Dubai says looking at alternate plan for debt repayment

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Favorable market conditions may prompt Dubai to issue another sovereign bond this year, a top official said on Tuesday, adding that the emirate was looking at alternate means to repay its debt if asset sales did not materialize.

Global investor' sentiment towards Dubai has improved greatly over the past year, helping the emirate tap capital markets. In January, it raised $1.25 billion from a two-part international bond sale, drawing heavy investor demand.

"The market is right, the price is right, then why not?" Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al-Maktoum, a close advisor and uncle to Dubai's ruler, said when asked whether the emirate might make a second sovereign debt issue this year.

Sheikh Ahmed, a key figure in the emirate's recovery from its 2009 debt crisis, was speaking to Reuters on the sidelines of a Dubai travel industry conference. He holds a host of top positions in Dubai including the chairmanships of its largest bank, Emirates NBD, state-owned investment firm Dubai World and the Emirates airline.

Despite its recovery from the crisis, a major concern among Dubai's creditors has been the slow pace of asset sales, which are seen as a major means for the emirate to finance repayments of its obligations.

Four years ago, Dubai was forced to request a $25bn debt restructuring for Dubai World. The restructuring plan envisaged the sale of some assets to meet obligations, but there still has been little progress with sales.

Sheikh Ahmed said the emirate was looking at an alternative plan to repay its debt.

"We will look at something like this. I can't specify what, since it's confidential information because of the restructuring," he said when asked if an alternative to asset sales was in place.

Sheikh Ahmed said that in some areas, asset sales might have to be delayed, "because we might see in six months to one year things will be better."


Banks in the region are worried that the emirate might push lenders into a second round of debt restructuring in the absence of a pick-up in asset sales.

Dubai and its state firms have an estimated $48bn of debt in the bond and loan markets due to mature between 2014 and 2016, which includes about $10bn in restructured debt at Dubai World and Nakheel.

A research note by British-based lender Standard Chartered said last November that conglomerates had made little progress in raising cash from asset sales and that the emirate's overall debt burden remained a challenge.

A $10bn restructuring of Dubai Group, a unit of ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum's personal investment firm Dubai Holding, is on track and may happen as early as the first half of this year, Sheikh Ahmed said.

There is no need to recapitalize the financial support fund which provides aid to Dubai's indebted state-linked companies, he added.

"I am confident Dubai companies can take care of themselves," he said.