Wednesday, December 31, 2008

GCC approves monetary union

Gulf News
Ironically, it was during the 2001 GCC Summit in Muscat that the plan for the common GCC currency was mooted and it was given the final nod here in Oman yesterday without the participation of the hosts.

It was decided to speed up the creation of the Monetary Board to oversee technical requirements for Monetary Union. The proposed board will finalise details for setting up the Central Bank and the issuance of the single currency.
Income tax?
The six Gulf nations have agreed in principle to implement corporate and individual income tax by 2012 and are now discussing ways to bring the deadline closer, people close to the matter told Emirates Business yesterday.

The oil- and gas-producing countries are grappling with the prospect of a significant contraction in energy income from oil and gas exports next year and the spectre of budgetary deficits.

People close to the action at the GCC summit in Muscat, Oman, that began yesterday said, however, that individual members of the Gulf group are unlikely to impose income tax unilaterally.

"However, the prospect of drastic reductions in oil revenues and the resultant fiscal deficits has forced the six countries to examine whether implementation can be done earlier than 2012," they said.


Sentence of the day

The core assumption that underpins Moody's Aa2 ratings is that the Federal Government is fully supported by the government of Abu Dhabi, also rated Aa2.
From a Moody's report giving its highest sovereign rating to the UAE.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Links I liked

1. Friendship is relative - When reserved and friendly cultures meet, the reserved folks often say they were initially fooled into thinking others liked them in particular.

2. open season! - "As hordes of bachelors return home to Lebanon for the holiday season, young eligible women who far outnumber their male counterparts in this tradition-bound country are angling for the perfect catch." (See also, Beirut mating game.)

3. Oil will break $200/barrel.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Headline irony watch

From The National,
GCC leaders ‘feel Palestinians’ pain’

Conflict in Gaza Strip ranks high on agenda as foreign ministers consider monetary union, the global financial crisis and US-Iran diplomacy.

  • Oil prices jump by 6%

Write your own headline

The Financial Times chose the headline, "Dubai to spend through crisis" writing,
Nasser al-Shaikh, director general of the department of finance, said the government is planning to increase by around 20 per cent the budgeted public spending of about Dh30bn ($8.2bn, €5.8bn, £5.6bn) in 2008.

“The role of government is to increase spending during challenging times and provide a stimulus to the economy,” he told the Financial Times.
However, the Financial Times went on to point out,
But the department of finance, which oversees public bodies such as the utilities company and the transport authority, is still overshadowed financially by state-owned and state-linked companies that play the dominant role in the economy, such as Emirates airlines and Dubai Holding, the conglomerate owned by the ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum.

These commercial entities’ ability to expand in the coming year will be constrained by tougher business conditions and difficulty accessing international capital.
You can't follow an expansionary policy if you don't have the cash to do it.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Belated Merry Christmas

This chart of oil prices looks like a Christmas tree.

U.S. consumers are "saving" $1B a day as a result.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Zimbaweans flush with cash

It's all here.

Even a ZWD 1,000 note or two is a cost effective alternative to a sheet of toilet paper.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

OPEC "helpless"

Gulf News
Falling oil prices are "wreaking havoc" on the industry and threatening future supply expansion projects, Saudi Arabia said yesterday as top producers find themselves helpless to stem the price slide.
Kate Dourian, Middle East editor of energy information provider Platts, told Gulf News adherence to production quotas by Opec members will be the key to supporting oil prices.

"Their options are limited. There is no further cut on the cards for two to three months," she said.

Some in Opec are known to flout their collective decisions, but this time the Saudis, who will bear the bulk of the latest cut, "will not put [up] with non-adherence by others," Dourian added.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Dubai donations to William Jefferson Clinton Foundation

Markets in everything: automated valet parking for bicycles

Thursday, December 18, 2008

UAE slowdown, downgrade

1. Agencies downgrade Gulf institutions (Financial Times)
Rating agencies have downgraded either the credit ratings or the outlooks for more than two dozen Gulf banks and companies, including a number of Dubai government-related entities, in a further sign of the region being impacted by the global financial crisis.

