The stock market ticker displays the latest share price movements but nobody is interested.
There is little sign of life around the Dubai Financial Market (DFM), except for a handful of Emiratis sitting on black armchairs occasionally glancing at data on laptop computers and placing orders with one of the few remaining brokerages.
Lethargy and frustration permeate the air. This is a long way from the stereo-typical trading environment portrayed in movies such as Wall Street and Rogue Trader.
As volumes continue to stagnate on the DFM — and the neighbouring Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange (ADX) — there is genuine concern among those investors that remain about the long-term future of the UAE's capital markets scene.
In the centre of the exchange, several boards have been erected highlighting the DFM's various milestone successes including the bourse's official inauguration in 2000 and the acquisition of Nasdaq Dubai.
Air of resignation
Those achievements seem a lifetime ago now with the DFM losing 17 per cent in 2011. Retail investors still come to the market, located in the World Trade Centre, to talk about old times, all the while hoping for an upturn in fortunes.
But there is a feeling of resignation around this old building as confidence ebbs away and doubts grow about the good times ever returning.
Another trader, who only spoke to Gulf News on the condition of anonymity, said a lack of trust and non-existent transparency were the reasons behind plummeting market volumes.
"People do not have trust in the market, especially in the regulators. The Security and Commodities Authority [SCA] is not doing its work. A lack of transparency is also a big issue in that we need to be given more information [about listed companies].
"The market does not lie; you cannot lie to it. If the information from companies posted on the exchange is correct, then why are we seeing such low turnover?" he added.
The trader says he wants the UAE's three indexes to merge, adding the market capitalisation of the DFM would shoot up 10 per cent in one day if such a move were to happen. "It is no different to Dubai Mall or Mall of the Emirates — people want a variety of products and they have to be accessible," he said.
"At present brokerages have separate accounts for the DFM and the ADX. It should be made easier for everybody; markets do not need complications. The lack of IPOs in the UAE is also a failure on the part of the SCA," he added.
The UAE and Qatar both missed out on upgrades to emerging market status when the index compiler released its latest classification review in December, a move that would have likely led to a much-needed surge in liquidity.
Another trader, who also wished to remain anonymous, told Gulf News yesterday that the government had to act in order to encourage more local investors to come into the market.
"Every day we see the market drop lower and lower. People are escaping and I doubt they will come back. I do not know what is the problem, maybe the fact investors are afraid to bring money into the market.
"The screens have been red for most of the year and volumes are very low. Investors are not coming to our market.
"Inshallah, 2012 will be a good year."
Transparency in focus
Abu Hani, a 62-year-old Emirati, is studying the latest developments at Dana Gas, a company listed on the ADX, and bemoaning the lack of transparency over the company's sharp declines in recent days.
Hani used to teach calligraphy at a local school but started trading seriously following his retirement in 2008 hoping to enjoy substantial returns. Unfortunately his plan never worked out; he lost his entire career savings in the intervening three years.
"The money I made during my career has gone," he said. "The markets have been going down every day for about three years. If you look around there are only a few people here; five or six years ago it was difficult to walk around the market or find a seat that was spare.
"Any share you buy today will have dropped in value by the same time tomorrow. People have lost lots of money, so why would they come here? Why would they want to trade in local stocks? Look at Emaar Properties, it was trading around Dh12 three years ago and today it is valued at Dh2.40 per share," he added.
According to Hani, a lack of transparency is the main reason why investors have little confidence in local markets.
"Transparency is nothing in our market. Dana Gas was trading limit down for two consecutive sessions but we did not hear or see anything about the company, so where is the transparency?" he said. "Too many people have left the market; that is why the volumes have been dropping. There is nothing encouraging for those people to come back either; they want good news but there is nothing. The long-term future is hopeless.
"I just come to the market now to watch the screens and catch up with old friends. Nobody is trading; we all come to see friends — just wasting time and talking nonsense," he added.
Dana Gas yesterday said it will honour the outstanding $920 million (Dh3.38 billion) on its sukuk maturing in October.