Thursday, November 26, 2009

Dubai ruler bounces a $3.5bln cheque, but probably will avoid the jail time...

After Dubai got its hands on another $5bln loan from Abu Dhabi controlled banks, international investors had assumed that the money would be in part used to repay the huge debts coming due from Nakheel, the real estate development arm of Dubai World. Many were speculating on Nakheel debt earlier this year, as it was selling for 65cents in the dollar while a payout would bring in $1.15. Easy money, it seemed according to the National, as in seemed inconceivable that Abu Dhabi or MAktoum would allow such a default.

Oops. Wrong.

Dubai World instead announced a further restructuring (ie sacking people, more loans, selling assets and and pulling back on projects) and that it was 'asking' Nakheel and Dubai World bond holders to wait for their money until May next year, even though it is due in December. The announcement [thanks for the link Muscato! LOL] has sent CDS rates for Dubai and the entire region sharply higher and seriously blown what little remaining confidence was left in Dubai being willing and able to meet its obligations. The $10bln Dubai previously borrowed from the UAE Central Bank [=Abu Dhabi] is already gone it seems.

If the Nakheel bond is not repaid in December as promised by Dubai's leaders, it will be a default, despite the spin being put on it by Dubai's press.

Ironic then that the Dubai based Gulf News at the same time are still showing a neat little video from July by local lawyer Hassan Arab on how the UAE courts view bounced cheque suspects, helpfully explaining the legal implications in Dubai of a bounced check in the Emirate:

Any bounced cheque .. is a crime.. As per Penal Code 401, the punishment for a bounced cheque is either a fine of a minimum of 1000 dhirams [~US$250] or a period of 1 month to 3 years in prison'

Dubai has suffered from exteremely poor legislation dealing with bankruptcy and insolvency, with no possibility under the law for personal bankruptcy. This is what prompted many expats to flee their debts over the past 9 months, as it is treated as a crime in true Victorian style. Defaulting on a Sukuk bond is essentially the same as bouncing a cheque, except ... er... well... its different. Bouncing cheques is what ordinary people do, while restructuring and defaulting debts is what big insolvent corporations do.

But what's good for the expats of Dubai is, of course, not something the rulers of Dubai feel applies to them. So the likely Nakheel default will not be leading Sh. Maktoum to see the inside of a Dubai prison, a fate many expats have suffered despite their losses being insignificant compared to defaulting on a $3.52bln loan. Nakheel has another $3.6bln loan coming due in May next year too, on top of various other syndicated loans.

The suggestion of a default sent entire European stock markets down around 3% in a day, as the ramifications of Dubai failing to pay its debts would impact the world financial system.

Welcome to Dubai folks, where everything is just peachy! Please bring cash. The cheque's in the mail, by the way.

Photo: Hogarth's depiction of a Georgian debtors prison.


  1. Looks like the global markets are tanking over the Dubai Flu as reported by all news networks !

  2. Interesting article carried in Huffington Post

    Quote from article-- Dubai became the Gulf's biggest credit crunch victim a year ago. But its ruler, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, had continually dismissed concerns over the city-state's liquidity and claims it overreached during the good times.

    When asked about the debt, he confidently assured reporters in a rare meeting two months ago that "we are all right" and "we are not worried," leaving details of a recovery plan – if such a plan exists – to everyone's guess.

    Then, earlier this month, he told Dubai's critics to "shut up."

  3. So what is the worst that could happen now? They can't just rub Dubai out with an eraser and turn it back into a sandpit. There are still people who live and work there and plenty of people visiting.

    Obviously many of the unfinished projects will just be left to turn to dust, but will Dubai/Maktoum be 'rescued' and thus become a slave to its close neighoburs?


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