The credibility of the United Arab Emirates finance sector will suffer unless the authorities and lenders move quickly to assuage fears that Dubai's debt trouble are spiraling out of control, analysts and bankers say.
Dubai, one of the seven emirates that make up the UAE, said on Wednesday it planned to restructure one of its holding companies, a shock announcement that triggered global concerns about the emirate's ability to meet its debt obligations.
International banks' exposure related to Dubai World amounts to $12 billion in syndicated and bilateral loans, banking sources told Thomson Reuters.
"I would say it is a huge shock for the UAE banking sector, and until we have some clarity the current situation will continue to cause damage," said Raj Madha, banking analyst at EFG Hermes.
Regional banks such as Emirates NBD and Mashreq Bank, which play a pivotal role in funding the UAE economy, have not made public statements yet on their exposure.
"Dubai World and its entities account for a very large chunk of the Dubai economy and its indebtedness and we expect Emirates NBD to have a full share of that," Madha said.
Officials at the Dubai-based bank could not be reached for comment.
UAE banks are exacerbating the situation by remaining silent on their exposures, said another banking analyst at a large international bank, who requested not be named.
"Unless there is clarity from banks, people will just make up numbers, which is worse," he said. "On the whole, the reputation has been damaged."
The region's financial services sector has already drawn criticism for its lack of disclosure and transparency but some analysts expect the Dubai debt crisis to spark a change.
"The way in which the UAE authorities handle the problem will clearly be important for investor confidence, as it will set a precedent for Dubai," Goldman Sachs analysts said in a note.
"Taking into view the huge reputational risks involved and also the amount of leverage that currently exists in the emirate we believe that the UAE authorities will be more likely to try and secure an orderly restructuring of outstanding liabilities of the two firms," the Goldman analysts said.
As a result of Dubai's debt struggle, banks will continue to face difficulties in the coming quarters.
"We expect asset quality to continue to deteriorate in the coming quarters and this trend could be exacerbated by the direct and indirect impact of a debt restructuring by Dubai World, which represents a major pillar of the Dubai economy," said Standard & Poor's credit analyst Mohamed Damak.
The UAE banks, however, will continue to be supported by the authorities, analysts said.
"I very much doubt that banks will be expected to bear the full burden of their exposure. I think at some level the assets would be or should be bought out by the federal government," EFG's Madha said.
Ratings agency Moody's also said it had no reason to believe that the federal government would abstain from supporting banks in Dubai or in other emirates.