Dubai’s disabused creditors

By Felix Salmon
November 27, 2009
The Economist has a good short overview of the situation in Dubai, which includes this interesting take:

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The Economist has a good short overview of the situation in Dubai, which includes this interesting take:

Investors had half-expected Dubai World to seek forbearance from its bankers, asking them to extend their loans. But they felt sure the emirate would make good on publicly traded instruments, and in particular Nakheel’s sukuk, rather than suffer further damage to its financial reputation.

I remember the days when investors felt that in the world of emerging markets, publicly-traded bonds were implicitly senior to bank loans. But those days came to an end in the late 1990s with bond defaults in Pakistan, Ukraine, and Ecuador — and they’ve never returned. And it’s not even obvious at this point that restructuring loans is easier than restructuring bonds.

Certainly any entity like Dubai World carrying a large amount of bank debt would be very wary about needlessly infuriating its bankers by defaulting to them while remaining current on its payments to bondholders. If Dubai World’s bondholders really took solace in the fact that they held bonds rather than loans, they thoroughly deserve a large hit in the wallet. And as Willem Buiter says, it’s a good thing too:

Property developers tend to be highly geared and very procyclical in their revenue flows and access to the capital markets. During construction slumps they drop like flies. Because the property sector is risky (ask Donald Trump), its creditors tend to get better interest rates than the sovereign rate. Dubai is no exception to this rule. If you earn a risk premium during good times, you should not moan when the borrower defaults from time to time when the going gets tough…

Property companies don’t fall into the systemically important category. Their collapse is painful for their shareholders, creditors and, if the local labour markets are weak, their employees. They are not, however, systemically important. Their collapse will not threaten the delicate fabric of financial intermediation. They are fit to fail. Creditors beware.

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