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Tuesday, 19 October 2010

FT Alphaville � US commercial real estate hits recession low

FT Alphaville � US commercial real estate hits recession low

FT Alphaville � Underwater mortgages and US housing

Thanks to Economix for directing us to these two impressive charts from the San Francisco Fed:
The charts show the dramatic rise in underwater mortgages throughout the US in the last ten years, a result of the big fall in house prices since the crisis. As we’ve noted before, a prevalence of underwater homes has reduced labour mobility in the US, and there is preliminary evidence showing that negative equity is correlated with unemployment.
In separate housing-related news, New York Fed president William Dudleycommented at length today about the housing market, but we’ve excerpted the especially interesting parts:
Housing market activity—both new construction and sales—remains depressed. On the construction side, total housing starts are running at just 600,000 units per year (seasonally-adjusted) in recent months. This is up from 530,000 units at the trough in the first quarter of 2009 but it is still extremely low by the standards of the last 50 years. In fact, the rate of new construction is so low that there is barely any net growth in the U.S. housing stock these days.
One reason why so little housing is being built is that many existing homes stand vacant. We estimate that there are roughly 3 million vacant housing units more than usual.
Impediments to home sales include tight lending standards, a weak job market and continued uncertainty regarding the future path of home prices. The large decline in home prices that occurred between 2006 and 2008 is also important. This decline reduced the amount of equity that owners have in their homes, making it difficult for people to come up with the funds needed to “trade-up” and move into better homes. …
While RealtyTrac reports that foreclosure completions in the United States exceeded 100,000 for the first time in September, it is important to remember that foreclosure is a lengthy process in most states. Our data indicate that, in recent quarters, borrowers are becoming less likely to fall behind on their mortgages, so fewer households are now entering the foreclosure process. At the same time, though, major lenders have acknowledged serious problems in the processes they have used to repossess homes and announced moratoria on new foreclosures. Taken together, these developments suggest that the situation in housing remains uncertain for the foreseeable future.
At present, the extent of the documentation problem and its wider ramifications are still uncertain. In conjunction with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Federal Reserve is therefore seeking to establish the facts through a review of the foreclosure practices, governance and documentation at the major bank mortgage servicers.
And as we mentioned earlier this month, the number of underwater homeowners means that increasingly lower rates are required for people to refinance.
Needless to say, all of this adds a sobering perspective to the news this week that housing starts climbed again in September, and that homebuilder confidence has rebounded somewhat. It’s always a relief when these figures don’t surprise the other way, but neither represents a dramatic improvement in this depressed market.

Abu Dhabi Shares Advance to April-High on Earnings; ADIB, First Gulf Gain - Bloomberg

Abu Dhabi shares climbed for a fifth day to the highest level since April as investors bet third- quarter earnings will increase and after First Gulf Bank PJSC’s recommendation was raised at EFG Hermes Holding.

Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank PJSC, the United Arab Emirates’ second-biggest bank complying with Shariah banking principles, climbed the most in more than a week after it said profit advanced 31 percent. First Gulf, the U.A.E. lender controlled by Abu Dhabi’s ruling family, jumped 2 percent after it was raised to “buy” at EFG Hermes. The ADX General Index increased 1.1 percent to 2,807.77, the highest level since April 26, at the 2 p.m. close in Abu Dhabi.

Lenders “should be coming in line with expectations on earnings,” said Anastasios Dalgiannakis, a Dubai-based trader at Mubasher Financial Services. “Banks have seen inflows from foreign institutional investors with FGB opening higher this morning on the back of an EFG upgrade.”

Shuaa likely to make profit in Q4: CEO | Reuters

Investment bank Shuaa Capital SHUA.DU expects to swing to a profit in the fourth quarter and has mandates for five initial public offerings (IPOs) in the United Arab Emirates, its chief executive said on Tuesday.

Sameer al-Ansari told the Reuters Middle East Investment Summit in Dubai the mandates for IPOs were in the healthcare, consumer and food product sectors.

The IPOs could be concluded in 2011, while a planned 1 billion dirham ($272.3 million) IPO for an Abu Dhabi-based infrastructure firm may instead be a private placement, he said."

Saudi economy slowly improving but lending weak | Reuters

Saudi Arabia's economy is slowly improving but growth comes mainly from government spending and growth in lending to the private sector will only reach healthier levels next year, bankers said.

Speakers at the Reuters Middle East Investment Summit in Riyadh said the top Arab economy is gradually shaking off any impact of global turmoil but banks would remain cautious to lend following the central bank's request that they raise provisions.

