North Africa/Middle East

Lebanon’s new government faces huge upcoming debt repayments and a currency peg at breaking point, but it may already have run out of the hard cash firepower it needs to tackle these problems, Reuters reported. The heavily indebted country faces hefty bond repayments coming up in March and April, when $1.34 billion and $842 million of interest and principal respectively come due. Analysts expect the central bank to be able to foot the bill, for now, though some in Beirut believe a rescheduling or restructuring is preferable.

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Egypt expects its domestic reforms to spur private investment whether or not it agrees on a non-financial International Monetary Fund program, a decision that will be made “soon,” Planning and Economic Development Minister Hala El-Saeed said, Bloomberg News reported. “Now is the time for the private sector,” said El-Saeed in an interview in London late Monday, while at a U.K.-organized conference to boost investment in Africa.

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Lebanese authorities will be reluctant to announce a default on debt payments until a functioning government is formed, pushing back any plans for a bond restructuring to later this year, according to Oxford Economics, Bloomberg News reported. Investors can reap a 13% return by buying Lebanon’s dollar-denominated note due March 9, London-based strategist Nafez Zouk said in an emailed note. While there’s an 85% probability those bonds will be repaid at maturity, dwindling foreign-currency reserves mean a default may still be announced in the second half of 2020, Zouk said.

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Dubai’s biggest bank is going after a plot of land in the city’s financial hub that belongs to debt-laden Al Jaber Group, Bloomberg News reported. Emirates NBD PJSC is seeking to seize or sell the undeveloped land in the Dubai International Financial Centre after becoming frustrated by the pace of assets sales under Al Jaber’s debt restructuring, according to people familiar with the matter and an enforcement letter sent by the bank.

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Lebanon’s precarious finances mean the crisis-hit country looks likely to default on its debt in some way and could even launch a Cyprus-style grab for savers’ bank accounts, Fitch’s top sovereign analyst said, Reuters reported. Lebanon’s debt problems have jumped back into focus this week after reports emerged of a bid by authorities there to try and delay some of this year’s bond repayments.

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Lebanon’s government has been warned by rating companies that a proposed Eurobond swap with local banks would be considered a “selective default,” a person familiar with the matter said, Bloomberg News reported. The Finance Ministry sent a letter to the central bank Wednesday asking it to hold off on the deal, according to the person, who asked not be identified because the information isn’t public.

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BNP Paribas SA and Citigroup Inc. are among global banks with the most exposure to about $14 billion of accepted claims related to the collapse of two Saudi business empires more than a decade ago, Bloomberg News reported. The French bank is owed about $750 million by Maan al-Sanea’s Saad Group and Ahmad Hamad Algosaibi & Brothers Co. -- two family holding companies that defaulted on roughly $16 billion in 2009 -- after a Saudi court accepted its claims, according to documents seen by Bloomberg. The U.S. bank is owed about $270 million by Saad Group, the documents show.

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Bank Audi SAL received several expressions of interest to buy its Egyptian unit, according to an official from the bank, Bloomberg News reported. Lebanon’s biggest lender by assets held informal talks with institutions that are seeking to expand their operations in Egypt or enter in the north African country, the official said, asking not to be identified because the information isn’t public. Bank Audi hasn’t made a decision, the official said. Arabiya television was first to report that the bank plans to sell the unit as part of a restructuring.

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Lebanon’s sovereign debt is probably going to be restructured in a way that hurts neither the economy nor depositors, and foreign holders will be repaid, the banking association head said on Monday, Reuters reported. Salim Sfeir also said he did not foresee problems with a proposal for Lebanese banks to swap their holdings in a maturing March Eurobond of $1.2 billion for longer dated notes, describing such swaps as “common practice”.

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Lebanon’s central bank wants local holders of a $1.2 billion Eurobond maturing in March to swap into new notes as part of an effort to manage its debt crisis, Bloomberg News reported. “We are making preemptive proposals that are voluntary” and dependent on the consent of Lebanese banks, Governor Riad Salameh said in an interview in Beirut. “We haven’t taken any decision yet because we don’t have a government.” The plan would help the Arab nation, one of the world’s most indebted, as it struggles with its worst economic crisis in decades.

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