DUBAI (Reuters) - Debt-ridden conglomerate Dubai World is expected on Monday to ask key creditors for more time to pay off its loans, but leave them none the wiser concerning their prospects of being paid back in full.
Saddled with a $22 billion debt pile and in need of restructuring, the Gulf Arab emirate’s flagship company is expected to formalize a request for a payment standstill at a meeting with some 90 creditors at Dubai’s World Trade Center complex.
Though important, the gathering will probably mark only an intermediate step in a lengthy process, with banking sources anticipating no detailed proposals on the terms of the potential standstill to be discussed.
“Providing clarity is clearly the number one priority,” said Raj Madha, banking analyst at EFG-Hermes. “Obviously a standstill is not ideal. But a standstill with visibility of when payments will be received or the extent of these payments would be sufficient to call it a result.”
Dubai sent shockwaves through global markets on November 25 when it requested a standstill on $26 billion of debts linked to Dubai World and its two property units Nakheel and Limitless.
A $10 billion lifeline from neighboring Abu Dhabi last week — the third to Dubai this year — helped it stave off default on a $4.1 billion Islamic bond, or sukuk, from Nakheel.
A local newspaper said on Sunday that Dubai may still repay lenders in full, 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.”
Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al-Maktoum, head of Dubai’s Supreme Fiscal Committee and the uncle of Dubai’s ruler, and Mohammed al-Shaibani, deputy head of the committee, met officials in London last week.
“They made clear there were a number of options the government of Dubai saw as feasible and desirable for Dubai World and repayment in full was one of them,” the newspaper quoted a person who attended the talks as saying.
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.
“The top lenders have probably already agreed to a standstill, the local banks will just be expected to turn up and sign,” said a Dubai-based banker.
A steering committee of Dubai World’s largest lenders met the company on December 7.
The committee consists of London-listed Standard Chartered , HSBC, Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland, and local lenders Emirates NBD and Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank.
Lenders will take Dubai World’s requests back to their credit committees, which are expected to agree the standstill request early in the New Year, several bankers said.
“A lot of banks will get information and background to the group (on Monday),” said a Dubai-based lawyer. “There will be a lot of questions asked but I don’t think that many will be answered.”
Speculation, meanwhile, continues to mount over which assets Dubai Inc., the network of government-owned companies, is willing to sell to help pay off its debt obligations.
One such asset, luxury hotelier Jumeirah Group, is not for sale, its owner Dubai Holding said.
“Jumeirah and Dubai Holding are part of each other and Jumeirah is not going anywhere,” the group’s chairman told a local newspaper.
Editing by John Stonestreet