Major Saudi banks saw profits dropping in the third quarter after central bank governor Muhammad al-Jasser said banks should make provisions cover more than 100 percent of the non-performing loans."

Gulf Bank expects turnaround in Q3 | Reuters

Kuwait's Gulf Bank (GBKK.KW) expects the third quarter of this year to be a turnaround quarter as it executes a two-year plan to rebuild itself, its chief executive said on Tuesday. 'What everybody expects, is that this (third quarter) will be the turnaround quarter... and going forward every quarter should be slightly better than the previous one,' Michel Accad said at the Reuters Middle East Investment Summit in Kuwait. Gulf Bank was rescued by the Kuwaiti central bank in 2008, after about 260 million dinars ($921.6 million) of derivatives losses. Its troubles prompted the government to guarantee all deposits in local banks to restore confidence. The lender made a net profit of 1.48 million dinars in the second quarter this year, from a 9.1 million dinars loss a year earlier."

UPDATE 1-UAE's Etisalat Q3 net profit falls 23 percent | Reuters

Former state monopoly Emirates Telecommunications Corp (Etisalat) (ETEL.AD) reported a 23 percent fall in third-quarter net profit on Tuesday, as it seeks expansion abroad to tap into new markets.

The Arab world's second-largest telecom operator by market value said net profit fell to 1.7 billion dirhams ($463 million) in the quarter from 2.25 billion a year ago.

Analysts polled by Reuters had on average forecast a net profit of 2.05 billion dirhams and the result was below the lowest forecast of 1.95 billion."

UPDATE 1-Bahrain to inject $1 billion into Gulf Air | Reuters

Bahrain plans to give an extra 400 million Bahraini dinars ($1 billion) in fresh capital to loss-making national carrier Gulf Air [GULF.UL], the company said on Tuesday, adding to the country's fiscal burden.

'Gulf Air can confirm that its owners have raised its authorized share capital by an additional 400 million (dinars),' a spokeswoman for Gulf Air said in an e-mailed statement to Reuters.

She said the airline's capital would be increased to 530 million dinars."

UniCredit Reviews Libyan, Abu Dhabi Investors for Links, Messaggero Says - Bloomberg

UniCredit SpA’s Libyan and Abu Dhabi investors, which jointly own about 12.6 percent of the Italian lender, may have legal connections that would lead the bank to consider them as a single shareholder, Il Messaggero reported, without saying how it obtained the information.

UniCredit’s internal auditor, Ranieri de Marchis, is examining if the Libyan Investment Authority and the Central Bank of Libya, which together own about 7.6 percent of UniCredit, are independent entities amid a regulator inquiry, the daily said. De Marchis has found that the two investors may be linked to Abu Dhabi’s Aabar, which owns about 5 percent of UniCredit, through a Luxembourg fund, the newspaper said.

Voting rights of UniCredit’s shareholders are limited to 5 percent.

Dubai Denies Linking Sovereign Bond Sale to $500 Million Loan, Bayan Says - Bloomberg

Dubai’s finance department denied asking lenders for a $500 million loan as part of an arrangement to sell a sovereign bond, al-Bayan newspaper reported today without saying where it obtained the information.

The Financial Times reported yesterday that the emirate asked lenders seeking to manage its recent sovereign bond sale to offer the government a $500 million loan over three years at 300 basis points over the London interbank offered rate. The newspaper cited two senior bankers with knowledge of the matter.

U.S. Pushes Middle East Exports on $1 Trillion Investment Plans - Bloomberg

More than $1 trillion in planned infrastructure spending in nine Arab nations is driving U.S. ambassadors to encourage small- and medium-sized American businesses to export to the region.

The diplomats, in a six-city tour in the U.S. this week, detailed opportunities including a $325 billion investment plan over the next five to 10 years in Libya aimed at creating a railway system, improving healthcare and upgrading the power company. Algeria plans to spend $287 billion over five years on infrastructure, telecommunications and water treatment, said David Pearce, the U.S. ambassador to the country, in an interview at Bloomberg’s headquarters in New York.

The ambassadors are calling on U.S. company executives to set aside concerns about terrorism in the region and Iran’s nuclear program and tap into expanding economies seeking job creation. They pointed out the 19 percent gross domestic product growth rate in Qatar, the world’s fastest according to forecasts by the International Monetary Fund, a free trade agreement with Oman and a reduced tax rate on foreign corporations in Kuwait.

Saudi Mortgage Law Could Spark $32 Billion of Lending a Year - Bloomberg

After five years of searching for a mortgage in the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh, 28-year-old Abdulaziz Al Salem has some advice for his peers: Forget it.

