North Africa/Middle East

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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Saudi Arabia sold sukuk, or Islamic bonds, worth $2.5 billion on Tuesday after receiving large demand for its first international debt sale since an assault on its oil facilities last month, Reuters reported. The strikes, which initially halved Saudi crude output, led to a rating downgrade by Fitch, which cited raised geopolitical risks and the possibility of further attacks. The sukuk offer a profit rate equivalent to 127 basis points over mid-swaps, a document showed.

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Lebanon’s government announced a long list of measures on Monday it hopes will fix the nation’s finances and appease the tens of thousands of people who’ve taken to the streets in the past week, Bloomberg News reported. Along with a proposal to halve the salaries of ministers and lawmakers, Prime Minister Saad Hariri said he’d slash next year’s budget deficit to 0.6% of gross domestic output, from almost 10% in 2019. One of his senior advisers also said the central bank will waive coupons on local-currency government debt, but Eurobonds won’t be affected.

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Oman’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MoCI) said that the Sultanate’s bankruptcy and insolvency law will come into effect from July 2020 and it will help companies to get out of the financial turmoil after paying debts and reconciling with creditors as per a restructuring plan, Islamic Business and Finance reported.

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It is well known that Lebanon is a highly indebted country. Its debt-to-GDP ratio has been stuck above 150 per cent for two decades while its economy has somehow managed to keep growing, albeit at lacklustre rates, the Financial Times reported in a commentary. Prophets of doom have been predicting a sovereign default for years, only to be proved wrong by the resilience of Lebanon’s financial sector and the savvy of its central bank.

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All but cut off from international credit markets and facing dollar shortages at home, Lebanon has come up with another workaround to allow the government to borrow money without raiding the central bank’s reserves, Bloomberg News reported. Local lenders, already the biggest holders of Lebanon’s sovereign debt, will cash out certificates of deposit, or CDs, at the central bank to buy some of Lebanon’s planned Eurobond issue of up to $3 billion, a person familiar with the matter said.

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