Debt-burdened Dubai insisted that it took into account market fallout from its appeal to delay paying creditors, but offered no specifics and did little to ease worries that dragged down global markets for a second day Friday.
Sheik Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the chairman of Dubai's Supreme Fiscal Committee, stressed that the call to defer for at least six months at least some of $60 billion owed to creditors by Dubai World, the emirate's chief investment arm, was "carefully planned" and aimed at taking decisive action.
But the announcement appeared to reinforce worries that Dubai's rulers are fueling a crisis of confidence from world markets with their policies of keeping tight control over information on their fiscal standing and deal making. The timing of the announcement worsened the concerns, since it came ahead of a three-day Islamic holiday.
Some analysts believe the Dubai debt mess could bring demands for more financial transparency from Dubai and across the Gulf, which has become a magnet for international investment in the past decade.
"It touched investors' sensitive nerves," said Cai Junyi, an analyst for Shanghai Securities. "The world is watching whether that will have any substantial impact ... Dubai World is just like a small window that might reflect another financial tsunami."
World markets reacted in shock to what some analysts indicated amounted to a default by Dubai World, the city-state's key engine of growth with interests around the world ranging from ports to real estate.
Oil prices dropped near US$74 a barrel in Asia on Friday as investors curtailed their risky bets on commodities amid uncertainty over the extent of Dubai's financial woes.
Asian stocks slumped for a second day with Hong Kong's Hang Seng closing 1,075.91 points, or 4.8 percent, lower at 21,134.50. South Korea's benchmark plummeted 4.7 percent to 1,524.50.
European stock markets appeared to be stabilizing after a heavy sell-off a day earlier that saw bank shares take a pummeling over possible exposure to Dubai debt.
Ahmed's statement, issued late Thursday, came a day after the Dubai government announced a restructuring of Dubai World and said it would ask creditors to delay debt repayment until at least May. The announcement came Wednesday, on the eve of a three-day Islamic holiday, apparently aimed at blunting the impact of the move in the region.
The sharp reaction in equity markets worldwide apparently forced the taciturn rulers of Dubai to come forward with a bit more information.
"Our intervention in Dubai World was carefully planned," Ahmed said in the statement. "The government is spearheading the restructuring of this commercial operation in the full knowledge of how the markets would react."
"We understand the concerns of the market and the creditors in particular," Ahmed also said.
Ahmed called the Dubai World's debt freeze request a "sensible business decision" and said Dubai's leadership had to intervene when it did "because of the need to take decisive action to address its particular debt burden."
He insisted that claims Dubai overreached during the good times were unjustified, saying unprecedented growth over the past decade "helped lay the foundation for what is now a broad-based sustainable economy." Dubai's infrastructure and economic fundaments will ensure it "remains an attractive regional market," he said.
A year after the global downturn derailed Dubai's explosive growth, the semiautonomous city-state known for its man-made islands, the world's tallest tower and indoor ski slope has been grappling with its debt load, issuing bonds that have been bought up by both the United Arab Emirates' central bank and, most recently, two banks majority owned by neighboring Abu Dhabi, the oil-rich emirate home to the UAE's federal government.
The announcement of the debt delay request appears to have largely eclipsed any assurances by the emirate's ruler, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who had continually dismissed concerns over the city-state's liquidity.
The sudden debt announcement unsettled investors, unsure over which companies were exposed and how much money they might actually lose. There were also fears that the Dubai's debt troubles could lead banks to reevaluate and scale back their lending.
That could make it more difficult for companies to borrow money and hold down a world economy still emerging from the throes of its deepest recession in decades, analysts said.
Emerging markets in the Middle East and elsewhere have attracted massive amounts of capital in recent years amid investor enthusiasm for regions with rapid economic growth. This year, financial markets in Asia and Latin America have vastly outperformed ones in the U.S. and Europe. But Dubai's woes could bring a temporary end to the promiscuous buying behind the boom, analysts said.
"I think it will make investors realize they need to be more discriminating about emerging markets," said Arjuna Mahendran, head of Asian investment strategy at HSBC Private Bank in Singapore. "In the longer term we have no doubt that things are going to recover."
This program aired on November 27, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.