North Africa/Middle East

Lebanon's banks further tightened limits on foreign currency withdrawals on Monday, with at least one financial institution restricting depositors to a maximum withdrawal of $400 a month, Al Jazeera reported. Curbs on withdrawals and other unofficial capital controls were first implemented in November following bank closures in response to nationwide protests against corruption, political sclerosis and the government's mismanagement of the economy.

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Bridegrooms in the Gaza Strip are finding marriage a path to debtors’ prison rather than to happiness. Wedding celebrations cost around $10,000 in the Palestinian enclave, but a tradition of strong family ties and large gatherings often trumps financial common sense, Reuters reported. So with unemployment in Gaza topping 50% and the economy in a parlous state, many bridegrooms turn for help to money-lending associations that offer wedding loans ranging from $2,000 to $4,000, but repayment often becomes impossible.

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Abu Dhabi-based construction firm Al Fara’a Group is in talks with banks to restructure about 2 billion dirhams ($545 million) in liabilities, according to people familiar with the matter, Bloomberg News reported. A large chunk of this is held by local lenders including Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank PJSC and First Abu Dhabi Bank PJSC, the people said, asking not to be identified because the matter is private. The group has been facing difficulties for a number of years and has cut thousands of jobs, delayed payments to employees and vendors, some of the people said.

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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has all but won a devastating nine-year war, but he faces a challenge to revive an economy devastated by war, shunned by foreign investors and strangled by Western sanctions. Now, the battered economy is suffering a fresh blow, The Wall Street Journal reported. A plunging currency has sent inflation soaring and kindled rare and risky demonstrations against the regime, with Syrians protesting sharp increases in the cost of food, medicine and transportation.

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Lebanon’s central bank told local lenders to settle their debt securities and Certificates of Deposit in client accounts at banks working in the country exclusively, part of emergency measures to avoid capital flight, Bloomberg News reported. In a circular issued Thursday and effective for six months, banks will settle the value and interest of debt securities issued by them as well as Certificate of Deposits in accounts in Lebanon. Local lenders and the central bank have taken a series of measures to protect the sector and prevent a run on the banks as they ration U.S.

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As investors count down to Lebanon’s next bond maturity on March 9, a fresh meltdown in the debt market reflects their concern over the government’s solvency, Bloomberg News reported. Many of the crisis-ridden nation’s Eurobonds have slumped to record lows as relief over the formation of a new government last week proved to be short-lived…Lebanon is grappling with its worst economic and political crisis in decades, following months of protests.

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Crisis-ridden Lebanon finally has a government again and top of its agenda will be whether to repay a Eurobond maturing in six weeks. After lawmakers passed the 2020 budget on Monday, the new cabinet’s next major decision will be what to do about the $1.2 billion of bonds due on March 9, Bloomberg News reported. The team of 20, led by Prime Minister Hassan Diab, a computing-engineering professor, will meet this week with nationwide protests continuing, the central bank’s foreign reserves falling and the diaspora inflows that have kept the economy afloat for decades slowing to a trickle.

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Lebanese lawmakers approved a 2020 budget plan with a crucial Eurobond payment weeks away, leaving it to the new government to decide on whether to pay creditors or save what’s left of the country’s reserves, Bloomberg News reported. The fiscal program passed on Monday by a vote of 49 to 13, with eight abstentions. The legislature approved the budget that envisages a 6% deficit, a far cry from a goal set by Lebanon’s former government to bring it close to zero. It includes no new taxes.

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Lebanon's new government must decide whether to seek help from the International Monetary Fund to help ease its financial crisis, the International New York Times reported on a Reuters story. Any programme is likely to require Lebanon to agree to measures ranging from increasing taxes to fighting corruption. Based mainly on previous IMF recommendations, here are some steps Lebanon might have to take as part of any deal: Draw up a medium-term plan to fill Lebanon's yawning fiscal deficit and bring public debt down to sustainable levels.

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Lebanon’s sky-high bond yields and credit default swaps may start to dip if a new government unveiled this week can ease concerns about a sovereign default, Bloomberg News reported. Investors are watching a $1.2 billion Eurobond, payment for which is due on March 9. Its price has risen this week due to the formation of the government, ending a period of caretaker rule since protesters forced the resignation of the prime minister in October. But it’s still trading at just 84 cents on the dollar, equating to an annualized yield of around 170%.

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