The six companies under review include, global port operator DP World and Emaar Properties, the property developer building the nearly complete world’s tallest building in the heart of the city.
A downgrade could make loans tougher to get and increase the companies’ borrowing costs at a time when the brash Middle East boom town is grappling with falling property values and an exodus of laid-off foreign workers because of the financial slump.
In addition to the threat of ratings cuts, Moody’s Investors Service questioned the emirate’s ability to tap holdings said to be worth tens of billions of dollars should it need to bail out some of the companies known as “Dubai Inc.”
Dubai, like its neighbours, does not release detailed data on its finances. That makes determining the size of its holdings difficult.
A top adviser to the emirate’s ruler has told investors the city-state itself owed $10 billion (U.S.) and that government-run companies carried about $70 billion of debt.
He vowed then that the state “can and will meet all its obligations going forward.”
He said that the emirate had about $90 billion in assets.
“Dubai may claim to have $90 or $95 billion of wealth … But I don’t think anyone with any real authority knows where this money is and whether it can be brought back as sovereign wealth in times of crisis,” said Christopher M. Davidson, a professor at Durham University in England who has written two books about the Emirates.
“We don’t know what these assets are,” said Philipp Lotter, senior vice-president in Moody’s corporate finance group. “Their liquidity cannot be taken for granted.”
Dubai is one of seven states that make up the United Arab Emirates. Its own oil reserves are relatively small, however, and the emirate has borrowed heavily to turn itself into a fast-growing trade, finance and tourism hub.
The Persian Gulf city-state has been hit harder than other economies in the region because of its higher debt load, comparatively limited cash resources and a reliance on business sectors that can be hurt by the economic downturn.
All are controlled to some extent by the emirate’s government or its ruler, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum