Japan, China agree trade war will harm global economy

Top officials from the world’s third- and second-largest economies attended a high-level economic dialogue in Tokyo on Monday, April 16, and discussed the growing trade two between the US and China. (Reuters)
Updated 16 April 2018
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Japan, China agree trade war will harm global economy

TOKYO: Japan and China agree that a trade war will have serious consequences for the world economy, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said on Monday after a high-level economic dialogue between the world’s third- and second-largest economies.
Concern is growing about a trade row between China and the US in which the two nations have threatened each other with tariffs. Japan has been criticized by US President Donald Trump on trade and been hit with tariffs on steel and aluminum, but it has not yet threatened counter-tariffs.
“We have shared understanding that a trade war, no matter which country has brought it about, would have a very large impact on the prosperity of the international economy,” Kono told reporters after the first such dialogue in more than seven years.
Kono and the Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, co-chaired the Tokyo meeting. Wang is also foreign minister.
Financial markets have been roiled recently over fears that a full-blown US-China trade war could shatter global trade and economic growth.
Trade issues will likely be at the forefront of a summit between Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Trump later this week. Tokyo is eager to avoid being pushed into talks on a two-way free trade agreement aimed not only at market access but at monetary and currency policies.
Kono also said it was possible that Japan works with China on Beijing’s Belt and Road projects.
“It is quite possible that Japan cooperates with China on various (Belt and Road) projects on a case by case basis where international standards are met,” Kono said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, unveiled in 2013, aims at building a modern-day Silk Road connecting China by land and sea to Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.
Abe and Xi pledged last year to reset the sometimes-touchy relationship between Asia’s two largest economic powers.
Wang, who spent eight years in Japan as a diplomat including three as ambassador, said the changing economic climate presented fresh opportunities.
“After reopening these talks, we’re both standing at new starting points to discuss future cooperation that will, I hope, lead to fresh economic growth for both nations,” Wang said at the start of the economic dialogue.
Wang is the first Chinese foreign minister to visit Japan in a bilateral context in nine years. He and Kono discussed a broad range of issues, including North Korea, on Sunday night.


Gulf companies challenged by debt and rising interest rates

Updated 22 April 2018
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Gulf companies challenged by debt and rising interest rates

  • Debt restructurings on the rise, but below crisis levels
  • Central Bank of the UAE has raised interest rates four times since last March

There has been an uptick in recent months in heavily-borrowed companies in the Gulf seeking to restructure their debts with lenders. Although the pressure on companies is not comparable to levels witnessed in the region following the 2008 global financial crisis, rising interest rates will eventually begin to have a greater impact, say experts.
Speaking exclusively to Arab news, Matthew Wilde, a partner at consultancy PwC in Dubai, said: “We do expect that interest rate increases will gradually start to impact companies over the next 12 months, but to date the impact of hedging and the runoff of older fixed rate deals has meant the impact is fairly muted so far.”
The Central Bank of the UAE has raised interest rates four times since the start of last year, in line with action taken by the US Federal Reserve. The Fed has signalled that it will raise interest rates at least twice more before the end of the year.
Wilde added that there had been a little more pressure on company balance sheets of late, although “this shouldn’t be overplayed”.
Nevertheless, just last week, Stanford Marine Group — majority owned by a fund managed by private equity firm Abraaj Group — was reported by the New York Times to be in talks with banks to restructure a $325 million Islamic loan. The newspaper cited a Reuters report that relied on “banking sources”.
The Dubai-based oil and gas services firm, which has struggled as a result of the downturn in the hydrocarbons market since 2014, has reportedly asked banks to consider extending the maturity of its debt and restructuring repayments, after it breached certain loan covenants.
A fund managed by Abraaj owns 51 percent of Stanford Marine, with the remaining stake held by Abu Dhabi-based investment firm Waha Capital. Abraaj declined to comment.

 

Dubai-based theme parks operator DXB Entertainments struck a deal last month with creditors to restructure 4.2 billion dirhams ($1.1 billion) of borrowings, with visitor numbers to attractions such as Legoland Dubai and Bollywood Parks Dubai struggling to meet visitor targets.
Earlier this month, Reuters reported that Sharjah-based Gulf General Investment Company was in talks with banks to restructure loan and credit facilities after defaulting on a payment linked to 2.1 billion dirhams of debt at the end of last year.
Dubai International Capital, according to a Bloomberg report from December, has restructured its debt for the second time, reaching an agreement with banks to roll over a loan of about $1 billion. At the height of the emirate’s boom years, DIC amassed assets worth about $13 billion, including the owner of London’s Madame Tussauds waxworks museum, as well as stakes in Sony and Daimler. The firm was later forced to sell most of these assets and reschedule $2.5 billion of debt after the global financial crisis.
Wilde told Arab News: “We have seen an increasing number of listed companies restructuring or planning to restructure their capital recently — including using tools such as capital reductions and raising capital by using quasi equity instruments such as perpetual bonds.”
This has happened across the region and PwC expected this to accelerate a little as companies “respond to legislative pressures and become more familiar with the options available to fix their problems,” said Wilde.
He added that the trend was being driven by oil prices remaining below historical highs, soft economic conditions, and continued caution in the UAE’s banking sector.
On the debt restructuring side, Wilde said there had been a “reasonably steady flow of cases of debts being restructured”.
However, the volume of firms seeking to renegotiate debt remains small compared to the level of restructurings witnessed in the aftermath of Dubai’s debt crisis.
Several big name firms in the emirate were caught out by the onset of the global financial crisis, which saw the emirate’s booming economy and real estate market go into reverse.
State-owned conglomerate Dubai World, whose companies included real-estate firm Nakheel and ports operator DP World, stunned global markets in November 2009 when it asked creditors for a six-month standstill on its obligations. Dubai World restructured around $25 billion of debt in 2011, followed by a $15 billion restructuring deal in 2015.
“We would not expect it to become (comparable to 2008-9) so barring some form of sharp external impetus such as global political instability or a protectionist trade war,” said Wilde.
Nor did he see the introduction of VAT as particularly driving this trend, but rather as just one more factor impacting some already strained sectors (e.g. some sub sectors of retail) “which were already pressured by other macro factors.”

FACTOID

Four

The number of interest rate rises in the UAE since March 2017.