By Bradley Hope

In the property construction cycle, fitting out the marble flooring and steel fixtures come last.

Burj Khalifa Dubai
Burj Khalifa Dubai

That is why Depa, an interior contractor based in Dubai, took its biggest hit last year in more than two years after the regional property sector was hit by downturn.

The company posted a Dh198.2 million loss, mostly from impairments related to a dispute it has with another contractor on the Burj Khalifa.

But it was the disclosure that Depa would not issue a dividend this year that pushed the company’s shares down almost 10 per cent yesterday, analysts say.

“They usually pay healthy dividends,” said Majed Azzam, an analyst at Alembic HC Securities. “This year, they are not going to pay any. They need to preserve their cash in this environment.”

Dividends are a major driver of investment in local markets. Shareholders of Emaar Properties, the largest regional property developer, were surprised by the announcement of a 10 per cent cash dividend, which drove its shares to their highest in a month.

Depa said last year was “the most difficult year in the company’s history”, as it was affected by the slowdown in UAE projects. Revenues fell by 32.5 per cent to Dh1.8 billion for the year, compared with 2009.

“This was primarily due to the severe drop in construction-related activities in the UAE and some other countries across the region,” the company said. Contract profit margins declined to 6.3 per cent from 16 per cent in 2009.

Depa said in its annual report it expected to return to profit this year as its efforts to diversify away from the UAE started to pay off. While it increased revenues from abroad last year, 60.9 per cent still came from the UAE.

The company expanded into Malaysia, Azerbaijan, Thailand, Syria and Yemen last year to diversify its income sources.

Depa also acquired two companies as part of its expansion plans: the Dubai stone producer Carrara; and the Singapore furniture maker Design Studio.

Design Studio is making headway on a new factory in China, a market where it is focusing its efforts on expanding.