Dubai-based real estate developer Nakheel has become the focus of the problems in the emirate’s construction market in recent weeks, as it tries to restructure a $3.5bn sukuk (Islamic bond) before the repayment deadline of 14 December.
But across the Gulf many smaller firms are in just as much, if not more, difficulty. Adapting to a market that has changed beyond recognition over the past 18 months is the biggest challenge most firms have ever had to face – and how they react in 2010 is likely to decide their fates.
Instead of relying on Dubai to provide an endless stream of contract wins, contractors and materials suppliers now have to look elsewhere, to Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. And, in place of luxury villas, apartments and commercial towers, there is a renewed emphasis on affordable housing.
Such change will not have come as a complete surprise to anyone paying close attention to the market in recent years – there have been plenty of warnings that the froth in the Dubai market was unsustainable. However, the speed and scale of the downturn will still have caught many firms out.
Agility and a strong balance sheet will be the best defence for firms in coming months. Those that are flexible over shifting deadlines stand a chance of survival, as do those capable of absorbing the costs of late payments.
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