Government-owned Dubai World will meet its main creditors next week to discuss a request to delay payment on $26 billion in debt that has shaken global markets and confidence in the Gulf Arab business hub.
Dubai's problems had raised fears of a renewed global crisis, but there was little evidence of concern on the streets, where thousands of balloons in the black, white, green and red of the United Arab Emirates flag were released to mark the federation's national day.
Next week's meeting would be Dubai World's first formal talks with key lenders since the conglomerate that spearheaded the emirate's rapid growth disclosed its debt woes on Nov 25.
An Abu Dhabi bank executive, who asked not to be named, said London-listed Standard Chartered, HSBC, Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland, along with local lenders Emirates NBD and Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank were on the creditors panel.
The banks did not immediately confirm their participation on the committee but an Asian-based banking analyst said the six banks were likely to be among those with greatest exposure to Dubai World, which ran up its debts during a property boom that turned to bust with the global financial crisis last year.
A source at a Dubai-based bank confirmed the makeup of the panel.
Dubai World has asked creditors for a six-month standstill on the debt of its property subsidiaries Limtless and Nakheel, developer of three palm-shaped islands that once lured wealthy expatriates and even celebrities.
The most urgent question is the fate of Nakheel's $3.52 billion Islamic bond, which matures on December 14. British law firm Ashurst said it was named legal adviser to Nakheel bondholders who account for 25 percent of the bond.
Dubai said the government would not guarantee the debts of Dubai World, whose overall liabilities total almost $60 billion, including those of units not part of the restructuring.
The International Monetary Fund said on Tuesday that banks from Britain are the most exposed to the conglomerate which was at the forefront of Dubai's expansion plans and boasts the motto The Sun Never Sets on Dubai World.
Dubai transformed itself from a sleepy desert backwater into the trade and tourism hub of the world's biggest oil-exporting region with sprawling malls, skyscrapers and luxury villas that attracted celebrities and the super-rich.
UAE markets, battered in the last two days, were shut for the holiday, but Qatar's bourse surged nearly five percent after plunging more than eight percent on Tuesday.
UAE officials have blamed foreign media for exaggerating the crisis, ignored during national day festivities. Black-clad women waved at a flag-draped flotilla in Dubai Creek, the waterway on which Dubai first built its reputation as a regional trading center.
WAKE-UP CALL FOR INVESTORS
The Dubai debacle, which initially spooked global stock, debt and currency markets, has exposed the frailties of quasi-sovereign lending.
Companies such as Dubai World can no longer be seen as having the protection of their respective governments. This is true all over the region and not just in Dubai, said Anshuman Jaswal, an analyst with Celent, a Boston-based financial research and consulting firm.
Foreign banks had lent to Dubai government-linked firms on the implicit understanding that they were backed by the UAE -- the world's third largest oil exporter flush with cash from a six-year boom in oil prices.
Something that has irritated international investors is that the government distanced itself from Dubai World, which legally speaking is true, but morally speaking, they had gone out of their way before to make that tie, one investor said.
Moody's said on Tuesday that possible multiple defaults related to Dubai World's debt restructuring could lead to downgrades in UAE bank ratings, but international banks exposed to the conglomerate are unlikely to be affected.
The ratings agency estimated the Dubai government and its related entities have debt of $100 billion -- higher than the market estimate of around $80 billion.
Adnan Yousif, chairman of the Union of Arab Banks, faulted Dubai for mishandling initial communications with creditors and the media, prompting an over-reaction by capital markets.
Dubai issued a five-paragraph statement last week just before a four-day holiday, containing no details and leaving bankers and investors scrambling for information. It said only on Monday it would negotiate $26 billion of debt with lenders.
They announced it, but they did not have an ad hoc committee to communicate with both the creditors as well as the media. They left everybody shocked, Yousif told Reuters.
He said Dubai should have sounded out creditors on their readiness for restructuring talks before going public, but that the crisis was unlikely to have a major impact on Gulf banks.
Bankers have said that banks in Abu Dhabi have an exposure to Dubai-based firms of at least 30 percent of their loan books.
Fears of global contagion have eased, but Dubai's debt woes may crimp the emirate's breakneck expansion -- to the relief of some outnumbered Emiratis alarmed by an influx of foreigners and their liberal ways into the conservative Gulf Arab country.
I don't have anything to lose in this financial crisis, said Ebtisam al-Kitbi, a politics professor. As an activist and academic, I view it as an advantage for us as Emiratis.
(Additional reporting by Stanley Carvalho in Abu Dhabi, Fredrik Richter in Manama and Andrew Hammond in Dubai, writing by Alistair Lyon, editing by Lin Noueihed)