The International Monetary Fund has raised its 2014 economic growth forecast for the United Arab Emirates to 4.5 percent but warned of a potential property bubble if authorities were not careful.
The UAE's real gross domestic product growth will remain firm and at the same level as now estimated for 2013, driven by ongoing momentum in non-oil activity. Oil-fuelled growth could be limited due to an ample global supply, the IMF said.
"The real estate sector in particular has seen a steep recovery, with prices in the Dubai residential real estate market having increased rapidly in selected areas," said Harald Finger, the IMF's mission chief, following a staff visit.
In October, the Washington-based lender forecast that the world's No. 3 oil exporter would see inflation-adjusted GDP expand 3.9 percent in 2014 and 4.0 percent in 2013.
Growth should be aided by a number of megaprojects, although their total cost, pace of execution and financing remain uncertain, and Dubai's hosting of the Expo 2020 exhibition, the IMF also said.
"If not implemented prudently, these projects could exacerbate the risk of a real estate bubble," Finger said, echoing the Fund's warnings from last November and June.
"Moreover, these projects may create additional financial risks for Dubai's government-related entities (GREs) and the banking system in light of the still considerable debt overhang from the 2009 crisis."
Dubai, whose property market crashed in 2008-2010, and its GREs have an estimated $78 billion worth of debt maturing in 2014-2017, which is a large number that needs to be closely watched, Finger later told Reuters in a phone interview.
Dubai and Abu Dhabi are also still discussing whether to repay or roll over $20 billion worth of Dubaigovernment bonds subscribed to by the UAE central bank and banks in Abu Dhabi in 2009 under a programme that matures this year.
"The authorities indicated to us that discussions are under way to deal with the coming maturities of theDubai Financial Support Fund that are due this year," Finger told Reuters.
"It's possible that Dubai will issue (a bond) again this year based on the market situation and rollover needs."
House prices in Dubai have climbed more than 20 percent over the past year - higher than any major global market - as billions of dollars of government real estate projects triggered a buying spree and stock market bull run.
The IMF also welcomed last year's doubling in Dubai's real estate fees to 4 percent designed to stem the speculation.
"The (Dubai) Real Estate Regulatory Agency (RERA) is thinking about differentiated fees now to discourage further the quick re-selling or flipping particularly of off-plan property," Finger told Reuters.
The IMF also said the central bank's newly implemented regulations on loan concentration and real estate exposure for banks will help protect the soundness of the banking system.
"Looking ahead, the Central Bank could consider further tightening these rules if price increases in the real estate market remain very large," Finger said in the statement.
Fiscal consolidation in the UAE is planned to continue in 2014, with the budget execution of the federal and emirates governments for the first nine months of 2013 broadly in line with spending plans, the IMF added.