UAE looks to bond market to raise funds

The UAE ran an estimated bud­get deficit of 13.2 per cent last year, according to the ratings agency Fitch, as government revenues collapsed.

The UAE yesterday brought forward plans to issue federal debt on international markets.

The UAE plans to raise between Dh80 billion and Dh100bn via a bond issue, pending the passage of a national law permitting federal debt issuance, Younis Al Khouri, the undersecretary at the Ministry of Finance, told Al Arabiya yesterday.

The UAE has not yet raised federal debt, although Abu Dhabi and Dubai have both tapped international bond markets.

Mr Al Khouri expects the nat­ional debt law to be passed within “six to nine months”, he said.

The UAE ran an estimated bud­get deficit of 13.2 per cent last year, according to the ratings agency Fitch, as Abu Dhabi Government revenues fell.

The Abu Dhabi Government, which is the largest contributor to the federal budget, has a long-standing liquidity facility with its largest sovereign wealth fund, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, which allows it to fund fiscal deficits.

The IMF has repeatedly called on the Gulf states, which have very low levels of outstanding external debt, to fund their deficits by tapping foreign capital markets.

“This is one of the ways they can lessen the pain from cheap oil because they can issue debt and so can cut spending to a lesser extent, or over a longer period of time,” said Jason Tuvey, an emerging markets economist at Capital Economics.

Dubai’s economic growth slowed in January, according to a monthly survey of businesses in the emirate.

The Dubai Economy tracker, a regular indicator of economic sentiment, recorded the lowest score in comparable data since February 2010 – when the emirate was emerging from the 2009 housing crisis.

The index registered a score of 50.7, down from 51.8 in Decem­ber.

While any score above 50 indicates the economy is expanding, this month’s figure is the latest in a succession of rapid decreases in the measure.

The Central Bank’s Economic Composite Index, another informal measure of GDP, also showed that the economy was slowing to a pace last touched in 2010. The UAE does not produce timely quarterly GDP figures, meaning that these data points are the best indicators of the emirate’s growth rate available.

Dubai has sought to diver­sify away from dependence on oil-related industries and towards tourism, logistics and trade – what the economist Jeffrey Sachs calls an “entrepot-services economy” – but has been hit by the slowdown in emerging markets.

Cuts to government spending, with infrastructure projects such as Etihad Rail put on hold as the UAE cuts capital spending, are also slowing the domestic economy.

“Fiscal austerity is well under way,” said Mr Tuvey.

“As growth in the rest of the region slows, Dubai is likely to be hit. With oil at $30 a barrel, they still need to undertake austerity – or devalue their currencies.

“It’s much easier to cancel projects than it is to cut the government wage bill,” Mr Tuvey said. “Ideally a country would continue with its capital spending but cut down on its current spending, but the politics of the Gulf are such that it is always the capital spending that gets cut first.”

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