Global Investing

Golden days of the Turkey-Iran trade may be gone

Global Investing has discussed in the past what a golden opportunity the Iranian crisis has proved for Turkey. Between January and July 2012 it ratcheted up gold exports to Iran ten-fold compared to 2011 as inflation-hit Iranians clamoured for the precious metal. Since August exports appear to have been routed via the UAE, possibly to circumvent U.S. sanctions on trade with Teheran.

The trade has been a handy little earner. Evidence of that has shown up in Turkey’s data all year as its massive current account deficit has steadily shrunk. On Friday, official data showed the Turkish trade gap falling by a third in October from year-ago levels. And yes, precious metal exports (read gold) came in at $1.5 billion compared to $322.4 million last October. In short, a jump of 370 percent.

But the days of the lucrative trade may be numbered, according to Morgan Stanley analyst Tevfik Aksoy. Aksoy notes that the gold exports can at least partly be accounted for by the considerable amounts of lira deposits that Iran held in Turkish banks as payment for oil exports. (Yes, there’s an oil link to all this. Turkey buys oil from Iran but pays lira due to Western sanctions against paying Teheran hard currency. Iranian firms use liras to shop for Turkish gold. See here for detailed Reuters article). These deposits are being steadily converted into gold and repatriated, Aksoy says.

We tend to think that the majority (of Iranian funds) is gone and we should be seeing a rapid normalisation in Turkey’s external trade in gold soon.

He also notes a White House order at the end of July that expanded sanctions to include precious metals — a sign that the gold exports had grabbed U.S. notice. Canny Turkish gold traders probably responded by re-routing exports through the UAE and pushing gold exports to the emirates to over $2 billion in August.  Interestingly however, the figure in October has fallen to just over  $500 million. Aksoy predicts the number to decline further:

A scar on Bahrain’s financial marketplace

Bahrain’s civil unrest — which had a one-year anniversary this week — has taken a toll on the local economy and left a deep scar on the Gulf state’s aspiration to become an international financial hub.

A new paper from the Sovereign Wealth Fund Initiative, a research programme at Center for Emerging Market Enterprises (CEME) at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, examines how the political instability of 2011 is threatening Bahrain’s efforts in the past 30 years to diversify its economy and develop the financial centre.

Asim Ali from University of Western Ontario and Shatha Al-Aswad, assistant vice president at State Street, argue in the paper that even before the revolt, Bahrain lagged in building the foundations of a truly international hub in the face of competition from Dubai and Qatar.

Who were the investment winners and losers in 2009?

Let’s not beat about the bush: the winners in this year’s investment stakes were those who cashed out early in the financial crisis, looked at hugely oversold stock markets in March and jumped back in. The losers were those who spent too much time thinking about it or, worse, thought it was a good idea to put all their money in Dubai stocks and  Greek government debt.

For the winners, it all had to do with market timing. Buying MSCI’s emerging market stock index at its March 3 low brought gains of close to 110 percent.  It was “only” a bit above 72 percent for the full year. World stocks as a whole gained around 30 percent for the year and nearly 75 percent from the March low.

Gold bugs grabbed a bit of the spotlight because of the record nominal highs for the metal. But with a gain for spot gold of around 24 percent, you would have done much better buying oil, which gained more than 75 percent.

Can the euro zone survive Greece?

Wolfgang Munchau, co-founder and president of Eurointelligence, has raised an uncomfortable prospect for investors in Greece. In a Financial Times column today, the long-time Europe commentator argues that Brussels may not be willing to bail Greece out if it were to default on its debt à la all-but sovereign Dubai World is about to.

The EU’s authorities, rightly or wrongly, are more afraid of the moral hazard of a bail-out than the possible spillover effect of a hypothetical Greek default to other eurozone countries. If faced with a choice between preserving the integrity of the stability pact and the integrity of Greece, they are currently minded to choose the former.

Munchau reckons that outright default is unlikely, but wonders whether the current spread between Greek and benchmark German bonds really reflects the risk that investors are taking.  It is currently around 178 basis points after recovering from a blow out on Dubai worries last week.

