North Africa/Middle East

Lebanon’s precarious finances mean the crisis-hit country looks likely to default on its debt in some way and could even launch a Cyprus-style grab for savers’ bank accounts, Fitch’s top sovereign analyst said, Reuters reported. Lebanon’s debt problems have jumped back into focus this week after reports emerged of a bid by authorities there to try and delay some of this year’s bond repayments.

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Lebanon’s government has been warned by rating companies that a proposed Eurobond swap with local banks would be considered a “selective default,” a person familiar with the matter said, Bloomberg News reported. The Finance Ministry sent a letter to the central bank Wednesday asking it to hold off on the deal, according to the person, who asked not be identified because the information isn’t public.

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BNP Paribas SA and Citigroup Inc. are among global banks with the most exposure to about $14 billion of accepted claims related to the collapse of two Saudi business empires more than a decade ago, Bloomberg News reported. The French bank is owed about $750 million by Maan al-Sanea’s Saad Group and Ahmad Hamad Algosaibi & Brothers Co. -- two family holding companies that defaulted on roughly $16 billion in 2009 -- after a Saudi court accepted its claims, according to documents seen by Bloomberg. The U.S. bank is owed about $270 million by Saad Group, the documents show.

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Bank Audi SAL received several expressions of interest to buy its Egyptian unit, according to an official from the bank, Bloomberg News reported. Lebanon’s biggest lender by assets held informal talks with institutions that are seeking to expand their operations in Egypt or enter in the north African country, the official said, asking not to be identified because the information isn’t public. Bank Audi hasn’t made a decision, the official said. Arabiya television was first to report that the bank plans to sell the unit as part of a restructuring.

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Lebanon’s sovereign debt is probably going to be restructured in a way that hurts neither the economy nor depositors, and foreign holders will be repaid, the banking association head said on Monday, Reuters reported. Salim Sfeir also said he did not foresee problems with a proposal for Lebanese banks to swap their holdings in a maturing March Eurobond of $1.2 billion for longer dated notes, describing such swaps as “common practice”.

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Lebanon’s central bank wants local holders of a $1.2 billion Eurobond maturing in March to swap into new notes as part of an effort to manage its debt crisis, Bloomberg News reported. “We are making preemptive proposals that are voluntary” and dependent on the consent of Lebanese banks, Governor Riad Salameh said in an interview in Beirut. “We haven’t taken any decision yet because we don’t have a government.” The plan would help the Arab nation, one of the world’s most indebted, as it struggles with its worst economic crisis in decades.

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First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB) has started an auction process for a Dubai hotel operated by Shangri-La and owned by indebted construction group Al Jaber with a starting price of 700 million dirhams ($190.59 million), two sources said, Reuters reported. Al Jaber, best known as a contractor but with interests across a range of sectors, has struggled since a construction downturn in the United Arab Emirates after the global financial crisis.

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Middle Eastern markets can hardly be accused of complacency over the latest surge in regional tensions, even if global investors are taking a more relaxed view of events. The region accounts for three of the world’s 10 worst-performing equity indexes since the U.S. drone attack that killed Iran’s General Qassem Soleimani last week, while the dollar-denominated bonds of Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain, Egypt and Oman are among the 10 biggest losers in emerging markets, Bloomberg News reported.

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Saudi Aramco shares have dropped more than 10 per cent from their peak as the Kingdom’s markets have been hit by growing jitters over the deteriorating situation in the Middle East following the US assassination of a top Iranian military commander, the Financial Times reported. The state oil company’s shares fell 1 per cent on Monday following a 1.7 per cent fall on Sunday. The slump has left Aramco’s shares trading at 34.2 riyal, the lowest level since the group floated on Saudi Arabia’s stock bourse last month.

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Lebanon needs a $20 billion-$25 billion bailout including International Monetary Fund support to emerge from its financial crisis, former economy minister Nasser Saidi told Reuters on Friday, Reuters reported. Lebanon’s crisis has shattered confidence in its banking system and raised investors’ concerns that a default could loom for one of the world’s most indebted countries, with a $1.2 billion (917.01 million pounds)Eurobond due in March.

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