Economic boost tipped after UAE company ‘game-changer’

Economic boost tipped after UAE company ‘game-changer’
An easing of foreign ownership restrictions will make it easier for global businesses to operate in the UAE. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 26 November 2020

Economic boost tipped after UAE company ‘game-changer’

Economic boost tipped after UAE company ‘game-changer’
  • Dramatic overhaul of corporate ownership laws follows accelerated reforms to shrug off pandemic slowdown

DUBAI: Radical changes to corporate ownership and investment laws could provide a significant boost to the UAE as it seeks to emerge from the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns, business experts told Arab News.

The Emirati authorities have announced a raft of changes that relax restrictions on foreign ownership and make it easier for international businesses to set up and operate in the UAE, as well as new rules that will allow more shares to be listed on the country’s stock exchanges.

Economics expert Nasser Saidi said: “The liberalization of foreign ownership laws breaks down major barriers to the right of establishment. The reform is a game-changer.”

Tarek Fadlallah, CEO of Nomura Asset Management in the Middle East, said: “I would like to see some more detail, but if the deal is that you can leave London or New York and set up easily in the UAE, it’s revolutionary in regional terms.”

The changes were announced in the form of a presidential decree. “Maybe it’s pandemic related, but everything the UAE authorities have done this year has been extremely positive for the business and financial environment,” Fadlallah added.

Under the changes, companies seeking to quote shares on UAE markets will be able to list up to 70 percent of their shares, a big jump from the previous 30 percent limit, in a move that could reinvigorate local stock markets.

“It will encourage foreign direct investment, but also lead to a recapitalization of jointly owned companies and encourage entrepreneurs to invest in businesses and new ventures. Importantly, it will encourage the retention of savings in the UAE,” Saidi added.

The most eye-catching of the planned changes is the move to allow foreign firms to set up outside free zones without the requirement for a majority Emirati shareholder or agent.

The new set-up will in theory open the way for full foreign ownership throughout the UAE, although the Emirati authorities have been pragmatic in the past in their efforts to attract big-name foreigners. Apple was allowed full foreign ownership when it set up its first store in the country five years ago. 




Pandemic restrictions have hit an already sluggish UAE economy. (AFP)

More foreign firms setting up onshore could be seen as a threat for the free-zone model that has been one of the driving forces behind the UAE’s rise to become the regional business hub.

Habib Al-Mulla, executive chairman of Baker & McKenzie Habib Al-Mulla law firm, said: “Free zones will now face a real challenge. They either come up with a new package of incentives or their role ends.”

Other proposed changes also represent a break from the traditional business culture in the region. Rules that required a company chairperson to be an Emirati national, and for company boards to have an Emirati majority, have also been removed.

In addition, the decree allows for the dismissal of a chairman or any other board member if a judicial judgment is issued against them for committing fraud or misuse of power, while enabling stakeholders to sue a company in civil court over any failure of duty that results in damages.

Electronic voting will also be allowed at shareholder meetings, in a departure from the requirement for a physical show of hands.

“The decree is reflective of the UAE’s forward-looking vision to open up its economy by creating a favorable legislative environment that will keep pace with the changes taking place across the global economy and supporting companies operating in the country,” the official UAE news agency, WAM, said.

Some sectors regarded as of strategic importance — such as energy, utilities, and government-owned businesses — will be exempt from the new rules, and there is a certain amount of discretion given to local authorities in setting rules regarding Emirati directors and determining fees and charges payable under the new regulations.

This week’s changes are the latest in a series of reforms that have been accelerated in the UAE since the COVID-19 pandemic recession struck an already sluggish business scene.

New rules on residency visas have been introduced to alleviate problems in the real estate market, especially in Dubai, as well as a range of changes to social and lifestyle reforms.

“Along with the change in visa regulations, the new reforms will boost the UAE’s growth prospects,” Saidi said.

Ziad Daoud, Dubai-based chief emerging markets economist at Bloomberg, said: “Diversifying Gulf economies away from oil requires attracting foreign investment as well as fixing the distorted labor market. Most other measures are cosmetic. We’ll see how they are implemented, but the initial assessment of the new regulations is positive.”


Market traders ready to ride ‘Biden bounce’

Market traders ready to ride ‘Biden bounce’
Updated 54 min 58 sec ago

Market traders ready to ride ‘Biden bounce’

Market traders ready to ride ‘Biden bounce’
  • "Biden moving into the White House could drive markets into a bull run more sharply than previous inaugurations," a financial expert says

DUBAI: Investors are expecting a “Biden bounce” in global markets following the inauguration on Wednesday of Joe Biden as the 46th US president.

“History teaches us that we can expect the markets to react favorably to the inauguration of a new US president — and this time around it is likely to be no different,” said Nigel Green, CEO of deVere Group, one of the world’s largest independent financial advisers, with over 80,000 clients and $12 billion under advisement.

“Indeed, Biden moving into the White House could drive markets into a bull run more sharply than previous inaugurations because it is hoped the incoming administration will bring stability and, possibly, a halt to the uncertainty following the fiercely contested election. 

“Investors will also be buoyed by the $1.9 trillion fiscal stimulus announced by Biden, the Federal Reserve’s willingness to support markets, the new president’s multilateral trade agenda and his plans for stepping up the vaccine rollout. All of this will encourage confidence and optimism,” Green said.

Mazen Al-Sudairi, head of research at Riyadh-based financial services company Al Rajhi Capital, agreed with the optimism regarding a “Biden bounce.”

“One of the important outcomes with Biden is stability in the market. But there is also the stimulus factor coupled with the vaccine that is giving an indication of recovery in the market. This perceived unity in the US will be healthy for the global and Saudi market,” he told Arab News.

However, Green said that investors should be cautious for three reasons: “First, a market rally is going to be difficult to sustain indefinitely due to the enormous economic scarring caused by the pandemic.

“The major long-term headwind is mass unemployment, which is hitting demand, growth and investment on Main Street and which, ultimately, will have to impact Wall Street.

“Second, the new administration will have policies that will have an effect on different sectors of the economy. There will be a readjustment period that needs to be taken into account.

“And, third, not all shares are created equal and stock markets are heavily unbalanced at the moment. A handful of sectors are bringing up entire indexes,” he said.