North Africa/Middle East

Lebanon’s parliament late Tuesday approved some amendments to a banking secrecy law that has been a key demand of the International Monetary Fund before it agrees to a bailout program amid the country’s economic meltdown, the Associated Press reported. Despite the changes, legal advocacy groups say the alterations to the law will likely not be enough to please the IMF because it restricts moves to lift banking secrecy provisions to judicial authorities.
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Saudi Arabia is selling bonds and Islamic securities, while offering to buy back as much as $15.5 billion of debt, Bloomberg News reported. The world’s biggest oil exporter plans to sell sukuk maturing in six years and bonds due in 10, both denominated in dollars. At the same time, Saudi Arabia asked holders of its bonds due in 2023, 2025 and 2026 to tender their notes for purchase by the kingdom for cash. It will announce the maximum acceptance amount after the pricing of the new securities.
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Outraged bank clients, at least two of them armed, stormed four commercial banks across Lebanon on Tuesday over withdrawal limits that have been imposed throughout the country amid a financial meltdown, Reuters reported. Cases of bank hold-ups have snowballed across Lebanon as residents have grown exasperated over the informal capital controls that banks have imposed since an economic downturn began in 2019.
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The Bank of Israel on Monday raised its benchmark interest rate by three-quarters of a point for the second meeting in a row, citing its determination to move inflation back to within its target, Reuters reported. The central bank lifted its key rate to 2.75% from 2.0% in its fifth straight decision to hike rates. In April, policymakers had begun raising the rate from 0.1% -- an all-time low where it had stayed for the prior 15 decisions since a 0.15 point reduction at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Saudi Arabia announced a spending boost that will sharply narrow next year’s budget surplus as it looks to tackle the impact of inflation and use its oil windfall to accelerate the development of economic diversification projects, Bloomberg News reported. The kingdom’s Finance Ministry said in a preliminary budget statement on Friday that it expects a surplus of 9 billion riyals ($2.4 billion) next year, or 0.2% of gross domestic product -- smaller than an earlier estimate of 27 billion riyals.
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The Central Bank of Bahrain said on Wednesday it raised its key policy interest rate on its one-week deposit facility by 75 basis points (bps) to 4%, moving in parallel with the U.S. Federal Reserve's hike as the Bahraini dinar is pegged to the dollar, Reuters reported. CBB also hiked by 75 bps the overnight deposit rate to 3.75%, the four-week deposit rate to 4.75% and the lending rate to 5.25%. Read more.
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Qatar's central bank said on Wednesday it will raise its interest rates by 75 basis points as of Thursday, moving in parallel with the U.S. Federal Reserve's third straight hike of that size, Reuters reported. The central bank increased its lending rate to 4.5%, the deposit rate to 3.75% and the repo rate to 4.0%, the central bank said in a statement. Read more.
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An insurance company that was ordered to pay more than a billion dirhams in damages for a 2015 New Year’s Eve fire in Dubai has lost a civil lawsuit that it filed to try and recover the money, the Associated Press reported. Two years after the massive fire rocked the Address Downtown hotel, Orient Insurance was ordered to pay Dubai’s state-backed developer Emaar 1.25 billion dirhams (more than $340 million) in a settlement. Emaar is behind projects like the world’s tallest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa.
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Tunisia expects to reach a deal with the International Monetary Fund in coming weeks on a loan of between $2 billion and $4 billion over three years, the central bank governor said on Sunday, Reuters reported. Tunisia, which is suffering its worst financial crisis, is seeking to secure an IMF loan to save public finances from collapse. "The size is still under negotiation and I think it will be between $2 billion and $4 billion, we hope to reach a staff level deal in coming weeks," Marouan Abassi told Reuters.
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The International Monetary Fund said on Thursday that a staff mission will visit Lebanon next week to discuss ways to "speed up" implementation of agreed reforms required for an IMF loan program amid deteriorating living conditions in the country, Reuters reported. "We are looking to support Lebanon as strongly as we can. It's a difficult situation," IMF spokesman Gerry Rice told a regular news briefing.
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