11 December 2008

* Arabtec's order book to help cushion property slowdown

Arabtec Holding, the UAE's biggest construction company, expects its more than Dh43 billion order book will help it cushion the impact of the slowdown in the property market.

"The rate of growth will fall substantially in 2009, although it will not be negative," Ziad Makhzoumi, Arabtec's Chief Financial Officer, said in a telephone interview yesterday.

Dubai is bracing for a slowdown of its previously booming property industry after residential prices quadrupled in the past five years and the seizure of global credit markets hurt mortgage lending. Dubai and Abu Dhabi house prices fell for the first time in October, HSBC Holdings said in a report last month.

Arabtec has "no immediate plan" to cut its workforce of about 52,000 as none of its projects have been delayed, although some future orders may be rescheduled or redesigned, Makhzoumi said. These changes "will not have a major impact on our business because of our backlog", he added.

Arabtec is being "prudent" and "planning for a slowdown to make sure we are not caught unprepared if there are major changes in the market", Makhzoumi said. The company may move people across projects if necessary, although some people recruited for specialised projects may leave when the projects are completed, he added.

Arabtec, the largest-listed builder in the UAE, had earlier also told Dow Jones that there were no plans for lay-offs.

"We have had no major lay offs at this moment in time," a company official had said. "But we are reviewing our labour needs going forward."

The official, who asked not to be identified, said any job losses at the firm depend on the status of its order book and the possible delay, or cancellation, of its projects.

Arabtec said in October that nine-month profits more than doubled to Dh761 million from a year earlier. Last month its board approved a one-for-one bonus share distribution to boost its capital to Dh1.2bn, from Dh598mn.

Meanwhile, Nakheel earlier said it will cut its workforce by 15 per cent, or 500 jobs, as it scales back some of its projects. Emaar Properties, the Middle East's largest real estate developer, has also announced it is reviewing recruitment policies, while Damac Holding reported early last month that it had eliminated 200 jobs.

(business247)



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Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.