Marketplace Middle East - Blog
Oil at Work
If some perhaps have not understood what Abu Dhabi is up to before, they got a double dose of what the capital of the United Arab Emirates is planning.

In a span of just two days, “Team Abu Dhabi” announced a planned purchase of Manchester City Football Club, paid a record transfer fee for Brazilian footballer Robinho and threw $1 billion into the movie business.

The ruler of Abu Dhabi and president of the U.A.E., Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, in place for nearly five years, is pursuing a wide ranging investment strategy that is pretty hard to miss.

Let’s call the first batch, brand-driven investments -- a stake in Ferrari, the purchase of the Chrsyler Building in New York, the opulent Emirates Palace Hotel and the soon to be Guggenheim and Louvre Museums.

The second batch fit into what those in government call a "cluster development strategy" -- GE, EADS and the Carlyle Group match that description. Which leads us to the question, where do Manchester City and the $1billion movie fund Imagenation Abu Dhabi fit in?

Chasing football properties is a sport in itself throughout the Gulf. Dubai International Capital, a sovereign fund, has tried and stumbled twice. Gulf flagship carriers Emirates and Ethiad are big sponsors of Arsenal and Chelsea, with Gulf Air involved with Queens Park Rangers. Football is wildly popular in the region and buying a club makes a mark, no doubt.

The name Suleiman Al Fahim was the initial public face on the $360 million purchase, which by the way is not expected to close until September 15. The entrepreneur and star of his own reality television program was immediately being compared to Roman Abramovich, the Russian owner of Chelsea. The story according to those familiar with the deal is that this is really the work of Sheikh Khalifa’s brother Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan who has shared a desire to buy an English club for more than a year.

The owner of the club, Thaksin Shinawatra, former prime minister of Thailand, knew there was interest in the club and put his long-time London representative Pairoj Piempongsant on the case to get a deal done. It looks like they will net about $100 million on their short-term investment. If all goes as planned, Abu Dhabi can say they are the first from the region to land an English club, but it does not mean this will be a big score for the emirate.

The five-year investment by the Abu Dhabi Media Company into Imagenation immediately puts the group on the map in Hollywood. Edward Borgerding, a former Walt Disney executive, launched this project and hopes the investment will lead to “a technology transfer of the best of class in production and business executives that will migrate to Abu Dhabi and open up production offices in Abu Dhabi itself.”

A look at the math has the group spending about $25 million per film with a target of 40 films. This is small by Tinseltown standards and seems designed to limit the downside risks in a business known for drilling a lot of dry holes.

We will know a lot more about the success of all these investments in about a decade, but it all sounds like the California Gold Rush of the mid-1800s. What was a pretty quiet corner of the U.A.E. will no longer remain that way. The government’s sovereign fund, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, or ADIA, has been around for more than three decades. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who knew this group manages nearly a trillion dollars.

$100 oil is only adding to that pot of funds. Abu Dhabi is now the third largest producer within OPEC at 2.8 million barrels a day, having discovered oil in 1958. That is projected to grow to four million barrels a day in a few years. Right now they are bringing in about $100 billion a year from oil alone. Natural gas is another revenue stream. You can say the emirate is sitting pretty, but not sitting idle.
John Defterios’ blog accompanies the weekly business program, Marketplace Middle East (MME) that is dedicated to the latest financial news from the Middle East. As MME anchor, John Defterios talks to the people in the know, finding out their opinions on the big business moves in the region, he provides his views via this weekly blog. We hope you will join the discussion around the issues raised.
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