North Africa/Middle East

Lebanon’s parliament passed a law on Monday to lift banking secrecy for one year in a move that could clear the way for a forensic audit of the central bank, a key condition for foreign aid that has hit a roadblock, Reuters reported. Such an audit is on a list of reforms that donors have demanded before helping Lebanon climb out of a financial crisis without precedent. These include steps to tackle corruption, a root cause of the meltdown that has crashed the currency and triggered a sovereign default.

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Sentiments on the UAE stock markets have turned completely negative – as a mix of global events and local concerns fuel investor fears, Gulf News reported. Within the first two hours of Monday. The index shed more than 100 points, with 28 stocks in the red. (Al Salam Group Holding is the only one as of 11.30am to break the down trend.) By 12pm, the drop was brought down below 4 points. But it still looks like being a long day for UAE investors. The real estate stocks, which had been showing signs of strong recovery through the first two months, are particularly hit.

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Payments company Finablr is selling its entire business and operations to an Israeli-United Arab Emirates consortium for a nominal $1 after running into financial difficulties, the company said on Thursday, Reuters reported. Global Fintech Investments Holding (GFIH), an affiliate of Prism Group AG, has partnered with Abu Dhabi’s Royal Strategic Partners to buy the business, Finablr said in a statement. GFIH will provide working capital to support Finablr so it can continue to operate and support various stakeholders, including its employees and creditors, the statement said.

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Investment Corp. of Dubai is gaining a larger footprint in the emirate’s property market by asserting control over state-owned developer Meydan’s real estate projects, Bloomberg News reported. “We have embarked on a review of Meydan’s business strategy,” Mohammed Al Shaibani, ICD’s chief executive officer, said in an emailed reply to questions.

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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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