UAE's Habtoor Grp eyes European hotel buys

* Dubai’s Habtoor on hunt for Paris, London 5-star hotels

* Rothschild identifying hotels, assets for grabs

* Looks to win $8.2 bln deals in UAE with Leighton in 2010

(Adds background, details)

By Tamara Walid

DUBAI, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Dubai's Habtoor Group, which bought into Barclays BARC.L in 2008, has asked Rothschild to identify five-star hotel targets in Europe, its chairman said on Monday, taking advantage of lower prices in the wake of the financial crisis. The conglomerate is also aiming to win up to $8.2 billion worth of building contracts in 2010 with Australia's Leighton Holdings LEI.AX.

Habtoor, which owns hotels in the UAE, was one of several Middle East investors that bought into Barclays BARC.L in 2008 as the lender looked to boost its capital to weather the financial crisis.

“We talked with Rothschild bank ... about investment in Europe and especially in London and Paris for hotels if there is anything they can find so they are looking for us,” billionaire Khalaf al-Habtoor told Reuters in an interview.

Habtoor added the group was also looking at companies who want to sell their assets due to a lack of financial liquidity.

Habtoor said in August the group had about $1.3 billion to invest in Europe. [nLJ10042]

The group, which rivals Dubai's largest contractor Arabtec ARTC.DU, has a joint venture with Leighton and has said it may float its engineering unit or the entire group in the third quarter of 2010, with possible listings in Dubai and London. [nLJ136143]

Habtoor declined to comment on the potential IPO on Monday.

The construction firm is working on about 27 billion dirhams

($7.35 billion) of projects in the United Arab Emirates at present and expects to bid on about 40 billion dirhams worth of projects in Abu Dhabi alone this year, Habtoor said.

“We are expecting this year that we have to grab a minimum of 25-30 billion dirhams in projects,” Habtoor said.


The company is eyeing airport project contracts in several countries, Habtoor said.

In Turkmenistan, it is bidding for a $1.5 billion project, and has signed a preliminary agreement to build the first phase, in excess of $500 million, of a Kuwait airport.

He added the company expected to win new projects in the UAE, including an airport, and hospitals in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

“We are bidding for the airport in Abu Dhabi which is in excess of $6.5 billion,” he said.

The group is a holding company for business ranging from construction, hospitality, automotive, real estate, education, and others, run by Habtoor, who is reputedly worth $1.1 billion according to the 2009 Forbes billionaire’s list.

Habtoor, who owns and operates around seven luxury hotels in the UAE and Lebanon, saw full occupancies for its hotels in the beginning of January.

He said the company was “testing the waters” for two new hospitality projects in Dubai and expects to make a decision in the fourth quarter of 2010 or beginning of 2011.

The projects will include a mixed-use 3.5 billion UAE dirhams cluster and an 800 million dirham hotel on the emirate’s man-made island The Palm.

The company also expects to boost its presence in Qatar as it looks to diversify revenues away from its home market.

“Qatar is becoming to us the second for construction after the UAE,” Habtoor said.

In 2010, Habtoor said he expects his group to achieve a growth of 103 percent in net profit. He declined to give precise figures.

The company’s turnover in the first half of 2009 exceeded 9 billion dirhams ($2.45 billion).

(Editing by John Irish)

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