North Africa/Middle East

Lebanon’s tax revenues dropped 12.5% during the first quarter of 2020 compared to a year earlier, ministry of finance data showed on Thursday, as a bruising financial crisis took its toll, Reuters reported. Lebanon has seen its currency plunge in value and unemployment soar since anti-government protests erupted last October. It defaulted on its sovereign debt before entering talks with the International Monetary Fund last month. The finance ministry data is the first to capture a full quarter since the protests started.

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Saudi Arabia unveiled a $13.3 billion stimulus package to protect banks against an expected drop in profits and rise in bad loans as they confront the double whammy of the coronavirus shock and lower oil prices, Bloomberg News reported. The move by the central bank, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, will help lenders amend and restructure loans, without additional fees, and support private sector employment and credit. It follows a 50-billion-riyal ($13.3 billion) program in March to help banks provide loans to businesses so companies didn’t have to cut jobs.

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Emerging market investors are no strangers to sovereign debt crises, but few have been as perilous as the one facing Lebanon given a toxic combination of financial and political weaknesses and no obvious economic platform on which to build a recovery, Reuters reported. Since defaulting for the first time on its foreign currency debt in March, Lebanon has formed a rescue plan and started negotiations with the International Monetary Fund on $10 billion of aid, both moves that would normally be read as positive for a country mired in debt.

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Joint administrators for Dubai-based NMC Health said on Thursday that the most likely exit option for the company was either dissolution or liquidation, Reuters reported. However, administrators from consulting firm Alvarez and Marsal Europe said it would not be possible to conclude the ultimate outcome of the process until all investigations into the company have progressed and the liability position is ascertained. NMC Health is the largest private healthcare provider in the UAE but came under scrutiny late last year when U.S.-based short-seller Muddy Waters criticised its financial state

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Owners of $1.2 billion in debt issued by Etihad and other airlines it partly owned have given the struggling Abu Dhabi carrier an ultimatum to agree to a restructuring or potentially face legal action, two sources close to the situation said, Reuters reported. The move is the latest turn in the unravelling of Etihad’s strategy to embark on global partnerships with airlines, the most high profile of which have since gone bankrupt.

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Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab blamed “criminal” currency manipulation for the unraveling of the country’s decades-old peg as he touted his cabinet’s achievements despite an unprecedented financial crisis, Bloomberg News reported. Flanked by his entire cabinet during a televised speech on Thursday, Diab criticized what he said were years of neglect and mismanagement on the part of the state, saying his own government -- in place since January -- was on the path to restoring confidence in Lebanon.

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Some of the world’s poorest oil-producing countries are slipping behind on payments for billions of dollars in oil-for-cash loans from commodity trading houses, putting them at risk of default, Bloomberg News reported. The so-called prepayment deals, in which a trading house advances a nation money to be repaid with future oil shipments, have been popular among some African and Middle East oil nations as the only way to raise funds. But they have also proved controversial: in some cases they create an opaque source of debt that governments find hard to pay back when oil prices plunge.

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Lebanese banks are urging the government to sell state assets and defer maturities to avoid defaulting on its domestic debt and driving the country’s finances into an even deeper crisis, Bloomberg News reported. The Association of Banks in Lebanon made the recommendations in a response to the economic recovery plan the government is discussing with the International Monetary Fund after seeking $10 billion in assistance.

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A recovery plan Lebanon is negotiating with the IMF expertly diagnoses the bankrupt state’s colossal losses but fails to commit to radical reform, the vital ingredient needed for a financial bailout of the country’s sinking economy, Reuters reported. The 53-page rescue plan, agreed by the government in April after months of haggling, is recognised by officials, economists and diplomats as the most searching examination of how Lebanon came to pile up debts several times the size of its economy.

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Saudi Arabia’s Binladin Group has cut thousands of jobs and reduced staff salaries between 30% to 70% as the coronavirus outbreak hurts business of the kingdom’s biggest construction company, three sources familiar with the matter said, Reuters reported. The sources declined to be identified and the company did not respond to an email request for comment.

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