Fitch Ratings downgraded the individual ratings of Dubai Holding Commercial Operations Group, the real estate, leisure and telecommunications wing of a conglomerate owned by Dubai’s ruler, and Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) from AA- to A+. The move was due “to the worsened economic outlook for Dubai and the likely pressure this will put on Dubai’s public finances,” the agency said.
Standard and Poor’s, meanwhile, revised its outlook on seven of Dubai’s government linked entities from stable to negative, including Emaar Properties, one of the emirate’s main developers, DP World Ltd, DIFC Investments, the investment arm of Dubai’s international financial centre, and Dubai Holding Commercials Operations Group.

S&P, however, reaffirmed the companies’ credit ratings.

2. Abu Dhabi braces for slowdown (Financial Times)
If oil prices average about $55 a barrel next year – some analysts predict a lower level – the United Arab Emirates’ crude oil revenues are expected to fall from between $90bn and $100bn estimated for this year to $48.8bn in 2009, according to research by National Bank of Abu Dhabi. That compares with $71.2bn in 2007, and with Abu Dhabi controlling some 95 per cent of the UAE’s oil reserves its main revenue stream looks set to be hit hard.

The upshot, bankers and businessmen say, is likely to be a slowdown and delay for some projects, and the government will have to consider intervening to help finance developments. At the same time, pressure is likely to build on the private sector, particularly real estate and construction-related companies, which will be affected by the slowdown and could also be crowded out as state-backed projects and entities suck up what credit is available.

3. Job losses in real estate continue in Dubai (Gulf News)

4. Oil falls below $40 despite Opec output cut (The National)


Market in disbelief

The market doesn't seem to believe OPEC compliance will be high.

The oil producers' cartel Opec has agreed to make a record cut in output, slashing 2.2 million barrels per day (bpd) from its current supply.

Opec has made two other cuts since September, meaning it has cut a total of 4.2 million bpd in four months.

Despite the record cut, oil prices continued to fall as US data provided fresh evidence of falling demand.

US light, sweet crude for January fell as low as $39.94 a barrel, its first time below $40 since July 2004.

The falls were blamed on US inventories figures, which showed that demand for petrol in the four weeks to 12 December was down 2.7% from the same period last year.

The price later recovered slightly to trade on the New York Mercantile Exchange at $40.31, which was down $3.29 from Tuesday's close.

Opec said that it hoped the record cut would boost prices but that it had no formal price target.

The cut means that the target for production for the 12 member states is now 24.845 million bpd. The cut is effective from 1 January, but the big question with Opec production cuts is always whether the member states will actually make the cuts they have agreed to.

"Given the still-substantial risks to demand and ongoing scepticism on Opec compliance, it could take some time before prices recover materially above $50 to $55 per barrel," said Gordon Gray from Collins Stewart.
Now here's some gibberish:
It is hoped a sharp supply cut will put oil on the path towards $75.

"You must understand the purpose of the $75 price is for a much more noble cause," the Saudi Oil Minister said. "You need every producer to produce and marginal producers cannot produce at $40 a barrel.

"Therefore we believe $75 is probably more conducive to marginal producers to continue so we don’t have a shortage in the market and we avoid the future rocketing of prices."
Let's set aside the possibility the statement is self serving. For the world's perspective it's inefficient for a low cost producer to cut output in order to raise price enough for a high cost producer to be profitable.

Someday demand will come back. What the oil minister might be getting at is will the marginal producers be ready when it does, or will there be a rocketing of price as we get this past summer? Daniel Drezner has that on his mine as well.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Markets in everything: the pregnancy belt

You've heard of chastity belts. Introducing the pregnancy belt:
As an expectant father, I am once-removed from the physical knowledge my wife has of our baby and its development. With the Kickbee, I wanted to create a device that would give me a chance to be aware of our baby's movements. It can also aid in tracking the frequency of fetal movements, which is an important way to monitor the health of the developing child.

The Kickbee is a wearable device made of a stretchable band and embedded electronics and sensors. Piezo sensors are attached directly to the band, and transmit small but detectable voltages when triggered by movement underneath. An Arduino Mini microcontroller transmits the signals to an accompanying Java application wirelessly via Bluetooth. (a SparkFun BlueSMIRF v2 module that communicates serially with a Macbook Pro)

The Java application receives the sensor values and analyzes them. When a kick event is detected, a Twitter message is posted via the Twitter API. I chose to use Twitter because it is easy to initiate an SMS message to any mobile phone when a kick is detected. It also acts as a data log that can be accessed programmatically for visualization or archiving.
Not to be hard hearted or anything, but there's such a thing as too much information.

