North Africa/Middle East

When Kuwait’s prime minister returns to office in the coming weeks, he faces an apparent paradox: the Gulf state with a $550bn sovereign wealth fund is running short on cash to pay ballooning public sector salaries, the Financial Times reported. Oil accounts for 90 per cent of its revenue, but slumping prices have hit the western ally’s income hard, putting its forecast deficit close to 40 per cent of GDP, higher than it was in the 1990s, during the financially perilous aftermath of the first Gulf war when Iraq invaded Kuwait.

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Administrators of troubled hospital operator NMC Health are sounding out potential buyer interest for its flagship business in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), three sources familiar with the matter said, Reuters reported. The potential sale of its biggest assets which would also include Oman, could generate around $1 billion, one of the sources said. It follows administrators Alvarez & Marsal’s launch in August of a process to sell NMC’s international business including its international fertility units.

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Coronavirus struck at a tough time for Morocco: it aggravated the impact of a second year of drought, in a country where economic growth is vulnerable to fluctuations in rainfall. Agriculture, which accounts for about 10 per cent of gross domestic product and employs almost 30 per cent of the workforce, was already suffering as a result of two years of poor rains, the Financial Times reported. The pandemic was another disaster, leading to the collapse of the tourism sector and disrupting exports to Europe, the country’s foremost economic partner.

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Banque du Caire, one of Egypt’s state-owned banks, was days from announcing its long-anticipated initial public offering in March. Then coronavirus scuttled the plan to float up to a quarter of its shares on the Egyptian Exchange, the Financial Times reported.

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Lara Mustafa and Wassim Hachem are among thousands of university students caught up in Lebanon’s financial crisis, which started in 2019 with popular protests against leaders whom demonstrators blamed for corruption and mismanaging the economy, Reuters reported. An insolvent banking system, which had lent more than two thirds of its assets to the central bank and state, shut out all depositors from their dollar accounts, and Lebanon defaulted on its debts. The COVID-19 pandemic added to mass job losses and business collapses. Lebanon traditionally prides itself on its education system.

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Restructuring consultancy Alvarez & Marsal has pulled out of a forensic audit of Lebanon’s central bank because it did not receive information required to carry out the task, caretaker Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni told Reuters on Friday, Reuters reported. The decision is a blow to Lebanon as it attempts to extricate itself from a financial crisis, rooted in endemic waste and corruption, that has crashed its currency, paralysed banks and prompted a sovereign debt default.

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A Lebanese judge has ordered a protective freeze on some property assets of SGBL bank, its CEO and two board members in a case filed by a Jordanian businessman seeking repatriation of millions of dollars in deposits, a judicial document showed, Reuters reported. It was the first such move in cases brought against Lebanese lenders by customers seeking access to dollar deposits frozen under informal capital controls. The curbs, imposed by the banks in late 2019, also largely blocked customers from making transfers abroad.

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Dubai-listed contractor Arabtec has terminated thousands of workers again in recent weeks, sources said, as the construction firm prepares for liquidation after the coronavirus pandemic deepened its financial woes, Reuters reported. Arabtec Holding shareholders in September authorised the board to file for liquidation due to its untenable financial position. The company, which helped build the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the world’s tallest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, suffered a first-half loss of $216.18 million, piling up accumulated losses of nearly $400 million.

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Lebanon’s caretaker Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni announced on Thursday a three-month extension of a deadline to provide all data required for a forensic audit of the central bank after it declined to submit some information, citing bank secrecy laws, Reuters reported. The caretaker prime minister and three sources familiar with the matter have said that Banque du Liban (BDL) was withholding information needed by restructuring consultancy Alvarez & Marsal to begin the audit, which is a key demand for foreign financial assistance to help Lebanon exit a financial meltdown.

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The Lebanese central bank’s refusal to provide full data for a forensic audit may force consultancy Alvarez & Marsal (A&M) to walk away or wait for a new cabinet to salvage the review, a key condition for foreign aid, two sources close to the matter said, Reuters reported. Banque du Liban (BDL) said in a statement on Wednesday that it had provided its own accounts to the turnaround specialist hired by Lebanon this year, but that it should be the government that submits full state accounts to the audit.

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