Global debt woes to curb Dubai property recovery

Real estate pick-up will be slowed, but not derailed by looming financial crisis
By Jo Anne Bladd
Thu 29 Sep 2011 08:21 AM

A recovery in Dubai's battered property market, limping
gradually to life after an economic slump, will be slowed but not derailed by
renewed global financial woes and a European sovereign debt crisis.

House prices in the emirate's once-booming property sector
are unlikely to show a clear upward trend until at least 2014 as demand for
property remains muted amid growing uncertainty, analysts said. Two years ago
industry watchers were expecting the bust to last until at least 2011.

Dubai, famed for extravagant projects such as the world's
tallest tower and lavish hotels, had shown small signs of recovery with house
prices rising in certain areas and the number of transactions rising.

The Gulf emirate has also been seen as a safe haven as the
winds of change sweep the Arab world, toppling leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and
Libya.

"We are not out of the woods. The crisis in Europe will
add uncertainty and if anyone is planning to buy a property here they may hold
off until it is over," said Majed Azzam, senior analyst, real estate and
construction at AlembicHC in Dubai.

"In light of the global crisis we have pushed back our
expected timeline for a turnaround."

But any severe deterioration of the global economy and the
euro zone debt crisis is unlikely to have as severe an impact on Dubai's
property sector as the recent global financial crisis, analysts and experts
say.

During that crisis house prices plunged some 60 percent from
their peaks and billions of dollars worth of projects were put on hold or
cancelled.

"Property prices in Dubai have become attractive and
Dubai, and the UAE as a whole, are seen as a safe haven during this regional
turmoil. This is very positive for the property market here," said Giyas
Gokkent, chief economist at National Bank of Abu Dhabi.

"If the euro zone debt crisis deteriorates then we
could see oil prices falling sharply, which would have an effect on the
property sector here, but I don't think we will see the exaggerated falls which
we saw in 2008 and early 2009."

"The downside is limited provided there isn't a
conflict in the immediate area."

Dubai house prices fell 8 percent in the second quarter from
the same period last year, property consultancy Colliers International said in
a recent report.

"If the eurozone gets worse then that could potentially
put months or even years on to it [recovery]," said Saud Masud, sector
head real estate at Rasmala Investment Bank.

"I think it will be 2020 when we see property prices
get back to 2008 levels and that will be assuming there is five or six years of
robust recovery."

Property prices soared after the emirate opened its real
estate sector to foreign investors in 2002, granting them freehold ownership
rights at many developments. From start-2007 to mid-2008, prices rallied almost
80 percent, Morgan Stanley estimates showed. Business was booming.

And three years ago billions of dollars worth of projects
were launched at the emirate's glitzy property show Cityscape, including a 1
km-high skyscraper by one of Dubai's largest property companies, Nakheel.

Article continues on
next page…

Nakheel, which completed a complex debt restructuring last
month, launched a more modest 102 townhouse residential project at this week's
show, where most exhibitors showcased existing projects rather than launching
new ones.

"We have to launch projects according to the market
needs. 2008 market was totally different from 2011," Nakheel's chairman
Ali Rashid Lootah told Reuters at this week's show.

Dubai's residential property recovery is already being
hampered by oversupply -- a third too much supply while prices are expected to
fall by a further 10 percent this year, a Reuters poll showed in July.

Some 5,000 new homes are expected to hit Dubai's market by
year-end, property consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle said in a recent report, with
a further 27,000 seen in 2012, taking total stock across Dubai to around
358,000 homes.

AlembicHC's Azzam said it would take at least three years
for supply and demand to reach equilibrium.

The oversupply situation is no better in oil-rich neighbour
Abu Dhabi, which was relatively immune from the problems that beset Dubai in
2008.

Despite the emirate having one of the highest per capita
incomes in the world, scores of new buildings, nearly complete, may remain
unoccupied for some time.

"The threat of increasing supply and liquidity
constraints persists in Abu Dhabi's real estate market. A number of projects
come online this year pushing rates down from unsustainable highs," said
David Dudley, head of Jones Lang LaSalle in Abu Dhabi.

Prices continue to decline as supply increases and demand
remains weak, with investors waiting for prices to level with Dubai.

Residential real estate prices have slumped about 50 percent
in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, from their peak in 2008,
according to property management firms and analysts.

Further weakness appears inevitable.

"Rents and prices could decline a further 10 percent
over the coming 12 months as supply continues to hit the market, while funding
remained tough," said Gurjit Singh, chief operating officer of Sorouh Real
Estate, Abu Dhabi's second-largest developer by market value.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.