Oh, and to get things started try Flame, the Burger King male cologne that smells like a Whopper. And for the ladies, try Syrian knickers that fall off at the drop of a hat.


US Fed adopts Islamic banking: zero interest

Wall Street Journal:
The Federal Reserve cut its target interest rate Tuesday to historic lows between zero and a quarter percentage point and said it could expand a program of unorthodox lending and securities purchases.
A number of official borrowing rates -- such as rates on three-month Treasury bills -- have tumbled to near zero, a level they haven't been near since the Great Depression.
The trouble for Fed officials is that while official borrowing rates are very low, interest rates for borrowers with even a modicum of risk remain far above levels of a few months ago, which is squeezing the economy.
One closely followed spread is the difference between interbank lending rates over three months and the expected federal funds rate. A growing spread indicates a higher cost of borrowing. That spread has come down from more than three percentage points in early October to about 1.5 percentage points, but it remains well above levels that prevailed earlier this year.

Other spreads have continued to march higher. For instance, 'BB'-rated junk bonds now trade at more than 14 percentage points above comparable Treasury bonds -- a crushing borrowing cost for many low-rated companies -- compared to a spread of less than six percentage points before September.
I wonder if any of them had money with Madoff? That scandal broke after this story.

Funny thing is, as TigerHawk points out, most of us would be glad to have lost only 20 percent.

OPEC disarray

Financial Times:
Saudi Arabia called on Tuesday for the biggest single production cut in the history of the Opec oil cartel to counter the collapsing price of oil.
Oil prices jumped on Tuesday after Mr Naimi’s [Ali al-Naimi, Saudi Arabia’s oil minister] comments but fell again to close at $44.04, down 47 cents.
Iran, Venezuela, and Angola have failed to live up to pledges to reduce production substantially. Angola, Opec’s most recent entrant and next president, increased production last month, according to Opec’s forecasters.

David Kirsch, analyst at PFC Energy, the consulting group, said: “Naimi clearly has reservations about seeing Saudi Arabia reprise its classic swing producer role within Opec by shouldering the lion’s share of any production adjustments. Nevertheless, it now appears that the Saudis are willing to do what it takes to strengthen prices, irrespective of other members’ compliance levels.”

The dramatic drop in the oil price, now below the level at which Saudi Arabia can balance its budget, was the prime reason for the kingdom’s decision.
My emphasis.

Update: Writing from a U.S. perspective, TigerHawk observes,
I cannot help but notice that two of OPEC's leading cheaters, Iran and Venezuela (which had the stones to call for deeper production cuts just today, even though it had not implemented the last one), are the most openly anti-American of its members. So, our enemies are doing their level best to steal from and undermine the cartel that is fixing the international price of our most important strategic commodity.

I don't care who you are, that's funny.

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Citi mending fences with Dubai?

That's the way the Financial Times characterizes Citigroup's $8B loan to Dubai:
Officials said the $8bn (€5.9bn, £5.2bn) figure relates to existing financing efforts over the past year and does not refer to new financing as the emirate seeks to navigate its way through troubled credit markets.

The Citi announcement, an apparent attempt to rebuild bridges with the Dubai government, also follows media reports last month that suggested the bank was seeking to sell on at a discount some of its exposure to Dubai debt.

appears to be a historical account of what has already been done,”said one banker of Monday’s statement.

Dubai officials remain confident that they will be able to tap more financing from institutions such as Citi over the next year as outstanding debt starts to mature.

Dubai’s biggest ticket financing in the past few months has been the $6bn syndicated loan to Investment Corporation of Dubai, the state holding company, to which Citi is said to have contributed $500m.
My emphasis. Oh, so the announcement was about loans Citi had made to Dubai over the "past year" -- contrary to the impression I got from reading the Gulf News. A new loan would be a strong expression of confidence in Dubai's ability to repay in the current environment. An announcement about past lending is not so strong a signal.

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UAE central bank will not follow US Federal Reserve

Gulf News
The UAE Central Bank said on Tuesday it would not cut interest rates if the US Federal Reserve eases its rate - the second time the country would refrain from mirroring the Fed.

Until late October, the UAE had been keeping its benchmark overnight repurchase rate at the same level as the Fed funds rate.

