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Dubai’s state-owned water, power utility plans public offer

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (AP) – Dubai’s state-owned utility announced yesterday it will list a sliver of its worth on the emirate’s stock exchange, hoping to ride a recent wave of initial public offerings (IPOs) in the Arab states while avoiding the stumbles of past IPOs.

The Dubai Electricity and Water Authority’s offering involves 3.25 billion shares that will be placed on the Dubai Financial Market exchange, which the utility put at 6.5 per cent over its overall worth.

It’s part of a wider plan announced last November by Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, the son of Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, to list 10 state industries on the stock market to boost its profile and raise new capital for the skyscraper-lined emirate.

Yet it comes amid increased volatility in markets worldwide given Russia’s war on Ukraine. Meanwhile, past IPOs of major players in Dubai’s economy have seen investors lose money and the companies ultimately go private again.

“We’ve seen a very enthusiastic response from all over the world,” the utility’s Chief Financial Officer Thomas Varghese told journalists. “There are some misevents in Europe but by and large we don’t see it affecting adversely our programme.”

The utility, known by the acronym DEWA, held a glitzy announcement yesterday at a luxury hotel announcing the IPO. Officials would not allow journalists to film the announcement.

In a prospectus for investors, DEWA said it finished 2021 with a profit of USD1.7 billion. It had profits of USD1.8 billion in 2019, though they dipped in 2020 during the pandemic and its lockdowns to USD1.4 billion. It paid dividends to Dubai government of USD1.2 billion, USD408 million and USD544 million in 2019, 2020 and 2021, respectively.

A boat rides past giant skyscrapers at the Marina waterfront seen from Palm Jumeirah island in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. PHOTO: AP

The company plans to pay dividends twice a year to investors, with a minimum of USD1.6 billion paid yearly over the next five years.

Dubai is home to 3.5 million people and has seen a surge of interest as the sheikhdom weathered the pandemic and kept its vital tourism and real estate markets afloat. And DEWA remains one of the government services nearly every resident interacts with while living here as the sole provider of electricity and water.

A renewed wave of IPOs has struck across the Arab states, likely fuelled by the listing of the Saudi Arabian Oil Co, or Saudi Aramco. Even long-haul carrier Emirates, the jewel of state-linked industries known informally as Dubai Inc, has been discussed as a possible IPO target.

However, the prospectus also outlines the risks faced by Dubai, something always glossed over by its image-conscious rulers. Already, the region has been on edge after years of attacks following the United States’ (US) unilateral withdrawal from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers. Abu Dhabi also recently came under attacks from Houthi rebels.

“There can be no assurance that extremists groups will not initiate extremist or other violent activity in the UAE, or that the UAE will not be impacted by any escalation of regional armed conflict,” the prospectus reads.

It also noted that Dubai for now has limited water reserves and all of its crucial desalination plants are in Jebel Ali port, the busiest port of call for the US Navy outside of America.

Dubai also has seen troubled IPOs of even prominent state-backed enterprises. DP World, the massive port operator, listed with major fanfare in 2007 only to go back private in 2020. A troubled amusement park project known as Dubai Parks and Resorts also went private that year. Real estate firm DAMAC Properties, whose billionaire founder has close ties to former President Donald Trump and operates a Trump golf course in Dubai, also went private in 2021.

Asked about the other IPO failures, DEWA CEO Saeed Mohammed al-Tayer said the utility’s fundamentals and capacity made it a valuable firm.

“We have a strong infrastructure for the next coming five years,” he said.

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