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Emaar regains investment grade credit rating as Dubai booms

DUBAI, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Dubai's largest real estate developer Emaar Properties regained an investment-grade credit rating on Wednesday, marking the emirate's strong recovery from its financial crisis five years ago.

Standard and Poor's raised its long-term rating of Emaar to BBB-minus, the lowest investment grade, from BB-plus. In 2009, S&P had cut the state-linked firm to junk status as the global credit crunch and a crash of Dubai's property market ravaged balance sheets in the emirate.

The market is now recovering strongly, with home prices up some 20 percent last year, allowing Emaar to resume launching ambitious projects. Its retail and hotel assets are also allowing it to benefit as Dubai's trade and tourism industries prosper.

"The rating action reflects the sound performance of Emaar's high-quality, Dubai-based leasing and hospitality assets, which constitute a large share of total earnings," S&P said on Wednesday.

"The upgrade also incorporates Emaar's successful launch and presale of new high-margin developments in Dubai."

It added that the recent conversion of $498 million of convertible Emaar notes into equity had resulted in a sizeable reduction in the company's financial leverage.

Emaar, builder of the world's tallest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa, is 31 percent owned by the Dubai government. Since the government has not sought a credit rating, Emaar is seen as an indicator of investor confidence in the emirate.

The company's share price plunged from a peak of nearly 29 dirhams in late 2005 to a low of 1.7 dirhams in 2009, and is now at 7.93 dirhams.

Emaar is expected in coming days to report a 22 percent year-on-year rise in fourth-quarter net profit to 622 million dirhams ($169 million), according to the median forecast of analysts polled by Reuters.

(Editing by Andrew Torchia)