How mergers could save the property and financial sectors

Mohanad Al Wadiya, Managing Director of Harbor Real Estate Brokerage, shares his thoughts on upcoming mergers

For many players in the local market, mergers and acquisitions appear to be a logical solution to stay afloat during the global financial crisis. Opinion is divided as to whether these mergers and acquisitions will have a positive or negative impact in the short and medium terms, and it is too early at this stage to predict success or failure. Nevertheless, it seems clear that without these actions, the result would be a freeze in financing facilities and diminishing activity in the property sector, which would have an adverse effect on the overall economy.

Within the financial sector, these kinds of mergers really started as early as last year. It all began when Amlak and Tamweel announced a merger to create Emirates Development Bank in November 2008. The new bank will have access to federal funds and hopes to strengthen the UAE’s home finance sector. The merger news gained considerable media attention and created veryhigh expectations.

In terms of property development, we have seen similar mergers within the last year. Dubai World, the major property and ports conglomerate, recently consolidated its management and property operations of Leisurecorp, Dubai Maritime City, and the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre, all of which it owns. The property divisions of these companies will now be run by Nakheel, another property arm of Dubai World.

There is also continued discussion of a merger between Deyaar Development and Union Properties, with news about the latter having liquidity problems and losing its long-time chief executive recently.

While these developments are important for the sector, the most significant merger in the region is currently being discussed between Dubai Holdings’ ‘Big 3’ companies and Emaar, a most popular developer in the Middle East. Dubai Properties, Tatweer, and Sama Dubai—collectively known as ‘The Big 3’—are fully-owned subsidiariesof Dubai Holding Commercial Operations, a holding company of Dubai Holding Group with total assets of Dh126bn at the end of 2008, as quotes by Emaar.

There is a growing consensus among the officials involved that allowing healthy businesses to acquire companies in jeopardy of failing could stabilise the economy by bolstering confidence in both the financial and property sectors. For some of these companies, merging with a partner that has a strong balance sheet is a pressing and essential step in preventing dissolution. Other benefits include leveraging economies of scale and having stronger negotiation positions with regard to suppliers and contractors. The mergers will allow companies to work together to achieve long-term, strategic benefits by uniting complementary businesses into a single, sufficient and more successful operation. For the property sector, these mergers will also allow consolidated companies to have better control of the overall supply introduced into the marketplace and the quality of the products and services offered. This will definitely have a positive impact on the market in the long run.

On the other hand, there are concerns that these mergers will place heavy burdens on the stronger companies
involved. These partners are not just taking over assets, but may also be inheriting large liabilities and debts. Furthermore, these mergers are likely to generate a lot of uncertainty among the investors and shareholders involved. Investors might have to accept further delays until these mergers are finalised, and will then have to evaluate the impact of the mergers on their investment.

Whatever the impact, the number of mergers involving financial and property organisations is increasing. For these new companies, the ability to provide prompt, transparent, and practical information that guide all stakeholders through the merger process and expected outcomes could make the difference between success and failure from the public’s point of view.

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