“Home ownership in this country is nothing short of a nightmare,” said the father of one. “If you’re not descended from a wealthy family or have an extremely successful business, you probably should give the whole thing a pass.”

Frustrated young Saudis like Al Salem could spark a lending market that Capitas Group International estimates at $32 billion a year for the next decade if the kingdom passes a mortgage law that’s been a decade in the making. Saudi Arabia is literally millions of homes short of meeting its needs, after housing finance failed to keep up with a population that has quadrupled over 40 years to 28.7 million.

GCC Market Analytics: What's On My Financial Radar

GCC Market Analytics is primarily focused on Gulf equity markets. Occasionally, however, it's a good idea to take a broader look at what's happening in the world. Below are some of the things that have appeared on my financial radar over the past week or so.

1.) Foreclosure Mess in the US

You know something's serious when a new term is coined to refer to it: Fraudclosure. The emerging mortgage foreclosure debacle in the U.S. has the potential to get very bad, very quickly. If you're not yet familiar with this subject I suggest you read this primer.

If there is a significant slowdown in the foreclosure process (Bank of America has already halted foreclosures in all fifty states) then that's bad news for the housing market, bank revenues and potentially their bottom lines.

However, it gets worse. Other issues connected to the foreclosure problem are also emerging. For example, check out this Felix Salmon article. Should anything close to this come about 2011 could see these part two of the subprime crisis.

2.) QE2

Ben Bernake looks set to crank up his money printing machine again. The big question, however, is how much money will be printed. This article makes the case that consensus market expectations on the size of QE2 may be far higher that what the Fed is actually planning.

If consensus expectations are currently being priced into the markets and the Fed action falls short of them then QE2 may not be the big party that everyone is hoping for.

3.) Sliding US Dollar

Down 13% since the June high, it looks like the prospect of QE2 is being priced into the US Dollar as well. However, should QE2 not meet expectations this fall may prove to be overdone, at least in the short-term.

There's a lot ot talk about competitive devaluation and the possibility of a currency war (see here for example). A sliding dollar may beneficial to the US but it's at the expense of someone else's share of world trade.

4.) China now in a bull market (again)

Better news for China equities. After falling 30% following the market top in July 2009 the Shanghai Composite Index has now rebounded by 25%. That's bull market territory.

Dubai brokers still closing despite 20% stock market rally � ArabianMoney

Last week Mac Capital closed its brokerage operations in Dubai, making 25 staff redundant, the unlucky 13th closure of a broker in the UAE this year, and that despite a post-Ramadan stock market rally that has left the Dubai Financial Market up 20 per cent on the lows of July.

It is not very hard to see why brokers continue to make these painful decisions. Trading volumes are a tiny fraction of boom levels and commission rates very low. - Investment: Rainy day funds recast

Up until three years ago, they were widely demonised as a possible threat to western security. Then they became saviours of first resort to the world’s ailing banks. Today many of them are chastened but on the mend.

In depth: Sovereign wealth funds - Feb-06

Korean fund shows adventurous side - May-16

Seoul sovereign fund eyes private equity alternatives - Apr-04

Quiet SWFs no good for companies - Apr-04

Norway to curb risk to SWF - Mar-28

Sovereign wealth funds courted in debt sales - Mar-24

Sovereign wealth funds – managers of an estimated $3,000bn-$4,000bn of government-owned investments – have not had a uniformly good crisis. “In 2007 and 2008, [they] proved to be neither an unqualified threat nor an unqualified salvation for anyone involved,” says Edwin Truman of the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics, author of a new book on the funds.

While the most heavily publicised hits are the result of ill-timed investments in such financial giants as Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Blackstone Group and Barclays, more lasting damage may come from the hijacking of the funds by their own governments. The SWFs of Kuwait, Qatar, Russia, China, Kazakhstan and Ireland have together put more than $100bn into propping up troubled domestic banks and collapsing markets. Further raids on national nest eggs cannot be ruled out.

DIC to sell off major stakes and extend loan

Dubai International Capital (DIC), the private equity arm of Dubai Holding, aims to sell off all its major stakes within five years and has no plans to make new investments as it seeks an extension on repayment of US$1.25 billion (Dh4.59bn) in loans.

"Our first priority is to defend our existing portfolio," David Smoot, the fund's chief investment officer, said on the sidelines of a private equity conference in Abu Dhabi yesterday.

"We will sell within the next five years but there's no rush."

Private option the way to go

Embattled private equity companies may be forced to recoup their multimillion-dollar investments through means other than public share sales in the coming year, says the head of a Saudi buyout firm.

Slack demand for initial public offerings (IPOs) could have severe consequences for private equity firms in the Gulf seeking to exit their investments. Many are already struggling to raise the cash for takeover bids.

