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Following are excerpts from a CNBC interview with Hussain Sajwani, Chairman of DAMAC and CNBC's Hadley Gamble..
HG: Hussain Sajwani, thank you so much for joining CNBC. I want to kick off by asking you about what you see as the challenges to growth in the coming year, because a lot of people are talking about China, there's still a lot of unrest in the region, and certainly, with what's happening in Washington, it's anybody's guess. What are your fears?
HS: I think the majority of the analysts, kind of, worry and concern that the beautiful ten years of the growth we had is, kind of, over. A lot of them don't see, and I agree with them, a recession, but I see definitely a slowdown, and, you know, less growth, and less opportunities, but that's the world, that's the life, you're gonna-, if you have ten years of good years, you're gonna see a few years of slowdown, and things will come back. I think company owners, executives, CEOs, if they manage their cashflow, manage their, you know, overheads, manage their-, you know, the-, the growth, you-, you go through those cycles. That's natural.
HG: Walk me through what's happening with DAMAC in particular, because a lot of folks are telling me, in the region, that they're worried that Dubai is overbuilding again. Do you agree with that narrative?
HS: See, we had a beautiful five years of high growth, prices were, you know, going up, and we all enjoyed a very good five years. '18 has been a difficult year, prices have come down, sales have come down, I think '19 and '20 are gonna be also not easy years. I think we are at the bottom, from a price point of view, but it will take at least two years to absorb the supply. Okay? We've got a great leader, who-, who believes in his city, who believes in his country, and we've got a beautiful infrastructure. Dubai is very resilient, from the long-term growth. It's always going to go through the cycle. As a free capital economy, you know, people are gonna overbuild, and then gonna catch up, and the leader is very openminded, very capitalism ideas, he doesn't want to restrict the supply or the demand. He says, 'Let the supply demand naturally take its place. No point of, you know, you control the supply, let-, let everybody manage, as a normal economy.'
HG: Talk to me a little bit about where you see opportunities for investment and growth, particularly in London.
HS: Well, we, as a company today-, we've done very well, in the last five, six years. Uh. Now our profit is gonna be-, is down last year, gonna continue to be similar levels, this year and next year. Uh. Where our focus is today, to streamline our cost, more importantly, and, very, very important, to grow outside. Outside, we surveyed a lot of markets, and we like London, we have experience in London, we're putting a 50-storey tower, which will be finished by next year, end of next year. We see, in Brexit issues, a great opportunity, as price is gonna correct, the pound has come down really drastically, and we're waiting for an opportunity to invest in London, and we want to go in a big way in London.
HG: And that would be in terms of home sales, apartments? What would that look like for you?
HS: We would love to take mixed use, luxury apartments, which is our speciality, we don't mind to go in to office buildings, retail, so we're looking at property from all the angles, and we're willing to write a big cheque, and go in a big way in London, we believe in London.
HG: What other markets? Are we talking about the United States?
HS: We're looking at the States, uh, we have been doing a lot of homework and surveys, yes, especially on the east coast, stretching from Miami to [14.16.33]-, those are the five cities we're focusing on, Miami, Boston, New York, Toronto, and I am not sure if we're gonna strike a deal next week, you know, and-, and we're really quite interested in those-, in those four, five cities.
HG: One of the things that has been on the minds of many investors, over the last several months, in particular, has been this US/China trade dispute, a lot of people are saying that President Trump is getting it wrong. What is your take?
HS: See, I am very much in favour of free trade, but, as you appreciate, each country is going to look at its own interests, also. If we are a group of people, 20 people, it's important we work together, but also, we can't ignore each person's interests, and I think the very large trade deficit, between China and America, which has been going on for very long, it, I think, has been not fair, and I think, as he is head of the state, it's his right to protect his country's, you know, interests. Now, the way it's done, the style it's done-, I think they'll arrive to a solution very soon. Me knowing Mr Trump closely, I think he's a dealmaker, uh, he's a strong negotiator, but he'll arrive to a deal, and, of course, China is not an easy negotiator, so here we've got two very strong [14.17.50-14.18.10] …I've seen about 20 top developers, property developers. We don't see where we fit there. You know, language, culture, and that market-, those markets are very closed, and especially the property market in China is very much politically controlled, so the land is controlled by the government, even the permission is controlled by the government, and you need a very big Chinese political connected investors. You know. If we ever think of China, we'd probably buy some stocks in the public market. That's all.
HG: And final question. Biggest challenge, in 2019, for the property market globally.
HS: I can't tell you globally, every city is different, you know. London is going to face the challenge of Brexit [14.18.50-14.18.55] over a large number of years, but I'm sure there are cities which, you know, are gonna be much better. For example, Toronto is going to continue to do well. From my-, our study, our forecast, I visited them twice, my management have been there, we're looking to do something. We're a little bit nervous, because prices are high, but we think it's going to continue for a while, because their immigration policy is very welcoming, the city's growing, adding a few thousand immigrants every-, every-, I think 300,000, or 400,000, I don't know the number, about 300,000 or 400,000 immigrants a year, Toronto takes about one third of that at least, so it's a city which is going up. So every city's different. Germany's doing well, I've been in Berlin, Frankfurt, and both cities-, and Munich, and all-, all German three major cities are doing well, and prices keep going up, and that's the reason we could not strike a deal, because we see-, every time we say it's expensive, it goes higher.
HG: Hussain Sajwani, thanks so much for joining CNBC.
HS: Thank you. It was a pleasure.