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Dubai property bounces but stirs fears of new bubble

10 october 2013, 12:39
0
Dubai's property sector is making a strong comeback five years after prices in the emirate nosedived, but a surge in demand and bouncing prices have triggered calls to remember the crisis, AFP reports.

Scale models of grandiose developments rolled out at the three-day Cityscape property show, which ends on Thursday, showed the renewed confidence in a market that shed around half of its value.

But Ali Lootah, chairman of Nakheel, the giant developer behind a clutch of landmark projects in the Gulf emirate including its famous palm-shaped man-made islands, was bullish.

"Dubai is booming again," he said.

He was speaking as Nakheel launched a new seafront development on reclaimed land, along with a handful of residential projects.

"We have a lot of people moving to Dubai. Dubai is back in business, and I'm not really worried about speculations," he said.

Speculation on the market pushed property prices to record highs before sending them tumbling during the global financial crisis.

Dubai's property market grew rapidly during the five years before the crash as the sector became a magnet for foreign investors.

But foreign financing dried up when the global financial crisis hit the sector, just as it struck the heavily-indebted government-related companies, while the economy contracted in 2009 and 2010.

Dubai has weathered the debt crisis, leaning on its robust trade, tourism and transport sectors, although the city-state still carries a large burden of debt exceeding $100 billion (74 billion euros).

Its economy grew 3.7 percent in 2011 and 4.4 percent in 2012, and is expected to expand by 4.1 percent this year.

Some residential property has bounced by about 20 percent, said Alan Robertson, chief executive officer for the Middle East-North Africa region at Jones Lang LaSalle property consultancy.

"We think prices will continue to grow quite quickly over the next 12 months, but over the next 24 months we will see the rate of growth slow down," he told AFP, adding that prices were still 20 to 30 percent below their 2008 peak.

"We think that this is an initial burst of growth which will settle down as the pent-up demand we have experienced is satisfied."

He said his consultancy predicted that "the market will reverse into a more sustainable growth in prices".

Robertson warned against getting carried away by signs of recovery, but said he was cautiously optimistic for the future.

He did not foresee another bubble burst because of "a number of key differences," highlighting a recent decision to double sales duties to four percent, in an attempt to curb flipping.

"This will take a bit of steam out of the market place," said Robertson, pointing to demand from end users, including Arab investors sheltering their money in Dubai away from their countries that have been rocked by the Arab spring uprisings.

Robertson sees Dubai as a "safe haven", noting that 80 percent of buyers are paying in cash, with the remaining fifth backed by mortgages.

To meet the rising appetite of investors, Dubai has dusted off ambitious plans for new developments.

At the Cityscape show, models of properties showcased elaborate features, including man-made canals dotted with Florence-style bridges, and a Dubai-I wheel that will stand larger than the London Eye.

EFG-Hermes investment bank has talked of "signs of a bubble developing," but noted in its quarterly report this month that speculation has changed from the pre-crisis mode.

"The speculation seen between 2006 and 2008 was greatly driven by cheap credit and high leverage," compared to current speculations by cash-rich investors.

In July, the International Monetary Fund warned Dubai it should intervene to prevent property prices from developing a bubble.

"It is too early to speak of a bubble, but should price increases continue to take place at this pace, action will need to be taken to prevent a bubble," IMF mission chief for the UAE Harald Finger said in comments reported in the media.

But despite the gleaming display models at the show, the projects appear to be phased in over a long period of time, with releases made in small portions, according to Robertson.

This was clear at the show, where a salesman standing by a model of thousands of planned villas, said only a couple of hundred had been released for sale.

"The developers are showing that they have learnt lessons from last time," Robertson said.

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