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Guarantee, really?

Una Galani 

Nakheel: World’s guarantee to bondholders could prove worthless. The emirate’s holding company, which is seeking a six-month standstill from creditors, pledged to repay a $3.5 billion Islamic bond issued by its now troubled property subsidiary Yet with local creditors effectively calling the shots, foreign lenders might find enforcing that guarantee impossible.

has asked for trading in all three of its listed Islamic bonds to be suspended. Only the first, which was issued in 2006 and is due to mature December 14, was guaranteed by parent World. The liability on the subsequent two bonds, which have a total face value of $1.7 billion and mature in 2010 and 2011, appears to be limited to itself.

The property developer’s 2008 accounts show $41.5 billion of assets and $17.5 billion of liabilities — a net asset value of $24 billion. But real estate prices in the emirate have fallen around 50 per cent in 2009. That means Nakheel, which funded some of the emirate’s most outlandish projects, could easily now have a negative equity value of $5.5 billion.

The equity value at parent Dubai World, which had liabilities of $59 billion at the end of 2008, is also likely to be negative. Its portfolio of 10 companies looks mostly troubled. However, Dubai World does hold 77 per cent of publicly-listed ports operator DP World. That was worth $5.1 billion on November 25, just before Dubai World announced its intention to restructure.

Nakheel’s foreign creditors shouldn’t get excited about their recovery prospects. To get a lawsuit against Dubai World off the ground, 75 per cent of Nakheel’s bondholders have to agree. But the majority of creditors are local banks, which are likely to accede to any request to roll over Nakheel’s debt — even if the capital structure remains unsustainable, according to one ratings analyst. And even if local lenders joined in, Dubai’s law might not support a claim that forced the sale of the assets of government-related entities.

Lawyers agree the restructuring of Nakheel and its parent will be a test case. That makes Dubai World’s guarantee look less than solid.

First Published: Tue, December 01 2009. 03:37 IST