Tackling the formidable question: is it time to buy or to sell Emaar shares?

4143Profits at Emaar Properties grew by 21 per cent last year to almost $700 million as the Dubai developer cashed in on a real estate recovery and tourism boom. Annual sales were up 25 per cent to $2.8 billion with a 33 per cent surge in property sales driving the boost in revenues.

Residential property sales tripled to $2.3 billion with a raft of off-plan launches: The Address Residence Fountain Views I, II and III; The Address Residence Sky View and Burj Vista in Downtown Dubai; The Hills and Vida Residence in Emirates Living; and Palma and Rosa villas in Arabian Ranches.


Retail and hospitality helped Emaar to remain very profitable even after the 2009 property crash in Dubai. But they are making a lesser contribution to the recovery, albeit revenues here were up 17 per cent to $1.3 billion. There’s talk of splitting off this division but that would undermine the benefits of diversification.

Anybody who took the ArabianMoney investment newsletter’s original tip to buy Emaar shares four years ago has made a profit of more than 300 per cent. Then we argued that a cyclical recovery in the Dubai economy was inevitable given its position in trade, tourism and transport as the business hub for a quarter of the world’s population.

Even at our presentation to the Australian Business Council in Dubai lunch as recently as November 2011 this argument was largely laughed out of court. By then it was already clear that the Dubai debt mountain would be skillfully handled and represented no real barrier to another boom in the city.

Debts remain

So it has proven. The International Monetary Fund says the Dubai debt is now higher than ever at $142 billion but in the context of a rapidly expanding local economy this is not a great burden, although it probably means that the excesses of the past can not be revisited too quickly this time around.

The Australian Ambassador Pablo Kang will address the ABCD today with a fairly optimistic view on the local economy. The only question for shareholders in Emaar Properties will be whether all this good news is now in the price.

Short-term that might well be true, especially if Wall Street now completes the correction that began in January. However, for Emaar shares to regain their heights of the last boom they would still have to quadruple form here, so selling early might miss the best part of this upturn that now has its sights firmly set on the World Expo in 2020.

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