Then, in a shock move, the Central Bank decided not to track a 50-basis-point Fed cut on October 29, keeping its overnight repurchase rate at 1.5 per cent.
Today the Fed announced that it would cut it the rate to between 0 and .25 per cent -- the market had expected a cut to .5 percent. Actually, the Fed has been letting the rate track close to 0 for several weeks.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Krugman makes a funny

Paul Krugman can't resist taking a jab at "Bob Corker, the Senator from Nissan — I mean Tennessee — and his fellow Republicans, who torpedoed last week’s attempt to buy some time for the U.S. auto industry. (Why was the plan blocked? An e-mail message circulated among Senate Republicans declared that denying the auto industry a loan was an opportunity for Republicans to “take their first shot against organized labor.”)"

The suggestion Krugman is making is that Corker's state -- which has a Nissan plant -- stood to gain from the concessions Corker was seeking to negotiate from the United Auto Workers in return for federal loans to Nissan's competitors GM, Chrysler and Ford. But there's a problem, Paul, with your logic. Those concessions would have made the Big Three more competitive, harming Nissan which is not a unionized plant.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Giving Ponzi a bad name

Charles Ponzi's biographer [Mitchell Zuckoff] contends that he was just a dreamer without a good exit strategy.

Charles Ponzi wouldn't have thought much of Bernard Madoff.

Legendary Wall Street trader Madoff reportedly admitted last week that his success was an illusion, a fraud in which investors were paid not with the fruits of his own acumen, but with money from other investors. Prosecutors quoted Madoff as telling an associate that his $50 billion business was "basically, a giant Ponzi scheme."
Remember, Ponzi started with nothing and thought he had found a legitimate, if far-fetched, road to riches. If the allegations against Madoff are true, he enjoyed great success but couldn't deign failure. Prosecutors say that when he began losing money, he indulged in greed and hubris to create imaginary profits. He allegedly knew all along it was a scheme, and it only unraveled when the economy turned, his investors sought their money, and he tried to siphon off a last few hundred million for undeserved bonuses.
Year in year out Madoff "produced" 10 percent returns for his "investors." There's a few words that describe them, too -- hubris, greed, stupid. But perhaps we get what we deserve when we think government is watching out for us.

Ever heard of swoopo? It's described as "close to pure, distilled evil in a business plan." From the description it sounds like auctioning a dollar -- the all-pay auction where the highest bidder gets the dollar but everyone who bid pays their highest bid. How much would you bid?

Addendum. "The UAE Central Bank on Tuesday reassured Federal National Council (FNC) members of its strong stance against illegal investment companies seeking to raise funds from the public. The issue was raised by member Mohammad Abdullah Al Za'abi, who posed a question to the government in relation to recent cases where some investment companies lured the public to deposit funds in return for unjustifiably high returns."

Citi loans Dubai $8B

Citigroup Incorporated has arranged more than $8 billion (Dh29.3 billion) finance for various Dubai government entities in recent months, the global banking group said.

"This is in line with our commitment to the UAE market in general, and reflects our positive outlook on Dubai in particular," said Citi's chairman, Sir Win Bischoff in a statement.
Citi's renewed commitment comes amidst speculation on Dubai's sovereign debt obligations.

Late last month Mohammad Al Abbar, chairman of the Advisory Council of Dubai's government and chairman of Emaar Properties, stressed that the government was capable of meeting all its obligations.

According to the council's estimates, the government's sovereign debt stood at $10 billion, while its assets, excluding key infrastructure installations were more than $90 billion.

The total debt of government-affiliated companies is estimated at $70 billion, while assets are valued at $260 billion.
That's how Gulf News puts it.

The National says,
A source familiar with the deals said Citi was involved in securing financing for various Dubai companies, including parts of Dubai Holding, owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. Citi has arranged to provide part of the $8bn directly, and has secured the rest from other lenders on behalf of various Dubai government-related entities, according to the source.
Among the companies facing the need for financing in the coming year is the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), which has Dh8.08bn of debt maturing in April. “Given current market conditions and considering that the authority does not have committed facilities for liquidity backup, Moody’s notes that the authority faces significant refinancing risk,” wrote Philip Lotter, a sovereign debt analyst at Moody’s, in a report last month.

In the past month, the credit shortage has led some Dubai companies to look for financing at higher rates than previously planned.
Interesting that Abu Dhabi has a substantial ownership stake in Citigroup. It's not stated, but perhaps Abu Dhabi has made a clear signal to Citi that it guarantees the loan.

