Stronger dollar could hold back Dubai property recovery

The strength of the US dollar has been cited as a contributing factor to the decline in Dubai’s property market since mid-2014

Apartment buildings in the Dubai Marina and Jumeira Beach area. Antonie Robertson / The National
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The rally in the US dollar since Donald Trump’s election last week risks delaying Dubai’s property market recovery, according to experts.

The strength of the dollar has been cited as a contributing factor to the decline in Dubai’s property market since mid-2014 as the UAE dirham’s peg to the currency has made homes more expensive for buyers from most countries.

Given that the dollar has strengthened further to multi-year highs against major currencies following Mr Trump’s election last Wednesday, with markets pricing in potential stimulus measures such as increased infrastructure spending, this will further weaken appetite for new homes.

“You are going to see more outward investment with the strength of the dollar, with people looking at where they can get a better deal,” said Richard Paul, the head of residential valuations at Cluttons in Dubai.

“If I’m holding savings or equity in the UK in sterling, I’m very unlikely to bring it over here to convert to US dollars. If anything, I’m looking at what I can do with my dollar-pegged dirham in the UK.”

The US dollar has increased in value against the euro and the Chinese yuan over the past week. On election day, the dollar was worth €0.9070, but strengthened to €0.9314 on Monday before falling back to €0.9287 yesterday. Against the yuan, however, it has climbed from 6.79 on election day to 6.86 yesterday.

David Godchaux, the chief executive of Dubai-based Core Savills, said: “In the short term, you always have a very mech­anical effect when the dollar strengthens in different countries. As the dollar strengthens, obviously, the relative acquisition price goes up in comparison to other places around the world.”

However, he argued that the long-term effect may be more nuanced, with a stable currency considered much more important to long-term investors than those more prone to swings.

“One of the reasons why London property was interesting for so many years is that the pound was considered to be a very strong and stable currency. You have exactly the same in Switzerland. Swiss properties are considered to be a very good, long-term investment for capital preservation.”

Craig Plumb, the head of research at JLL Mena, said the strong dollar “will probably act as a bit of a drag on recovery”, especially for those buying in currencies such as the pound or the Indian rupee.

“We are still saying that the market for residential [in Dubai] will recover in 2017, but being any more precise than that is going to be tricky. Prices and rents will be higher by the end of next year than they are now, but clearly the ongoing strength of the dollar is not helping.”

Yet Robin Teh, the UAE country manager for Chestertons Mena, argued that the effect of the US economy on Middle East property markets can be overstated. For instance, he said the appreciating value of the dollar is likely to underpin recovering oil prices which could strengthen demand from GCC buyers.

“In fact, I think Brexit had a larger impact, with people who are from the UK investing back in the UK.”

He said investors’ decisions boil down to their faith in the local market.

“With Dubai, if you believe in it, you will buy.”