DUBAI - Dubai World disappointed creditors on Monday by making little progress on securing standstill on $22 billion (13.6 billion pounds) of debt, as a key creditor meeting turned out to be a tame affair with less than half the expected attendees showing up.
A banking source said that Dubai World told creditors it would pitch the standstill proposal in mid-January.
Dubai World said the meeting was an overview and that creditors need to form a panel for talks to proceed, but gave few details.
Amid confusion, over half of the 300 expected attendees did not show up while many others were not able to dial in due to technical problems. Participants said organisers went to great lengths to prevent leaks, with delegates asked to sign non-disclosure agreements.
We got less out of it than we hoped for, said a representative of a European bank.
Ahead of the meeting, expectations fell for a quick resolution due to a Dubai email advising banks not to expect much from the event, and Dubai World moved to characterise the meeting as an expectation management exercise.
Shares in Dubai's Emirates NBD and Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, lenders with significant exposure to Dubai World's debts, closed down 4.8 percent, and construction stocks were also hit.
They have not revealed plans to restructure the debt or repayment methods. They just told us that their assets are much bigger than liabilities, at least it looks so on paper. I think the whole restructuring will take time until June, said a senior bank executive based in the Gulf.
He said that bankers expected a standstill to be granted, and that Dubai World had said it didn't expect matters to come to a point where it needed to file for bankruptcy under a new law the country has adopted.
Dubai sent shockwaves through global markets on November 25 when it said it would request a standstill on billions of dollars of debts linked to Dubai World and its property units Limitless and Nakheel, developer of three palm-shaped islands.
A $10 billion lifeline from wealthier neighbour Abu Dhabi last week -- the third this year -- helped Dubai stave off default on a $4.1 billion Islamic bond from Nakheel and provided enough funds to service debts until April.
Banks had lent to Dubai government-linked firms on the implicit understanding that they were backed by Abu Dhabi or by the federal government of the oil-exporting United Arab Emirates, of which both Dubai and Abu Dhabi are a part.
While the support eventually came, the delay and the lack of communication shook global markets and may have caused lasting damage to the reputation of the Gulf business hub.
Dubai World said in the presentation it had $40 billion in total debts, the banking source said.
LONG HAUL AHEAD
The source, who saw Dubai World's presentation said that the proposal would be effective end-January.
It's more of a friendly type of restructuring. Dubai World is making an effort to work with the lenders for a solution that works with both parties... This is the first time they've given numbers.
Bankers predicted that Monday's meeting would mark only the start of what could be lengthy negotiations.
Providing clarity is clearly the number one priority, said Raj Madha, banking analyst at EFG-Hermes.
But, as uncertainty looked set to linger for a while, investors said they expected the short-term reaction to be muted.
We're not going to see any panic in the market because Dubai today has the ammunition to go through this restructuring phase and reach an agreement with its creditors, said Rami Sidani, head of asset management at Shroeders Middle East, referring to the $10 billion extended by Abu Dhabi.
UAE Economy Minister Sultan bin Saeed al-Mansouri said Dubai may get further aid from the federal government and played down the impact on the UAE economy as whole.
This issue has to be studied in a proper manner, evaluated and based on that, an answer will be provided on the federal level or the local level because the way we see this is one economy not separated from each other, he told reporters on the sidelines of a conference.
A steering committee of Dubai World's largest lenders last met Dubai World on December 7. The committee consists of London-listed Standard Chartered, HSBC, Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland, as well as Emirates NBD and Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank.
Dubai may still repay lenders in full, an Abu Dhabi-based newspaper reported on Sunday, citing unnamed sources.
The National daily said two top Dubai officials, on a confidence-building mission to Britain and the United States in recent days, told financial leaders in London that repaying all bank loans in full was discussed as a medium-term possibility.
But a full repayment seems the most unlikely of available options and bankers expect Dubai World to propose the extension of maturities for at least a year or more while paying interest.
In the boom years, Dubai lured wealthy visitors and courted the media with celebrity-endorsed projects and developments such as The World, an archipelago in the shape of a world map.
But whereas neighbours funded growth with proceeds from soaring oil prices, Dubai borrowed to invest through a network of state-linked conglomerates that offered limited transparency.
Dubai World's troubles have raised question marks about transparency in the region as a whole and fears among investors that other government-linked firms could also face problems.
Speculation has continued to mount over which assets Dubai Inc., the network of government-owned companies, is willing to sell to help pay off its debt obligations.
Dubai Holding, which belongs to Dubai's ruler, will not sell luxury hotelier Jumeirah Group, operator of the sail-shaped Burj al-Arab hotel, Jumeirah Group's chairman said.
(Additional reporting by Nicolas Parasie, Jason Benham, Amran Abocar and Saleh Shaibany, Writing by Lin Noueihed, Editing by Sitaraman Shankar)