meaningless. Most people, when they think of the UAE, will think of hotels and shopping, whilst some others will think back to the Dubai Ports row or how you could go to jail for having sex on the beach.

    Countries do get branded whether you like it or not. Different facets of the brand will resonate differently with various audiences. Outsourcers may like the freezone, tourists may like some of the amazing hotels. Of course, when it comes to the UAE, when it comes to Dubai, when it comes to Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, RAK etc. you'll discover there's more to the country when you start studying it but the branding made you aware of what others perceived it to be in the first place.

    And one day, when you see a falcon when you go on your desert safari, you will realise that the falcom you once saw in your subconcious, in a sign or on a stamp - that falcon is a big part of the heritage of the culture. Now, that's branding.

    Futurebrand Country Brand Index 2008 PDF

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    Thursday, November 13, 2008

    The upside of the global downturn for locals

    There will always be investment in the UAE to build it to place that will be recognized. But, as the global downturn hits places like Dubai, expats go home, and Emirati's can get their culture back:

    “This is a blessing; we needed it,” Abdul Khaleq Abdullah, a political science professor at United Arab Emirates University, said of the fiscal crisis. “The city needs to slow down and relax. It’s good for the identity of our country.

    I'm not sure I agree - downturn are not what will lead you back to culture. Times of boom are when you hold on to your roots the most.

    Emirates See Fiscal Crisis as Chance to Save Culture

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    Abu Dhabi Property Rockets

    Aha, you must be thinking, this can't be right. It is correct, but when I talk of property rocketing, I talk of property rentals rocketing. It was the headline of last week from Arabian Business - and those who live in Abu Dhabi understand how difficult it is to get a place at a half decent rate. But why are property rentals so high, when the world's property prices are going down? It's all about supply. Abu Dhabi property has, for many years, had a supply issue. The problem is so acute that people are now commuting from Dubai to Abu Dhabi.

    Rental rates in Abu Dhabi soared by up to 157 percent in the third quarter compared to the same period last year as a lack of supply and ever increasing demand drove prices higher, broker Asteco said on Monday. Asteco said in a report rental rates in the UAE capital jumped on average by 87 percent year-on-year in Q3, with the cost of one, two, and three-bedroom units rising 79 percent, 100 percent and 82 percent respectively. Passport Road, Salam Street and Muroor Area saw the largest rises in rents, with two-bedroom units on Passport Road skyrocketing 157 percent, while most other areas were not far behind, it said.

    These price changes are crazy, you must be thinking, but all the new property that is being built has not yet come to market. Some has, but we were in a quasi world of speculation similar to Dubai in 2003. There are also issues of affordability with many bank asking for high deposits, making it difficult to get on the property market, and thus creating an even bigger squeeze on rental market.

    Here are the non rebased price for an Abu Dhabi flat, located on Khaldiya, overlooking the Corniche, 2 bedrooms, half decent, and probably considered relatively upmarket. This is what has happened to the price. Remember this is the same flat:

    Annual Rent
    2002 - 60,000 Dhs
    2003 - 65,000 Dhs
    2004 - 75,000 Dhs
    2005 - 80,000 Dhs
    2006 - 100,000 Dhs
    2007 - 140,000 Dhs
    2008 - 195,000 Dhs
    2009 - 205,000 Dhs (estimated)

    Remember that this excludes the bribery money you would have to pay in addition of circa 5-10,000 Dhs, or a finders fee to a certain agent, plus the amount of keep sweet money you would need to pay to the watchman to even let you in to see the property.

    This is the current reality of Abu Dhabi property as it is for people living in the city today.

    Abu Dhabi rents rocket by up to 157%

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    Dubai Property Collapses

    Collapse is a pretty drastic word. You think of buildings falling to the ground. And I'm afraid that is the kind of scene we have with Dubai property as reported by the FT today.

    Given the state of market alarm, few are surprised that his broker has done a runner. Rising concerns over a much expected property price correction, crystalised by a Morgan Stanley report predicting a 10 per cent price decline by the end of 2009, grew over the quiet months of the summer and the holy month of Ramadan.

    Yes, the end is nigh. The wall street journal reports that property in dubai has dropped 19% in one month. If that is not a collapse of epic proportions what is?

    Analysts at HSBC Holdings PLC said Wednesday that average asking prices for homes in Dubai fell 4% in October from September. Advertised prices for upscale Dubai "villas"--typically stand-alone homes in a master development--fell by 19% month-on-month, the bank found. In next-door emirate Abu Dhabi, average home prices fell 5%.

