My predictions for the year - via an informed hunch

From my training in the 'informed hunch, journalist gut-instinct' school of forecasting, I give you my four financial predictions for 2013.

The "undercover economist" Tim Harford recently wrote: "The wonderful thing about a forecast is that both the forecaster and his audience feel that something profound has been expressed."

He was discussing the eruption of New Year forecasts coming in every direction, but especially in economics and finance. Everybody, it seems, is taking a stab at the level of the S&P 500, or the price of gold, or the dollar/euro rate at the end of December.

Now, I'm no economist, but I cannot resist the urge to peer into the crystal ball at least once a year.

So here, from my training in the "informed hunch, journalist gut-instinct" school of forecasting, are four predictions for 2013.

1. There will be a settlement in the long-running battle between the Al Gosaibi family of Saudi Arabia and Maan Al Sanea. Since May 2009 the two sides have been flinging everything at each other in a global war of words.

But both are exhausted, not least by the drain on their finances, and I hear over recent weeks that there is a mood to finally close the chapter and get on with life.

What kind of settlement is still being discussed. The Al Gosaibis are said to be close to a deal with their Saudi creditors, and the Saudi authorities are encouraging Mr Al Sanea to get involved in a general entente.

The Al Gosaibis may have to make a substantial sacrifice, like the sale of their lucrative drinks bottling business, to clinch a deal.

Foreign banks, out of pocket to the tune of billions of dollars, are unlikely to figure in the deal. Still, a partial peace is better than all-out war.

2. The legal action brought last year by Royal Bank of Scotland and two other international banks against a unit of Dubai Holding will be quietly dropped.

The action, brought in the autumn in a London arbitration court, caused a stir at the time, threatening to upset delicate restructuring negotiations. It was seen as a "line in the sand" by stressed creditors to Dubai Inc.

But as time has passed and no further information surfaced, it seems the action, set in train by legal rather than banking executives, brings no advantage to either side.

RBS has a big commercial banking and trade finance operation in Dubai, which it continues to see as a regional hub; Dubai Holding is on the cusp of some delicate negotiations over billions of dollars worth of debt maturing soon. Courtroom hostilities, even in the privacy of an arbitration chamber, are counter productive. The case will simply fade away.

3. More UAE companies will follow the example of NMC Health and list on the London Stock Market this year.

NMC resisted local pressure and chose London as the market to raise about £120 million (Dh711m) last spring. The UAE market authorities took the move badly, seeing either the Abu Dhabi market or the two in Dubai as NMC's natural home.

But the move has been a qualified success. The cash was raised, the share price performance has been solid if not stellar (though there has been an interesting uptick in recent weeks).

I hear at least two other UAE corporations are in final preparations for a London move that could be announced during the first quarter.

4. There will be further progress towards consolidation of UAE stock exchanges.

This, of course, talks directly to prediction number 3, above. Most market experts, national and foreign, believe UAE equities have too little liquidity and trading volume to justify the existence of three stock markets.

Master plans for consolidation have been on the drawing board for some time; there has been some progress in establishing a common trading platform between the two Dubai markets; less so with any commonality of interest between the capital and Dubai.

The impetus for a new round of consolidation will come eventually through the regulators in the two cities, which are increasingly open to the idea.

There you go. If my four predictions come true, you read it here first. If not, as Mr Harford says, "nobody remembers forecasts anyway".

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