Here's an irony from March 4, 2008:
Mideast sovereign wealth funds may fail to save troubled U.S. banking giant Citigroup Inc. unless more cash is pumped into the lender, the head of a $13 billion Dubai-owned investment firm said Tuesday.

Sameer Al Ansari, Chief Executive of Dubai International Capital told delegates at a private equity conference that it will take more than the combined efforts of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, the Kuwait Investment Authority and Saudi investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal to save the bank.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Thank you, Joseph Stiglitz

The Nobel Prize winner writes:
The debate about whether or not to bail out the Big Three carmakers has been mischaracterised. It has been described as a package to help the undeserving dinosaurs of Detroit. In fact, a plan to bail out the carmakers would benefit shareholders and bondholders as much as anybody else. These are not the people that need help right now. In fact they contributed to the problem.

Financial markets are supposed to allocate capital and monitor that it is used to good effect. They are supposed to be rewarded when they do that job well, but bear the consequences when they fail. The markets failed. Wall Street’s focus on quarterly returns encouraged the short-sighted behaviour that contributed to their own demise and that of America’s manufacturing, including the automotive industry. Today, they are asking to escape accountability. We should not allow it.

With financial restructuring, the real assets do not disappear. Equity investors (who failed to fulfil their responsibility of oversight) lose everything; bondholders get converted into equity owners and may lose substantial amounts. Freed of the obligation to pay interest, the carmakers will be in a better position. Taxpayer dollars will go far further.
Of course, the banks escaped accountability. The difference is that their only real asset is trust and when trust is lost that can spread through the system and pull everything down. Sometimes the best policy ex post is to reward people for moral hazard.

The Risk Deficit

I recently posted on an article that suggested prostitution is a normal good, and when income falls men spend more time with their wives.

What about income and adultery? Lucy Kellaway at the Financial Times explains:
Last week, I had lunch with John Quelch, professor of marketing at Harvard Business School, and asked what he thought it all meant. Why is it that so many senior business people are responding to recession with adultery?

He said that, in a recession, people wanted hugs. This struck me as a pretty feeble explanation. Surely there are easier ways of getting hugs than putting one’s marriage on the line? Hugging one’s children or – if one is desperate – even one’s spouse might seem easier and safer.

He said that this was just the point: that the risk was the lure. That bankers are suffering from a risk deficit: their working lives have been derisked compulsorily and this could be a way of compensating by adding risk to their private lives.
My emphasis.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Annals of Mrs. Translation

The Independent:
There were red faces on the editorial board of one of Germany's top scientific institutions, the Max Planck Institute, after it ran the text of a handbill for a Macau strip club on the front page of its latest journal. Editors had hoped to find an elegant Chinese poem to grace the cover of a special issue, focusing on China, of the MaxPlanckForschung journal, but instead of poetry they ran a text effectively proclaiming "Hot Housewives in action!" on the front of the third-quarter edition.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Do green cars make sense?

Wall Street Journal:
The fuel-efficient "green" cars GM, Ford and Chrysler profess to be thrilled to be developing at Congress's behest will be unsellable unless gas prices are much higher than today's.

"Very few people will want to change what has been their 'nationality-given' right to drive big and bigger if the price of gas is $1.50 or $2.00 or even $2.50," Mr. Lutz [Bob Lutz, GM's vice chairman] explained. "Those prices will put the CAFE-mandated manufacturers at war with their customers -- and no one will win in that battle."

Translation: To become "viable," as Congress chooses crazily to understand the term, the Big Three are setting out to squander billions on products that will have to be dumped on consumers at a loss.
That is unless Congress and Obama join Mankiw's Pigouvian Tax Club. Mankiw: "The scientists tell us that world temperatures are rising because humans are emitting carbon into the atmosphere. Basic economics tells us that when you tax something, you normally get less of it. So if we want to reduce global emissions of carbon, we need a global carbon tax. Q.E.D."

Paul Krugman's Nobel prize lecture on the new economic geography

It's easily understood. Watch it here. The accompanying slides are here.

For those interested in Dubai Inc.'s business model -- build it and they will come, Knowledge City and the other "cities", the massive port -- you will find it very helpful.

Be patient: he is telling a story that builds to several punchlines including the major ones that you will see apply to Dubai's strategy.

One which you may find striking is the increasing globalization of the world we have witnessed is not just the enormous growth in international trade, but the enormous growth in trade with neighboring countries -- long distance trade has not grown as much.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

It's a normal good

Last year, Newsbeat discovered that sex addiction was a growing problem among men in the UK.

