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BANKING

Dubai World's Istithmar: The new kid on the block

In less than four years Istithmar, the investment arm of conglomerate Dubai World, has become one of the most influential private and public equity and real estate financiers in the world. Its blue-chip holdings include Time Warner, Standard Chartered Bank and large swathes of Manhattan real estate. Sudip Roy reports from Dubai on how the fund has risen to prominence so quickly.

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EVEN IN DUBAI, a city teeming with high-rise buildings, the gleaming Emirates Office Towers stands out from the crowd. At more than 350 metres high, the office block is one of the tallest buildings in the world.

It is somehow appropriate that the fourth level of this impressive structure serves as the headquarters for Istithmar, a company that is beginning to stand tall in the investment world. Istithmar, which means investment in Arabic, is the asset management arm of government-owned conglomerate Dubai World, whose portfolio stretches across development, marine services, commodities, ports and free-trade zone divisions. One of Dubai World’s biggest companies is Dubai Ports, which hit the headlines in 2005 following its controversial acquisition of UK-based ports operator P&O for $3.9 billion.

Istithmar invests the surplus cash generated by Dubai World’s fleet of companies primarily in real estate and private equity, although it buys stakes in public firms too. Although the fund has never declared how much it has under management, it has invested $3.5 billion of proprietary capital since it was created in 2003, which it has levered up to $14 billion.