A black swan in the desert

Just when investors were settling down to lock in a few of the year’s profits and put their feet up for the end of the year holidays, a black swan has come waddling out of the desert to put everything on edge.

The unwelcome cygnus atratus came in the form of Gulf emirate Dubai telling creditors of Dubai World and property group Nakheel that debt repayments would be delayed.  Fears of contagion spread widely, hitting world stocks, lifting the dollar out of its basement and driving demand for European debt so much that a roughly 6-month trading range for futures was breached.

It all may settle down soon. Dubai says the problem does not apply to its big international ports group.  Meanwhile, the emirate is a pretty leveraged place, but fellow emirates and neighbouring countries such as Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are pretty flush with cash. They could even step in to help as a matter of solidarity.

from Summit Notebook:

Dubai returns to fixed income sphere

Dubai returns to the fixed-income sphere for the first time in more than a year after raising about $2 billion from dirham and dollar-denominated Islamic bonds.

Confidence in the emirate had run aground earlier this year as investors bet on Dubai's state-linked entities not being able refinance debt. So far, this year it has met all its obligations and with the fresh issue booking about $6.5 billion from regional and international investors, Dubai's doomsday scenario appears to be vanishing. 

With much of the United Arab Emirates' oil coming from the largest of the emirates Abu Dhabi, investors have flocked to the capital this year as appetite for good emerging market debt revives. The spread between Abui Dhabi and Dubai widened at its peak to over 500 basis points in February, but Dubai government efforts to restore confidence -- kickstarted by the UAE central bank buying $10 billion of its bonds -- has helped spreads narrow to about 200 basis points.

from Chris Wickham:

Climate change is off the agenda in Dubai

The headline in the Gulf News English language daily reads 'UAE tops world on per capita carbon footprint'.

For a place so reliably bathed in sunlight, the Dubai property explosion seems to have generated enough construction noise to drown out the environmental debate raging elsewhere in the world.

For the first-time visitor, the scale of the global construction superlatives - The Palm, made from reclaimed land jutting out defiantly into the Gulf, the skyscrapers built in a region where there is no shortage of space - is staggering.

from Raissa Kasolowsky:

Dubai is super enough, thanks

Dubai has sufficient superlatives – record-setting landmarks unique in their size, cost or concept -- to last it for the next decade – so enough already, says Deyaar CEO Markus Giebel.

“I endorse having the tallest building in the world, the first seven-star hotel in the world, the palm,” he says. “What I don’t endorse are attempts to now outdo these superlatives…they are going to last us the next 10 to 15 years.”

Dubai is home -- amongst other attractions -- to the world's largest indoor ski slope, the world's tallest tower, and the world's first, albeit self-rated, seven-star hotel that also sports its own Rolls Royce fleet and helicopter landing platform. The global financial crisis brought a real estate boom in the emirate to a screeching halt, leading to a raft of new, hugely ambitious projects  -- including a 1-km high tower and the world's largest mall -- to be shelved or delayed.

from Summit Notebook:

Green shoots and short attention spans

Coming out of one of the darkest recessions, have we learned the lesson at all? Or are we going to repeat the mistakes of the past again?

 

 

Khuram Maqsood, managing director of boutique corporate financing advisory firm Emirates Capital, thinks we may well repeat them.

 

He says a second wave in the downturn – if it comes at all – is unlikely to come from a new, unseen fault in world markets.

from John Irish:

Mid-East business leaders to discuss economic recovery

Starting Monday, Reuters is inviting  business leaders from various sectors in Dubai, Riyadh and Cairo to discuss key challenges facing them in the aftermath of the global financial crisis and the lessons they have learnt.

Is the downturn over or are we set for a double-dip? Will buyers flock back to Dubai's property bonanza or will they stay away for the foreseeable future? Will the oil-reliant economies of the Gulf manage to diversify as they had hoped at the start of the boom in 2002 or will they continue to rest on their barrels of crude? Read this for a preview.