Dubai World: deal soon?

March 9, 2010

State-owned Dubai World rocked markets in November when it announced a 6-month standstill on debt payments, and the company is back in the news  as investors await a $20 billion-plus debt restructuring deal, which bankers say may happen as early as this week.

Among the debts that need to be paid, two Dubai World subsdiaries — Limitless and Nakheel — have Islamic loan or bond deals maturing in the next two months, and a dollar-denominated Islamic bond for Nakheel matures in January.

Investors wonder if  United Arab Emirates capital Abu Dhabi will once more come to Dubai’s rescue, after it helped out with a $10 billion lifeline in December. The UAE today pledged its support for Dubai but said the emirate had yet to ask for federal help.

Failing that, investors may have to roll over their debt, and so wait longer for payment, or get paid now but with a “haircut” of up to 40 percent, according to some media reports.

A creditor committee made up of  UK, UAE and Japanese banks may be meeting Dubai World in London this week. But analysts say much of the debt — whether bonds, syndicated loans, or bilateral loans — has been sold back into local markets, or at least sold on by the original owner, and this may diffuse the impact on international investors of any large haircuts.

According to Mats Olausson, emerging markets strategist at SEB in Stockholm:

“For Dubai, most of the dynamite was probably used last year but there could be some fireworks and explosions.”

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