Dubai may sell shares in its flagship carrier Emirates, which helped transform the city into a global hub for commerce, just as coronavirus restrictions ease and the outlook for travel brightens.
Emirates and its units may be listed on Dubai’s stock exchange, Chairman Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum told Asharq TV. The comments come as the city ratchets up efforts to draw level with Abu Dhabi and Riyadh, which have been the hottest markets for IPOs in the Middle East.
Dubai plans to list 10 state-owned companies on its stock market. It kicked things off with its main utility, likely to be its largest IPO ever, and the Salik road toll-collection system — described by one analyst as a cash machine.
Emirates, however, is one of the city’s most well-known assets. The airline was hit hard by the pandemic, and a collapse in its main business of long-haul travel led to its first loss in decades. The government plowed in about $3.7 billion over the past year to keep it going.
Travel picks up
The outlook is a bit brighter now. The tourism sector in the United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is part, has been boosted by high vaccination and low infection rates. Unlike major hubs around the world, Dubai has stayed open, attracting thousands of visitors and events including an airshow, which started this week.
International travel is picking up again, with the U.S. opening up flights from Europe, along with countries including India, Brazil and China. Emirates President Tim Clark said last month he aims to fully restore its route network by the middle of 2022.
Momentum accelerated over the summer and continues to grow steadily into the winter season and beyond, Sheikh Ahmed said after Emirates reported a narrower half-year loss this month.
Emirates may also consider listing units, Sheikh Ahmed said on Monday. This may include Dnata, whose businesses in cargo and ground handling, catering and retail, and travel services which saw demand return quickly wherever pandemic-related flight and travel restrictions were eased.
Revenue at that unit surged 55% to $1 billion in the first half and it swung to a profit of $23 million from a $396 million loss in the same period last year. The main airline business, meanwhile, reported a net loss of $1.6 billion, less than half it lost a year earlier, and revenue rose 81%.
News of more high-profile listings will help boost sentiment in Dubai, where equity trading has fallen in three of the past four years.
Once the UAE’s leading exchange by traded volume, the city’s bourse is now second to Abu Dhabi. Dubai has seen one listing since 2017, and a string of delistings that have dented investor confidence.
Still, a flurry of announcements since the start of the month have helped push the market value of its exchange operator up by 150% to about $5.6 billion since Nov. 1. The city’s benchmark index is up 13.6% in the same period.
Dubai’s focus is also expanding beyond the public sector as it seeks to revive trading on its bourse. Information technology company StarLink plans to go public early next year, in a sign the government’s goal of listing state firms is encouraging the private sector to follow suit.