80% of the sex therapists we contacted said an increasing number of males were asking for help with sex addiction.
Their behaviour can vary from compulsively watching porn online to visiting prostitutes at every opportunity.
And, yet, the demand for sex is not impervious to economic conditions:
Big Sister is not the only brothel suffering the effects of a battered global economy. While the world’s oldest profession may also be one of its most recession-proof businesses, brothel owners in Europe and the United States say the global financial crisis is hurting a once lucrative industry.

Egbert Krumeich, the manager of Artemis, Berlin’s largest brothel, said that in November, usually peak season for the sex trade, revenues were down by 20 percent. In Reno, Nev., the famed Mustang Ranch recently laid off 30 percent of its staff, citing a decline in high-spending clients.
But there are also supply effects, and demand substitution effects:
Hana Malinova, director of Bliss Without Risk, a prostitution outreach group, said she feared the current credit crunch was pushing more poor women into prostitution, since they could make more money selling their bodies — about 120 euros for a half-hour session at some upscale sex clubs in Prague — than flipping burgers at McDonald’s.

Even with the downturn, she added, prostitution was far more resilient than other industries, though the downturn was discouraging adultery. "... the recession is helping to keep husbands at home who might otherwise be cheating on their wives.”
Hmmm. Income down, sex with spouse up? Inferior good?


Toil and trouble, boil and bubble

Financial bubbles. They are in our fate, according to experiments on college students.

Iran relishes Dubai's "paper sand"

The current financial crisis which has resulted in scarce credit and slumping oil prices has forced international financiers to dump assets in Dubai city, Bloomberg reported.

"Dubai is more precarious than it has ever been,” said Christopher Davidson, a professor of Middle Eastern affairs at Durham University.

"If the property industry collapses in Dubai, it will be finished. Dubai's relative autonomy will come to an abrupt end," added Davidson, the author of "Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success.

He added that Dubai's push into luxury property developments was a mere diversification on "paper sand".
On Saturday The New York Times reviewed of his book, Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success. An extract from the review:
Mr. Davidson further contends that unstable neighbors threaten Dubai’s success, but here he may have matters reversed. When Egypt and Iran stifle their entrepreneurs, many of them find a wide berth in Dubai. When Saudi Arabia imposes cultural restrictions on its population, Dubai offers a place to drink and let loose. When India and Pakistan have trouble creating jobs for their large populations, Dubai absorbs labor migrants. When Iraq or Lebanon descends into war, Dubai profits from rebuilding them.

In short, until a vast arc of countries from East Africa to Southeast Asia changes substantially, Dubai will remain poised to benefit by providing a relatively open, secure, low-tax, business-friendly alternative.
I've read Davidson's book and the reviewer is on to something here. Indeed, all these points about the advantages Dubai gets from its neighbors are made by Davidson. With respect to Iran, these advantages trace back many years, and Davidson covers this history well. And while the subtitle, "the vulnerability of success", sounds prescient Davidson did not see the vulnerabilities in the sense of the present problem a leveraged system in an environment of a systemic breakdown in willingness to lend.

The NYT review sees a silver lining in the financial crisis:
It was also written before the credit crisis and global contraction, and he makes no mention of Dubai’s economic vulnerabilities. In fact, the world’s searing financial debacle could turn out to be salutary for an overleveraged Dubai, reining in local inflation as well as an insane real estate market.

Whatever the short-term pain, the U.A.E. is awash in liquidity, and Dubai’s hefty investments in infrastructure appear likely to persist and to yield future dividends. Above all, accumulated expertise should enable Dubai to continue aggressive pursuit of global market share across its service industries. That growing prowess abroad, no less than pathologies at home, is a central story about Dubai that has been missed amid the glitz.
Of course in the quote at the beginning of this post, Davidson could still be right in his recent comments quoted in Bloomberg that "If the property industry collapses in Dubai, it will be finished. Dubai's relative autonomy [i.e., from Abu Dhabi] will come to an abrupt end." For example, there's the rumor that Abu Dhabi wants an interest in Emirates Air "as the price of a multi-billion pound cash injection" to Dubai. The UAE stock markets have been closed for the holidays. Will an announcement come after the markets reopen?

