Investing not protesting: to retrench or spend?

As the oil price remains low and the equipment industry faces the prospect of depressed 2016 sales, is it time to let the storm pass or to dig deep?

COMMENT, PMV

A stitch in time saves nine — so the age-old adage says, and in the case of investing in the future, particularly in the Middle East region, fortune may favour the bold.

In the context of the plant, machinery and vehicle industry, I’m talking about supporting infrastructure. A look at the Gulf’s recent past tells us that there is almost nothing that cannot be achieved with enough astute dynamism.

The UAE’s investment in port infrastructure, and subsequently free zones for this, that and the other has won the battle with the critics. The world scoffed at Dubai in 2008 as property prices came tumbling down and government assets went into liquidation, but the companies that left the country are not laughing now, because the ones that stayed put were primed and ready come upswing.

I raise this subject because I have now heard dozens of industry professional confess to concerns over 2016 and the potential impact of the low oil price on the markets; meanwhile their firms simultaneously invest in expansion projects for which they express absolutely no doubts.

Hyundai, for one, has just broken ground on a $33.6m European headquarters that will double the parts supply to its area of control — that is a real and tangible result for the customer. Locally, we see Caterpillar also investing in a sizeable new training facility in Jebel Ali, and in Oman, Al Fairuz, the distributor of Astra and Iveco Defence, is also investing in new facilities.

While the reasons behind all of this may be simplistic: they planned it before the oil price went down; they needed it anyway; investing in aftersales is the best way to compete in future, and while all of these reasons may well be valid, there still feels like a phenomenological quality that differentiates the sort of company that is willing to seriously invest from a cautious one.

Perhaps it is the same difference as between an entrepreneurial individual and someone who is risk averse — some firms have that spark, while others have, long since their founding, lost it.

As a journalist it is my job to constantly findout companies’ latest plans for development or expansion, and it is always mildly worrying if I hear that there is nothing like this afoot.

If there is one lesson to be learned from the economics of the last few decades, it is that we live in a sink or swim world, and if you want to stay afloat, you had better learn to paddle.

So my question to the industry is: are you with the daring or the meek?

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