"Get ready for exits other than IPOs," said Ammar Alkhudairy, a managing partner of Amwal AlKhaleej.

Regional bank growth forecast to slow down

Bank revenue and profit growth will stagnate in the Gulf this year, trailing international rivals that are experiencing a recovery in earnings after the financial crisis, a study by the Boston Consulting Group shows.

After years of expansion, revenue growth of GCC banks will slow to single digits this year, with UAE banks expected to be flat, the study said.

Banks in the Emirates were forecast to experience a 2 per cent decline in profits overall. Only Oman was expected to perform worse, with profits expected to shrink by 11 per cent.

UAE banks had been among the region's star performers, showing an average annual growth of 21 per cent since 2005.

Uncertainty lifts on Mideast investment outlook | Reuters

Speakers at the Reuters Middle East investment summit were upbeat on prospects for the region, buoyed by rising consumer sentiment and cash-rich investors keen to make emerging market plays.

'In 2008, the whole world stopped - for good investments, bad investments, everything. And that has picked up again,' said Ziad Makhzoumi, chief financial officer at Dubai's Arabtec ARTC.DU, the UAE's largest listed contractor.

The signs of recovery have gone 'beyond the green shoots stage' said Abdul Kadir Hussain, chief executive of Mashreq Capital. The pick-up is evident in different sectors across the region."

UPDATE 2-Saudi Arabia says easy oil is not over-Naimi | Energy & Oil | Reuters

Saudi Arabia's oil minister said on Monday the age of easy oil was not over as the kingdom still holds at least 88 billion barrels of oil in its largest oilfield.

'I am sorry to disappoint people, easy oil is not over,' Ali Al-Naimi told reporters in Riyadh on the occasion of OPEC's 50th anniversary.

'How can you say that easy oil is over, when we still have over 88 billion (barrels) in the Ghawar field...You can dismiss that notion that easy oil in Saudi Arabia is gone,' he added."

Kuwait's Global sees more layoffs | Reuters

Kuwait's Global Investment House (GLOB.KW), one of the country's biggest investment firms, will continue to monitor costs and expects more job cuts this year, although it expects an improvement in results, its managing director said on Monday. Speaking at the Reuters Middle East Investment Summit in Kuwait, Maha al-Ghunaim said she expected the firm's results to be better in the second half of 2010 than they were in the same period a year ago.

"I'm very positive that we will continue to see an appreciation in our revenue line, and if things start to move in the region, you bet that Global will have a place," she said.

"This crisis has been a blessing in disguise, because today Global is much better, stronger than where it was five years ago, regardless of the profitability," she added. - High stakes played for in UAE nuclear scheme

When Abu Dhabi awarded a $20.4bn contract last December to a consortium led by the Korea Electric Power Corporation to oversee construction of a nuclear programme, many observers were taken by surprise.

The bid battle had been considered a two-horse race between US- and French-led consortia. Critical to Kepco’s success was a commitment to technology transfer and to train and employ a high proportion of UAE nationals in the massive plants to be built.

But that commitment may be difficult to meet, say industry watchers and participants, because of a dearth of qualified engineers locally and because of high international demand for skills. Today, some 60 nuclear plants are being built worldwide. - Kuwait sparks confusion with labour U-turn

As media strategies go it was not the most consistent. Last month Mohammad al-Afasi, the Kuwaiti labour minister, announced that the oil-rich emirate would cancel the kafeel sponsorship system by February 2011 as a “gift” to expatriates to mark the anniversary of the country’s liberation from the 1991 Iraqi occupation.

A day later, however, an under-secretary for the same ministry performed an about-turn. The government, the official told Al Jazeera, the satellite channel, was not about to cancel the system but only to amend it to make it easier for foreign workers to transfer sponsors.

The result is confusion about the government’s real intentions, fuelling opposition and scepticism and pitting officials against recruitment agency owners.

Qatar: Brazil bank buy is just the start | beyondbrics |

Qatar may be a fresh-faced entrant at the top of the world’s richest nations table, but its gas-fuelled wealth has already led to the coining of a new phrase among some Middle East-based financiers: “Where Qatar’s emir goes, money follows.”

So it proved in Brazil. Qatar Holding’s $2.7bn purchase of a 5 per cent stake in Banco Santander Brazil comes eight months after the country’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani (pictured above), visited Latin America’s economic giant.

His wife, the strong-willed Sheikha Mozah, came along, as did Qatar’s powerful premier, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor al Thani - often known colloquially as HBJ among investment bankers queuing up around the corner in the country’s capital of Doha, eager to secure M&A financing.