Will Dubai’s soaring economy come in for a landing?

Dubai has built its name on realizing the unbelievable and, often, the unnecessary: the world’s new tallest skyscraper, an indoor ski slope, a constellation of faux islands molded to resemble a map of the world.

Never a place for the meek, the glitzy commercial capital of the Middle East nonetheless has begun to wonder whether the global economic crisis will bring its high-flying real estate market in for a rough landing.

Shares in government-backed Emaar, the Middle East’s biggest developer, are down more than 60 percent this year, mirroring a widespread sell-off in Dubai real estate. Property values are still rising, but much less dramatically. EFG-Hermes, an Egypt-based investment bank, recently projected that Dubai’s real estate market could shrink by as much as 20 percent by 2011.

Although no one’s pronouncing Dubai’s boom a bust, many here think that the get-rich-quick days – when investors could count on astronomical returns within months – are numbered.

“We don’t think those days are at an end, but we’re telling people it’s not like it used to be,” said Hamed Shirvani, a polished young investment manager whose clients include wealthy businessmen in Russia and his native Iran. “No more returns of 80, 100, 200 percent, probably.”

That amounts to a shock in Dubai, where easy credit and political stability have lured investors from around the world, transforming a sleepy desert sheikdom into a postmodern cityscape of soaring steel and shimmering glass.

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