North Africa/Middle East

Investors in frontier-market bonds are on course to get their best returns in seven years. It looks like it’ll be a lot tougher in 2020, Bloomberg News reported. Some of the biggest money managers are already becoming more selective. BNP Paribas Asset Management, which oversees almost $500 billion in assets, is sticking to countries with sound fiscal management such as Ivory Coast, or those with investment-grade ratings like Kazakhstan, Uruguay and Morocco. Aberdeen Standard Investments sees opportunities to get above-market returns by buying the bonds of Sri Lanka, Ecuador and Ghana.

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Lebanon’s banks are worried that a central bank deadline for compulsory capital increases is too tight as they grapple with the fallout from weeks of anti-government protests, banking sources familiar with the matter said, Reuters reported. They said it was possible lenders might ask the banking regulator for an extension to the requirement to raise their Common Equity Tier 1 capital, a key measure of financial strength, by 10% through cash injections by the end of the year. The central bank did not respond to a request for comment.

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Lebanon’s credit rating was cut one notch further into junk territory by Moody’s Investors Service on Tuesday as protests roil the nation, reflecting the increased likelihood of debt rescheduling or other steps that may constitute a default, Bloomberg News reported. Moody’s analyst Elisa Parisi-Capone said the viability of the currency’s peg to the U.S. dollar and macroeconomic stability are both threatened by social protests and a loss of investor confidence.

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Saudi Aramco is undoubtedly huge and very profitable. But what’s the company worth? That question was one of many left unanswered Sunday when the company, the world’s dominant oil producer, announced it would sell a stake to investors, the International New York Times reported. Just about everything about the initial public offering remains to be determined in the coming days and weeks, including how large a portion Aramco will sell, and at what price. Most of the questions will revolve around decisions made by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s main policymaker.

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Lebanon’s central bank asked local lenders to raise their capital by 20% in the next year, the state-run National News Agency reported, to boost their liquidity and prepare for possible downgrades in credit ratings, Bloomberg News reported. The Banque du Liban said raising capital by $4 billion would help banks “confront the current situation and any future developments particularly in the face of a possible credit downgrade,” the news agency said.

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Lebanese banks have curtailed the transfer of dollar deposits abroad until political turbulence that has engulfed the country and raised fears of a collapse in its currency peg subsides, Bloomberg News reported. Lebanon has not imposed official restrictions on the movement of money as lenders reopen their doors after two weeks of nationwide anti-government protests. But banks have independently moved to tighten informal limits already in place for months to avoid capital flight amid crumbling confidence.

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The resignation of Saad al-Hariri as Lebanon’s prime minister on Tuesday has plunged the country’s economy deeper into uncertainty as protesters continue to occupy public squares, calling for a clear-out of the entire political elite, the Financial Times reported. Banks remain shuttered for a second week amid fears that the unrest will trigger capital flight and a run on lenders by customers anxious about their dollar deposits. The Banking Association said they would reopen on Friday.

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Lebanon’s political and banking crisis has put growing pressure on its 22-year-old currency peg to the U.S. dollar and foreign funds fear a devaluation now could be disastrous for a country with one of the world’s biggest foreign debt burdens, Reuters reported. The risk of devaluation has risen as Lebanon grapples with its most severe economic pressures since the 1975-90 civil war, with widespread protests that have toppled the coalition government of Saad al-Hariri.

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Dubai needs to halt all new home construction for one or two years to avert an economic disaster brought on by continued oversupply, according to one of its biggest builders, Bloomberg News reported. “We’re entering a crossroads now,” Damac Properties PJSC Chairman Hussain Sajwani said in a Bloomberg interview. “Either we fix this problem and we can grow from here or we are going to see a disaster.” Damac’s chairman is the latest executive to call for curbs on construction in a market that’s been on a downward trajectory since it peaked five years ago.

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The merit of Saudi Arabia’s new bankruptcy law, part of efforts to help the kingdom attract investors, should become clearer in about a year after courts handle initial cases, a World Bank representative and senior government official told Reuters. A lack of modern bankruptcy regulations had created difficulties for struggling companies seeking to restructure debt with creditors since the 2009 global financial crisis and the more recent dip in oil prices, Reuters reported.

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