North Africa/Middle East

Lebanese banks are working on a national financial rescue plan that would preserve some of their capital rather than writing it all off as outlined in a government programme, the banking association head said on Tuesday, Reuters reported. The Association of Banks in Lebanon (ABL) has criticised the plan approved by the government last week, saying it would “further destroy confidence” in the heavily-indebted country which is facing economic and financial meltdown.

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After dithering and division, Lebanon’s government has concluded the only way it can refloat its sinking economy is by going to the IMF, the Financial Times reported in a commentary. That would be just in time. While it is a shopworn adage that countries cannot go bankrupt, Lebanon palpably has.

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A public fight between Lebanon’s new prime minister and its once untouchable central bank governor is jeopardising the state’s efforts to secure badly needed international financial support as it grapples with the worst economic crisis in decades, the Financial Times reported. The dispute came to a head this week after prime minister Hassan Diab, a former computer science professor, had lambasted governor Riad Salame’s handling of the country’s monetary crisis.

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The fallout of the coronavirus and oil-price collapse will offer a once-in-a decade opportunity for distressed debt investors in the Persian Gulf, according to Sancta Capital Group Ltd, Bloomberg News reported. “2020 will present us with the most lucrative deep value and distressed debt investment opportunity set since the global financial crisis,” said Ahmad Alanani, chief executive officer of the company, which invests in the debt and equity of under-performing companies.

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Finablr Plc, the embattled owner of two foreign-exchange businesses, uncovered about $1 billion of debt hidden from its board that may have been used for purposes outside of the company, compounding a scandal that pushed its sister firm NMC Health Plc into administration, Bloomberg News reported. The London-listed company and its creditors found that Finablr Group’s overall debt was about $1.3 billion, excluding the debt of its Travelex Holdings Ltd. unit and “materially above” its last reported figure, according to a statement.

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Lebanon’s government will seek a loan from the International Monetary Fund after signing off on a rescue plan to begin overhauling an economy facing its worst financial crisis in decades, Bloomberg News reported. “We will ask for a loan program from the International Monetary Fund and formalize our negotiations with Eurobond holders and move forward with that,” Prime Minister Hassan Diab said in a televised speech Thursday after his cabinet approved the plan.

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Protests against growing economic hardship erupted in Tripoli and spread to other Lebanese cities on Tuesday, with banks set ablaze and violence boiling over into a second night. One demonstrator was killed in riots overnight Monday, according to security and medical sources, as a collapse in the currency, soaring inflation and spiralling unemployment convulse Lebanon, a country in deep financial crisis since October, Reuters reported. A shutdown to fight the new coronavirus has made matters worse for the economy.

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Iraq is planning painful cuts in social benefits relied on by millions of government workers. Saudi Arabia will likely have to delay mega-projects, the International New York Times reported on an Associated Press story. Egypt and Lebanon face a blow as their workers in the Gulf send back less of the much-needed dollars that help keep their fragile economies afloat.

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Dubai is in talks to raise billions of dollars of debt privately instead of following Gulf neighbors by tapping public markets, as the emirate looks to bolster its finances and mitigate the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, Bloomberg News reported. The Middle East’s main business hub is discussing loans and private placements with around a dozen international and domestic banks, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

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Lebanon’s prime minister launched a scathing attack on central bank Governor Riad Salameh over the sharp depreciation of the pound on the unofficial market amid the country’s worst ever financial crisis, Bloomberg News reported. “There is a dilemma in the suspicious and mysterious way the central bank governor is dealing with the deterioration of the exchange rate of the Lebanese pound, and that’s causing the collapse,” Hassan Diab said in a televised address from the presidential palace.

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