    Many thought that Dubai would be immune from the global turmoil. With its neighbour, Abu Dhabi, sloshing money into numerous ventures, you would have thought that times are still good. Others who always talked of Dubai as a bubble, they are seeing this Dubai bubble burst, or that's what they think they are seeing. The realist of the matter is that global economic meltdown that is affecting many countries is affecting the whole of the world. Even places like China won't get to their high double digit growth numbers for 2009. How could the UAE be immune? How, in fact, could Dubai be immune? Dubai's mortgage system is very similar to the west and followed a lending model. Anything that followed that approach, subprime or not, was going to fall. But that wasn't the only factor:

    Dubai is vulnerable on three counts. It borrowed heavily abroad, building up a stock of debt in excess of national income. It says it can cover the next seven quarterly repayments but some lenders and investors worry about the opacity of government accounts. Second, the sheer size and exuberance of its property boom has attracted prophecies of doom: Dubai has more than doubled in size and house prices have nearly quadrupled over the past five years. Third, as a trade and tourism hub it will be hit by the international downturn just as it was building critical mass as a regional financial centre.

    Yet, real though these concerns are, they are probably overdone.

    Foreigners have indeed pulled out capital, needed elsewhere to combat the credit squeeze. Some of it was in any case a bet on the United Arab Emirates removing its currency peg to the dollar.

    The government has moved to shore up the balance sheets of local banks. Ultimately, moreover, Dubai can rely on the unquestioned solvency of oil-rich Abu Dhabi, senior partner in the UAE federation, which has the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world.

    Dubai can probably also engineer a soft landing for the property market. It is reviewing its pipeline of projects; a few towers less will do no harm. As the government controls the two main developers it can manage supply. This is, furthermore, no ordinary market: apartments that come with residence permits are ideal boltholes for rich citizens of less stable countries such as Pakistan, Russia and Central Asia, Iran and most of the Arab world.

    Dubai is also more than a building site. Behind the glitzy facade of five to seven star hotels are clusters of knowledge industries but also less glamorous businesses such as scrap metal and second-hand cars, in both of which it is a world leader.

    A real-estate correction is no bad thing anyway. Breakneck growth has brought congestion, inflation, and financial irregularities that the government is now investigating as a threat to the emirate’s reputation. More intangibly, the huge influx of expatriate labour has made Emiratis feel foreigners in their own country. A pause for breath is welcome.

    Let's be very clear about this. This is not the end of Dubai property. Dubai is going through the same amount of turmoil that the rest of the world is going through. It's sharp and the next couple of years are going to be hard. But, it's not Armageddon. There is value. Yes, value has been created. And while asset values may have gone down, there is always an upward trend.....in the end.

    Correcting Dubai
    Survey Signals Dubai Housing Boom Has Ended
    Dubai property prices plummet

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    Sunday, November 09, 2008

    Sheikha Lubna on trade with the US?

    Will Barack Obama's potential protectionist policies affect trade between the UAE and the US? Sheikha Lubna thinks the private sector will maintain the trade.

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    Thursday, November 06, 2008

    Biggest Book in the World, the Burj Dubai Opus

    The Burj Dubai is tall, but, in line with record breaking nature of Dubai, they have commissioned Kraken Opus to build the tallest book in the world.

    Called Burj Dubai Opus and edited by Michael Tierney, the book will chronicle the development of the Burj Dubai and will stand 4.5m tall.

    For those of you that don't know Kraken, is a luxury publisher. They produce books that cost £1000 to £5000 (five thousand pounds). These are exclusive limited edition type books, for example, the Manchester United Opus, the Arsenal Opus, the Maradona Opus and the like.

    These are luxury goods to be bought by people with lots of money and are passionate about the products that these books represent. Lucky these products are limited editions. In this market, not maky people would fork out for that. Saying that, I'm sure they will sell out.

    Funnily enough, talking of records, Ethiopia holds the record for the heaviest book in the world at 500kg. Whether a 4.m metre book will be heavier than that remains to be seen. I suspect so.

    Records, records, I love records.

    A new leaf - article about the tallest book in the world
    Kraken Opus
    The heaviest book in the world

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    Monday, November 03, 2008

    A bad day for Abu Dhabi branding?

    Yesterday Felipe Massa won the Brazilian Grand prix, but in the dieing seconds lost the Formula 1 championship to Lewis Hamilton in a nail biting climax.

    Later in the day, Robinho and Manchester City lost to the bottom club in the Premier League.

    As you all know, Mubadala sponsor Ferrari and own a stake in it, and Manchester City is backed by Abu Dhabi. Although Ferrari won the drivers championship, they lost all the glory to Lewis Hamilton. Manchester City's promising start to the season is starting to deflate, and they desperately need the £100m at the next transfer window to start to build a world beating team.

    The questions is this: does it matter that Abu Dhabi backed teams lost yesterday with the world watching? Or is branding all about getting your brand known.

