(Adds analyst quotes, share price, company’s comments)
By Davide Barbuscia
DUBAI, May 15 (Reuters) - Property developer DAMAC Properties reported a 94% drop in first-quarter net profit on Wednesday, its smallest since going public in 2015, hurt by Dubai’s slumping property market.
DAMAC, owner and operator of the only Trump-branded golf club in the Middle East, said its net profit in the first three months of the year fell to 31.1 million dirhams ($8.47 million) from 483.9 million dirhams in the same period a year earlier.
That compared with a forecast of 270 million dirhams by EFG Hermes.
Revenue fell 53% to 896.4 million dirhams.
DAMAC shares fell 2.2% in afternoon trade, reversing early gains. The stock is down nearly 40% this year compared to a 2.3% gain in the Dubai index.
Dubai property prices have fallen since a mid-2014 peak, hurt by weaker oil prices and muted sales.
S&P Global Ratings expects the downturn to continue this year, with residential property prices falling another 5-10% due to a continued gap between supply and demand, before steadying in 2020.
Analysts warned the company was likely to continue facing challenges in the coming months with strong competition and the need to conserve cash for debt repayments.
The company’s off-plan sales - for properties not yet completed - looked weaker than those of its main rival, Emaar Development, said Ayub Ansari, an analyst at Bahrain’s SICO. That indicated the competitor’s growing dominance in the Dubai off-plan market, he said.
The company reported booked sales of 1.2 billion dirhams in the first quarter, down 26% from a year earlier.
DAMAC pointed to debt payments in tough market conditions - it paid back $272 million in sukuk, or Islamic bonds, in April and $125 million in September last year - as a sign of its health.
“In a period of six months, amid difficult market conditions, we paid back $400 million of debt ...That is a strong statement,” said Amr Aboushaban, DAMAC’s head of investor relations.
The company had 1.8 billion in free cash at the end of the first quarter.
DAMAC was not in talks with any financial adviser or turnaround specialist, he said. “We’re not in any distressed shape or form.”
DAMAC did not pay a dividend in 2018 to keep cash for its debt repayment and an analyst warned the property firm could continue with the same policy in the coming year.
“We see zero catalysts for DAMAC over the next 3 years, as the company will likely reserve all cash to repay its 2022/23 sukuk,” Mohamad Haidar, an analyst at Arqaam Capital said in a note. “We expect Damac not to pay dividends until all sukuks are repaid.”
As of the end of March, the company had around 4.3 billion dirhams in outstanding sukuk and 693 million dirhams in bank debt.
$1 = 3.6728 UAE dirham Additional reporting by Saeed Azhar, editing by Deepa Babington