Dubai: Dubai's stock market ended 2018 on Monday with a 25-per cent annual loss, the worst year since the global financial crisis a decade ago, as the real estate and tourism sectors struggled.
The plunge in the Dubai Financial Market (DFM) Index was the biggest among Gulf and Arab bourses amid signs of a slowdown in the emirate's highly diversified economy.
"The performance of traditional growth engines for UAE — real estate and retail — have been lacklustre," M.R. Raghu, head of research at Kuwait Financial Center (Markaz), said.
But it was not as bad as in 2008 when the Dubai stock market dived 72 per cent after the financial crisis triggered a debt problem for the emirate.
In 2018 Oman's small bourse dropped 15 per cent while stock markets in other energy-rich Arab Gulf monarchies ended the year in positive territory, buoyed by an increase in oil prices.
The Qatar Stock Exchange led the gainers with a 21-per cent rise despite an 18-month-old economic and political blockade by its neighbours led by Saudi Arabia.
The Dubai market's sister bourse in Abu Dhabi rose more than 10 per cent.
The Saudi stock market, the largest in the Arab world, ended the year up 8.3 per cent despite dipping to a three-year low in October.
"2018 has been a volatile year for the Saudi stock market," as it began on a strong note but lost ground because of "political uncertainties," Raghu told AFP.
In December, the Dubai Financial Market Index dropped to a five-year low before slightly recovering to close the year at 2,529.75 points.
The stock market's dive was attributed to a sharp drop in real estate sales and prices due to oversupply and weak demand.
The property market, which makes up around 13 per cent of Dubai's gross domestic product, has been in decline since 2014 but its slide accelerated in 2018.
In the third quarter alone, the price of houses dropped 7.4 per cent in Dubai, according to the UAE central bank, after declining by more than six per cent in the first half of 2018.
Shares in Emaar Properties, the largest developer in the Middle East, lost almost half their value over the past year, mirroring sharp falls for the sector as a whole.
"The UAE real estate market continues to be oversupplied and it has exerted pressure on sales, occupancy and rentals. The market has witnessed an approximately 30 per cent fall in capital values in various pockets," Raghu said.
"This coupled with increasing input prices and VAT (value-added tax) implementation has impacted the margins for businesses. All these factors have sustained the selling pressure on the Dubai bourse," he said.
Raghu expects that the UAE market will fare better next year as government has taken some measures and the international trade fair Expo 2020 is likely to lift the economy.
Economic growth in Dubai, which is not directly dependent on oil, is expected to have slowed to 2.3 per cent in 2018, from 2.8 per cent the previous year, according to the central bank.
A glut of housing units and weak demand are also key reasons for the property market downturn, the Standard and Poor's ratings agency said earlier this year.