    The real question is this - before the global economic meltdown, before the purchase of Manchester City, before the stake in Ferrari, how many people knew about Abu Dhabi?

    Failure...or success?

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    Sunday, November 02, 2008

    Oprah's popularity in the Arab World

    When will the Arab world have an Oprah equivalent?

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    Abu Dhabi, Garfield & Nermal

    In recent months Abu Dhabi has reinvented itself, or, at least, established itself on the world scene. In the 90s, it was a bit of an unknown - with it being associated with the BCCI collapse. Prior to that, and lingering in a few minds is its association with Garfield, the cartoon cat.

    Why did this happen? Because Abu Dhabi was an unknown. What was the issue? Well, Garfield hated the self confessed cute cat called Nermal. Garfield hates Nermal so much that he decides to send Nermal to Abu Dhabi and sings a repetitive and catchy song throughout the episode that you can never forget.

    Garfield’s song to Nermal:

    Abu Dhabi, it’s far away
    Abu Dhabi, that’s where you’ll stay
    Abu Dhabi, the place to be
    For any kitten who’s annoying me, yeah!
    Abu Dhabi, it’s off the track
    Abu Dhabi, now don’t come back
    Abu Dhabi, it’s quite a thrill
    For any kitten who can make me ill!
    Now some take a train, and some take a plane
    But I am sending you
    Not on a boat, or even by goat
    But in a box marked “Postage Due”
    Abu Dhabi, you’re what they lack
    Abu Dhabi, now you’re all packed
    Abu Dhabi, a far commute
    For any kitten who is too darn cute!

    The question is - did Nermal ever get to Abu Dhabi? And, if so, is Nermal one of the cats that hangs around the garbage bins? Or did Nermal move to Dubai. If so, watch out - they're coming to get you!


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    Saturday, November 01, 2008

    Diamond Encrusted Credit Card

    Last year, Dubai First bank launched a lifestyle credit card for VVIPs. What was the difference - it had diamonds in it. The FT reports that a Kazakh bank, Kazkommertsbank, in assoication with Mastercard is launching a similar card. Although, this is a limited edition offering, it would seem strange that information about annual fees and spending limits have been passed to the public. Surely, if you have that much money, you don't need limits?

    MasterCard to issue diamond-studded cards

    First Diamond embedded 'Royale' MasterCard credit card to target high net worth clientele
    Dubai First

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    Barclays prefers Abu Dhabi to its own government

    Instead of taking funds from the UK government’s rescue package for its banks as it has done for the likes of Lloyds and HBOS, Barclays has turned to Middle East investors to bolster its balance sheet. Barclays, which is the UK’s second biggest bank, is raising up to GBP 3.5 billion ($5.69 billion) in what is being described as a ‘personal investment’ from HH Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a member of Abu Dhabi’s royal family.

    If all the warrants issued are exercised, Sheikh Mansour will end up with a 16.3 per cent stake in Barclays while Qatar Holding will have 12.7 per cent and Challenger Universal will hold 2.8 per cent of the bank.

    The deals are not cheap for the bank. On part of the new funds it will be paying interest at an eye-watering 14 per cent for 10 years on Reserve Capital Instruments dated June 2019 – the highest rate any bank has had to pay for capital. What’s more, it is significantly more expensive than the 11-12 per cent that had been on offer from the UK government. Barclays claims the net, after-tax, rate of 10 per cent is cheaper than funds from the government but it’s been suggested by some analysts that the bank will be paying interest for several years more than its rivals.

    In some ways it looks pricey - because Abu Dhabi and Qatar have been given the right to buy 18.1% of Barclays shares at any time in the next five years at the current bombed-out share price or £3bn in total. And £2.8bn of mandatorily convertible notes give the two buyers a dividend of 9.75%, and the ability to buy a further 33.5% stake in Barclays next June at a discount of a fifth to Barclays' share price over the past couple of days. So Qatar and Abu Dhabi could together control just under a third of the entire bank.

    But why would Barclays want to do something like that - well it differentiates it from the dead dogs of the UK banking industry who are now slaves to the UK government. What it does is maintain its commercial independance, albeit answering to different shareholders. What it also does is allow payment of those crazy bonuses to people like Bob Diamond.

    It also appears to have cut out the middle man. Gordon Brown in on a trip to the Middle East to ask for assisitance from the oil rich nations to stablise by abandoning attempts to increase the price of oil by cutting production and by investing their multi-trillion dollar profits in ailing economies.

    I'm sorry but you can't have everything.

    Sheikh Mansour shifts focus from Man City to Barclays
    Editorial: Arab funds for Britain’s Barclays
    Peston's Picks
    Barclays raises up to $11 billion from Abu Dhabi, Qatar

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