North Africa/Middle East

The World Bank is seeing “a huge willingness” on the part of official bilateral creditors to suspend debt payments by the world’s poorest countries so they can focus on fighting the coronavirus pandemic, a top Bank official said on Monday, Bloomberg News reported. World Bank Managing Director Axel van Trotsenburg said the Group of 20 major economies and the Group of Seven (G7) had been largely supportive of a call by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund for a temporary halt in debt payments. “Everybody understands that we need to help the poorest countries.

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NMC Health’s administrators have sought to reassure staff that the scandal-ridden hospital operator will still be able to help the United Arab Emirates battle the coronavirus pandemic, the Financial Times reported. As the largest private healthcare provider in the UAE, NMC has an important role in preparing the Gulf state to cope with the outbreak, which has already claimed 22 lives from about 4,100 cases.

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Lebanon’s bondholders will have at least 70 per cent wiped off the value of their holdings, according to an analysis of the government’s plan to restructure the country’s huge debts, the Financial Times reported. Lebanon, which defaulted on its $30bn of foreign-currency bonds in February, offered the first hints as to how it plans to return its debt to a sustainable level in a draft document circulated on Wednesday.

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The G20 group is planning to offer lower income countries a moratorium on bilateral government loan repayments as part of an “action plan” to tackle the coronavirus pandemic and stave off an emerging markets debt crisis, a senior G20 official said, the Financial Times reported. The initiative, due to be finalised at a finance ministers’ meeting this week, would see a freeze on sovereign debt repayments for six or nine months, or possibly through to 2021, in line with an appeal last month from the IMF and World Bank.

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Defaulted Lebanon gave the first glimpse of its restructuring plans by setting a goal of halving one of the world’s biggest debt burdens as early as this year and moving to a more flexible exchange rate, according to a draft document seen by Bloomberg. The government is discussing a reform plan submitted by the Finance Ministry and drafted by a group of advisers including other ministries and Lazard Ltd, Bloomberg News reported.

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Healthcare company NMC Health said on Wednesday it expects to be placed into administration in due course, following weeks of uncertainty relating to its debt levels and undisclosed shareholder dealings, Reuters reported. NMC said in a statement it was unable to reach agreement with its creditors despite strenuous efforts to address their concerns. Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, one of the major lenders to NMC Health, filed an application earlier this month in a UK court to put the company into administration.

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As the coronavirus crisis deepens in emerging economies around the world, collapsing currencies, commodity prices, export earnings and tourism revenues threaten to shred the finances of many governments, leaving them scrambling to avoid default, the Financial Times reported. Zambia has already called in advisers to restructure its debt while Ecuador has asked for more time to make coupon payments on three dollar bonds. Few analysts believe they will be the last.

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Lebanon’s foreign-exchange crisis is intensifying, prompting another appeal by the government for financial aid after its debt default last month, Bloomberg News reported. Local banks have reduced the amount of dollars customers can withdraw from their accounts and even forced them to accept conversions into the local currency in some instances. Two of the largest have almost stopped dispensing foreign exchange entirely, while the central bank has greatly cut its supply, said senior bankers, who didn’t want to be named.

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Lebanon said it will allow small depositors to withdraw funds from dollar accounts at a weaker rate than the decades-old fixed regime, the first official move away from the country’s currency peg amid a severe liquidity crisis, Bloomberg News reported. With hardly any dollars circulating in the banking system, lenders will pay out at a “market rate” in Lebanese pounds to clients with accounts of up to $3,000, according to a central bank circular issued Friday.

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NMC Health Plc convertible bondholders are working with PJT Partners Inc. as the troubled Middle Eastern hospital operator prepares for a restructuring, people with knowledge of the matter said, Bloomberg News reported. PJT is advising a group of investors in NMC Health’s $360 million of convertible bonds due 2025, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private.

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