Lyrics | Harold Arlen lyrics - It's Only A Paper Moon lyrics

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Saturday, December 06, 2008

Gulf Oil CEO says $20 oil possible

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
Gasoline prices may fall to $1 a gallon by early next year, Gulf Oil CEO Joe Petrowski said this week.

Oil prices, which rose to a record $147.27 a barrel in July, were driven up by speculators, and "there is a chance the market will overshoot on the way back down," resulting in much lower prices at the pump, Petrowski said during a talk in Newton, Mass.
Thanks to Carpe Diem who also has many other posts on the falling price of oil including this one.

EnergyOutlook thinks maybe $75 is the "right price."


This Christmas a man is more likely than a woman to receive a pink slip

From here. Also here.

Addendum. The Washington Post doesn't keep up with the facts.


Friday, December 05, 2008

Who said it?

"Ten years from now the price of oil will be below $100/barrel."
Emirates Economist - September 2, 2005

I'm a little ahead of schedule.

But, seriously, my prediction had to do with the oil supply elasticity, and with energy supply elasticity in general keeping a lid on prices in the long run. I wasn't making a prediction about where prices would be between 2005 and 2015. Since my prediction in 2005 oil prices have rocketed up and rocketed down.

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Boltholes dry up in the Gulf

Until only a few months ago, many executives from developed economies viewed the Gulf as bolthole to ride out the global economic storm.

Now the axe is threatening to fall heavily on the staff of Dubai real estate companies as a six-year property bubble finally bursts, while similar cost-cutting measures are sweeping through the investment banking community.

Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs have already cut about 10 per cent of their regional staff as the prospects for next year's fees dim with the oil price slump.

Elsewhere, big real estate companies are slashing up to 15 per cent of their workforces.
And while investment banks are shedding staff, they also want to replace some dead wood with experienced regional experts to contribute to the restructuring and merger deals that will become their bread and butter over the next year.

"If you can find me a good Saudi investment banker, I will hire him now," a banker says.


Thursday, December 04, 2008

Extreme weight loss plans

1. Move-to-China plan:
IANJIN, China (AFP) – Three American men have taken the unusual step of moving to China in an extreme attempt to shed huge amounts of weight at a fat reduction clinic -- and have become surprise local celebrities.

Alonzo Bland, 33, and brothers Walt and David Anderson, 56 and 50, have lived in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin since the middle of this year as part of an effort to break away from their unhealthy lifestyles back home.

Together, they have lost a combined 192 kilogrammes (427 pounds) and are aiming to shed over 100 more.

"The reason why I think it works here is that China is away from everything, all the stuff that I'm familiar with," said Alonzo, who has lost 103 kilogrammes from the 291 kilos he weighed when he first arrived in Tianjin.

He decided to come after winning a contest organised by China Connection, a US firm promoting traditional Chinese medicine, and was being treated free of charge for as long as it took to lose his target weight -- like Walt and David.
2. Lose-a-lot plan:
For every pound less than 60 (!) that Ray fails to lose in the next 9 months he has agreed to pay Ted, $1000. Thus as much as $60,000 is on the line. Ted has made the same bet with Ray.
Both of these are for real.


Dubai in pictures and words

Over at Newmark's Door the human browser Craig Newmark brings us some links I'd missed. From Craig's post:

Everybody's going to Dubai [NY Magazine, Nov. 16].

For junior capitalists fleeing the financial meltdown, is the highly leveraged, hotly speculative Middle Eastern insta-metropolis the last, best place on Earth—or a mirage?

28 pictures of Dubai and the UAE, some of them very striking.

For those with a bankrupt ideology

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Sentences to ponder

The confusion and distrust about production is so deep that Opec members regularly request data about fellow members' production from the International Energy Agency. This is ironic because the IEA, created after the 1970s oil shocks as the western countries' oil watchdog, is basically to Opec what Nato was to the Warsaw Pact.
Read more at the Financial Times; interesting throughout. Thanks to Carpe Diem for the pointer and where you can find more quoted.


Human organ donation in the UAE

The National:
Ill patients who desperately need transplants are shopping abroad for black market organs because there is no official donor system in the UAE.

Doctors have reported a growing number of people with renal and liver failure turning to illegal transplant brokers, many of whom have focused on the UAE because there is no register.
Medical experts say the only solution is a national donor system, which could potentially save hundreds of lives and reduce the financial burden of long-term kidney dialysis.

