US helps Dubai borrow cheaply

Comment Could Dubai be on the verge of getting a bailout, courtesy of Washington?

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Could Dubai be on the verge of getting a bailout, courtesy of Washington? Dubai's bond roadshow does not include a stop in the US. But it is conditions established there that analysts and economists say appear to have reopened international credit markets to the emirate. To revive the US economy, the Federal Reserve has pushed its lending rates to their lowest since the Second World War. That and concerns that ballooning debt could fuel inflation have sparked a boom in demand for higher-yielding bonds elsewhere.

Doubts about Dubai's creditworthiness still abound. Its debts are larger than its economy and the emirate has disclosed little about how it will keep its cash-strapped companies afloat. But now analysts and bankers say investor demand is so hot that Dubai may be able to join the list of governments that are not only borrowing again, but borrowing almost as cheaply as they did before the crisis. This may seem unlikely for one of the world's riskiest borrowers. While the price of insuring Dubai's debt with credit default swaps is only a quarter of what it was in February, it remains about one third higher than before the crisis.

But bonds are typically priced at a premium over a benchmark interest rate - in the case of Dubai's dollar bonds, the US interbank lending rate, which in turn is influenced by the Federal Reserve's Fed Funds rate. The Fed has pushed that rate down to just 0.15 per cent, from 2 per cent before the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September last year. Now the US government pay just over 2 per cent for five-year bonds.

Dubai paid 4.25 per cent to borrow in April last year. Thanks to Uncle Sam's "zero interest rate policy", Dubai may now conceivably borrow for not much more than that.