Dubai Meraas merger ‘will advance growth’

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DUBAI: One of the UAE’s best-known master developers, Meraas, is to be folded into the government-owned conglomerate Dubai Holding, the emirate’s media office said Tuesday.

The merger is “an effort to sustain and advance growth through a unified and integrated vision,” according to an official statement. It is in line with a directive from Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and vice president of the UAE who owns both companies.

The merger comes as Dubai grapples with the economic downturn resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit business in the emirate and globally. The collapse in travel and tourism — and the slowdown in trade — have had a big effect on Dubai, which is the leisure and commercial capital of the Gulf.

The combined entity will continue to be run by Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al-Maktoum, the ruler’s uncle, who is also head of the Emirates aviation group.

A closer relationship between Meraas and Dubai Holding had been expected for some time since Sheikh Ahmed was put in charge of both companies in an executive reshuffle last year, but could signal a new wave of consolidation in the region under pressure from the pandemic fallout.

The statement said the merger would “build on gains and support Dubai’s global competitiveness.”

Meraas is the developer of some of Dubai’s most extravagant real estate and projects, like the Bluewaters hotel and leisure complex as well as other waterside developments. Dubai Holding is one of the emirate’s biggest conglomerates, owning the Tecom free zones and the Jumeirah hotels and leisure chain, in addition to a big property portfolio.

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Some experts believe the pandemic will accelerate a trend toward consolidation across the Gulf.

“The Dubai government is setting the tone for what needs to happen across the region,” Tarek Fadlallah, CEO of Nomura Asset Management in the Middle East, told Arab News.

“Leading from the top like this sends a positive message.”

Ali Maabereh, head of mergers and acquisitions at KPMG in Saudi Arabia, expected a wave of corporate activity in the Kingdom and across the region.

“The current pandemic is creating a lot of uncertainties and contradictions in what to expect after the dust settles,” he said. “The expected key impacts on companies are shortages of liquidity and working capital requirements. Though companies might be running a healthy profit and loss account, there will be significant pressure on working capital requirements.”

Some analysts believe Dubai is preparing for a round of debt renegotiation ahead of some big repayments due in the next three years. “Efforts to contain the coronavirus will cause Dubai’s economy to contract sharply, exacerbating overcapacity in key sectors and making it more difficult for the emirate’s government-related entities (GREs) to service their large debts,” Capital Economics, the London-based consultancy, said recently.

Dubai Holding’s debt levels are estimated to be a relatively small proportion of the $21 billion repayment falling due in the next three years, ahead of a significant total $30 billion of maturities due in 2023. There are no available estimates for Meraas’ liabilities.

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