North Africa/Middle East

Lebanon faces a complex and difficult debt restructuring that could take up to two years, Morgan Stanley has estimated, though the recent slump in its bonds has left them looking cheap even if the harshest scenarios play out, Reuters reported. Lebanon, one of the most indebted countries in the world, suspended payments on all $31.3 billion of its international ‘eurobonds’ this month, declaring that it could no longer repay them.

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Lebanon will begin the process of restructuring its roughly $30 billion of Eurobonds with an investor presentation on March 27, despite the coronavirus outbreak roiling global markets and paralyzing travel, Bloomberg News reported. The government, which defaulted this month, asked its financial adviser, Lazard Ltd., to initiate talks with investors, the Finance Ministry said in a statement Monday. The government “is developing a sustainable macroeconomic plan to redress the Lebanese economy,” the ministry said.

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The bonds of emerging-market nations are entering distressed territory at an alarming rate as the soaring dollar raises the prospect of government defaults, Bloomberg News reported. Fifteen nations with more than $100 billion of Eurobonds outstanding now have average spreads of at least 1,000 basis points over U.S. Treasuries, which many investors consider to be the threshold for debt to be classed as distressed. And that doesn’t even include Lebanon, which defaulted this month, and Argentina, which has begun restructuring talks with bondholders.

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Banks from Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and India risk losing millions of dollars due to their exposure to Finablr Plc, the foreign-exchange operator that’s preparing for potential insolvency, according to people with knowledge of the matter, Bloomberg News reported. Qatar National Bank, Doha Bank, National Bank of Fujairah, Commercial Bank International and Bank of Baroda are still owed about $300 million by Finablr’s parent BRS Ventures, which is owned by Bavaguthu Raghuram Shetty, some of the people said, asking not to be identified because the matter is private.

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Sovereign bond restructurings are rarely smooth. Lebanon’s looks like it will be particularly rocky. The rules underpinning the nation’s looming debt overhaul may complicate efforts to gather enough support to change the terms of its bonds, Bloomberg News reported. At the same time, they could protect the country from some of the issues that left Argentina with lengthy court battles.

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Oman’s ministry of finance has cut by 5% the budget allocated to government agencies for 2020, according to two sources and a government circular seen by Reuters. The decision was “in response to the financial challenges of the country,” a source at the ministry of finance said. Oman, a small Gulf oil producer rated ‘junk’ by all major rating agencies, is expected to see its deficit widen this year because of lower oil prices, Reuters reported.

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With distressed debt investors and emerging markets funds suddenly faced with one of the sharpest asset price falls in a generation, Lebanon picked the wrong time to go bankrupt, Reuters reported. Funds are still circling as the clock ticks down on Lebanon’s first sovereign default, but some may not buy until after the government unveils plans to revamp the debt and reform its economy, and the dust settles on a global asset plunge.

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Iran is seeking financial aid from the International Monetary Fund for the first time since the 1960s as it tries to fight a major outbreak of the coronavirus, Bloomberg News reported. Abdolnaser Hemmati, the head of the Central Bank of Iran, said in an Instagram post that he requested approximately $5 billion from the body’s Rapid Financing Instrument. The fund has said it would make $50 billion available to help member countries deal with the epidemic.

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With Lebanon in default for the first time in its history, banks are in crisis and the economy is in freefall. But one sector is booming: property. Desperate for a safe haven for their cash, citizens and professional investors have been buying up real estate at levels not seen for years in Lebanon’s previously stagnant property market, the Financial Times reported. At one central Beirut real estate agent, where the five-member team has toiled for months to the sound of the protests that have engulfed the Lebanese capital since October, the clients just keep calling.

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NMC Health has found evidence of suspected fraud in its finances following damaging revelations over billions of dollars of undisclosed debt on its balance sheet and doubts over its cash position, the Financial Times reported. The Middle East-focused healthcare group this week admitted net debt was twice what it had disclosed, after it found almost $3bn of borrowings hidden from its board that had been used for unknown purposes. Shares were suspended at the end of last month.

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