(Bloomberg) — DP World is considering offering international investors a chance to buy into the Jebel Ali Free Zone, a prized asset that helped transform Dubai into a hub of global trade, as it looks for ways to cut its debt pile.
The Dubai-based port operator is working with advisers to gauge interest in the sprawling industrial park, according to people familiar with the matter. DP World is considering options including selling a stake in the free zone or some assets based there, the people said, asking not to be identified discussing confidential information.
Any sale is likely to attract interest from infrastructure funds and strategic suitors, the people said. Deliberations are ongoing, and no final decisions have been taken on the structure of a potential deal, according to the people.
A representative for DP World declined to comment.
The Jebel Ali Free Zone attracts almost a quarter of foreign direct investment into Dubai, with more than 8,000 companies having set up operations in the trade zone since its foundation in the mid 1980s, according to its website. Dubai saw 24.7 billion dirhams ($6.7 billion) of foreign direct investment in 2020, according to government figures.
State-owned DP World has been exploring the sale of equity stakes in certain assets as it works to reduce leverage to about 4 times earnings by 2022 and maintain its investment-grade rating. It agreed to buy the operator of the free zone in a $2.6 billion deal in 2014.
Dubai took DP World private in early 2020 to alleviate its debt burden and avoid a repeat of the economic crisis that forced a bailout in 2009. In exploring the possible sale of a stake in Jebel Ali Free Zone, Dubai is also joining regional neighbors Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia in looking to open up to overseas investors by offering the chance to buy into state assets.
DP World is one of the world’s largest operators of marine ports and inland cargo terminals, stretching from gateways in London and Antwerp to hubs in Africa, Russia, India and the Americas. It’s been on an acquisition spree in recent years, buying assets from P&O Ferries and P&O Ferrymasters in Europe to Puertos y Logistica in Chile.
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