“People are unnecessarily dying because we have no [donor] system in place,” said Dr Abrar Khan, the director of transplantation and hepatobiliary surgery at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City (SKMC), Abu Dhabi.

While there are no restrictions on cadaver transplants – organs taken from a dead person – none has been done in the UAE because of a legal grey area.

The shortage of donor organs is a problem that experts have warned is only likely to get worse. The UAE has some of the highest rates of diabetes and hypertension in the world, both major causes of renal failure.
A final draft for a new law that would make legal cadaver transplants possible by redefining brain death is being prepared by the Government, says the Health Authority – Abu Dhabi (Haad). Dr Oliver Harrison, the director of the public health and policy division at the Haad, said: “To open up a new source for organ donation is a top priority for the Haad.”
The Abu Dhabi Fatwa Centre said it condoned organ transplants but under strict conditions – and money should never be exchanged.

“Generally speaking, it is acceptable if all parties involved give consent and there is a mechanism in place to ensure that no one is exploited,” the centre said.
Read it all. Thanks for the pointer.

Addendum. A commenter points to another excellent report on the subject at "Surging demand for kidney transplants among diabetes-stricken Gulf States is forcing many patients from the region to travel to Egypt in search of organs from desperate donors."


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Hypocrisy watch

By now it's old news that Hillary Clinton has been named as Secretary of State in Obama's cabinet. Clinton and Obama both talk about working with other countries as partners.

Let me remind you that it was Hillary Clinton who demonized Dubai -- and by extension the UAE -- in the Dubai Ports World fiasco. It was the administration of George W. Bush that approved the deal. (And former President Bill Clinton who lobbied in favor of the Bush administration's action.)

Click on the Dubai Ports World link at the end of this post for more posts on the subject of Senator Clinton and the UAE.

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Nakheel news

Monday, December 01, 2008

December 2007

From the NBER Dating Cycle Committee: "The committee determined that a peak in economic activity occurred in the U.S. economy in December 2007. The peak marks the end of the expansion that began in November 2001 and the beginning of a recession. The expansion lasted 73 months; the previous expansion of the 1990s lasted 120 months."

Emirates airline denies rumors of merger talks

Gulf News:
Emirates, the Dubai Government-owned airline on Sunday denied any merger talks with Abu Dhabi Government-owned Etihad Airways - a rumour circulating in corporate circles for some time, as part of a so-called bailout package by the Abu Dhabi government.

"There are no merger talks taking place between Emirates and Etihad. We have no knowledge of the federal government or Abu Dhabi, or another airline taking a stake in Emirates," an Emirates spokesperson told Gulf News in an e-mailed statement.
More, from AP:
Etihad also says it "can categorically state that there are no talks — either formal or informal" of a possible deal.

Merger speculation has grown in recent weeks amid concerns over the debt load carried by Dubai and its state-owned companies, including Emirates.

Emirates also says it has "no knowledge" that oil-rich Abu Dhabi, the UAE federal government or another carrier might take a stake in the airline.
The Times:
As for rumours of their impending merger, Mr Clark [current Emirates president] was unequivocal: “What the ownership does with us is up to them, but we have been assured that no asset sale will take place.”
Khaleej Times:
The British-owned Sunday Times reported that discussions have taken place between the Abu Dhabi national carrier and Dubai’s Emirates Airline, but both airlines have termed the report as misleading.

“We can categorically state that there are no talks — either formal or informal about any possible merger and acquisition activity between Etihad Airways and Emirates,” a spokesman for Etihad Airways told Khaleej Times on Sunday.

The British newspaper report stated that Abu Dhabi will buy a 30 per cent stake in Emirates Airline.


I've not quite figured out the dynamics, but it's pretty common in the UAE for one body to come with a new decision or rule, and then for a sheik to announce at the last moment that no we won't be doing that. Latest example from the official news agency:
President H.H. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan today deferred until further notice enforcement of the ministerial resolution no 535 for 2008 on ban of registration of light vehicles older than 20 years.

The resolution was scheduled to go into force as of Monday, 1st December 2008.
How about this rule?: No driver's licence for 100 categories of UAE workers. I'm predicting it will meet the same fate.

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Sentences to ponder

WSJ: "Expatriates are required to find new jobs within a month or leave the country. Dubai authorities are looking at options to extend the grace period for expatriate employees that lose their jobs before they're forced to leave, a senior government official told Zawya Dow Jones last week."