Dubai and debt-deleveraging

I expect the fears of a Dubai World default to be the first indication of many debt-deflationary shocks to come. The reason for what would appear to be a big overreaction to what is a relatively small problem is that everyone who is anyone in the financial world is thinking that if the legendary sovereign fund of Dubai can’t afford to service its debts, then who possibly can?

On Wednesday, Dubai World, the government investment company behind some of the emirate’s most ambitious projects, said it was seeking to delay repayment on a tranche of its debt.

The company has $60bn (£35.9bn) of liabilities from its various companies including Nakheel, the property firm behind the Palm Jumeirah, the world’s biggest artificial island, and the Nakheel Tower, the world’s tallest building at 1km high. It also owns DP World, the ports operator that bought P&O Ferries. Nakheel is due to make a $3.52bn Islamic bond repayment, plus charges, on December 14. The company also unveiled a restructuring programme, to be headed by Aidan Birkett, Deloitte’s managing partner for corporate finance.

Traders feared that the request for a six-month standstill was a sign that the Dubai Government was struggling with its other debts – and that the full impact of the financial crisis globally may not yet be over.

As I wrote at the beginning of RGD, it is not over. It has only begun. It may be worthwhile to remember that Austria’s Creditanstalt bank didn’t declare bankruptcy until May 1931, 19 months after Black Tuesday. It has been less than 14 months since the U.S. Congress created the Office of Financial Stability in order to establish the Troubled Asset Relief Program.