The top business/economic stories from the MENA region as reported in the regional and industry press – April 18-20

Abu Dhabi – “Abu Dhabi’s economy is ‘well cushioned’ from external shocks such as the coronavirus pandemic and volatility in oil markets, the chairman of the Abu Dhabi Department of Finance said on Sunday. The emirate has also raised $7 billion (Dh25.7bn) through a bond offering which showed strong international demand. It was more than six times oversubscribed, with 90 per cent of orders coming from outside the Middle East, despite concerns about the global economy. Jassim Al Zaabi said this was a sign of investor confidence in the emirate,” The National reports.

Oil Markets – “With markets struggling to digest the steep declines in Brent prices, analysts say it may be time for a different approach when it comes to investing in the so-called liquid gold. And here is why. Measures to contain the virus outbreak have effectively frozen the global economy: planes have been grounded, businesses shuttered and billions of people largely confined to their homes. The need for oil products such as gasoline and jet fuel has evaporated,” Gulf News reports.

UAE/NMC – “BR Shetty, the founder of NMC Health, which was placed into administration by a UK court last week and faces criminal charges, said he flew to India in early February for personal reasons. Mr Shetty told The National when reached by phone on Friday that he left the UAE to Mangalore on February 7 to be with his brother, who had cancer and died earlier this month aged 82…Reports had suggested Mr Shetty fled to India as legal and operational challenges mounted in relation to his companies NMC Health and Finablr, both listed on the London Stock Exchange,” The National reports.

UAE/ADNOC – “An investor group backed by Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) and Brookfield Asset Management Inc. is seeking a loan of about $8 billion to finance the potential purchase of a stake in Abu Dhabi National Oil Co.’s natural gas pipelines, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The consortium – which also includes Italian infrastructure operator Snam SpA, Ontario Teachers Pension Plan and Singapore sovereign fund GIC Pte – has reached out to banks to gauge their interest in participating, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the information is private,” Arabian Business reports.

Egypt/Moody’s – “Ratings agency Moody’s has kept Egypt’s credit rating at B2 with a stable outlook.According to a Moody’s report published Saturday, seen by Ahram Online, the credit profile of Egypt (issuer rating B2) is supported by ‘A3’ economic strength. A3 is the seventh highest rating a debt issuer can receive, denoting that Egypt’s financial and banking system is solid with a low risk of default,” Ahram Online reports.

Lebanon Currency – “The exchange rate of the dollar for money exchanges in Lebanon reached a new record on Saturday. Money exchangers sold the dollar for 3,250 Lebanese pounds. Lebanon has never seen that price, even during its civil war in the 1980s. The official price of the dollar in banks remains 1,507 pounds,” Arab News reports.

Iran/Covid-19 – “Iran relaxed more of its restrictive measures on Monday and allowed medium-risk businesses to resume operations, but extended the closure of schools, universities, mosques and holy sites. The coronavirus taskforce, chaired by President Hassan Rouhani, announced on Sunday that medium-risk businesses such as stores can resume operations tomorrow if they respect health protocols devised by the Health Ministry, ISNA reported,” Financial Tribune reports.

Dubai/Banking – “Emirates NBD PJSC set aside about $700 million in the first quarter to cover bad loans, giving investors a glimpse at the damage the coronavirus and lower oil prices are wreaking on bank earnings in the Gulf,” Bloomberg/Al-Arabiya reports.

Saudi FinTech – “The Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA) announced that it has permitted nine more FinTech companies to operate in the Regulatory Sandbox, raising the total to 30. The new batch serves SAMA’s effort to promote the digitization of financial services and drive towards digital transformation in the financial sector in line with the requirements and objectives of the Financial Sector Development Program, one of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 programs,” Asharq Al-Awsat reports.

Turkey Autos – “Most of the Turkish automotive companies are planning to reopen manufacturing plants next week after nearly a one-month-long suspension due to measures to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. Commercial vehicle producer Anadolu Isuzu, a joint venture between Turkish conglomerate Anadolu Holding, Isuzu Motors and Itochu Corporation, resumed production at its factory in the northwestern industrial province Kocaeli’s Gebze district on April 13. It had halted production on March 30,” Hurriyet Daily News reports.

Morocco/Autos – “French automaker Renault has decided to gradually and partially resume its industrial activity, the company announced today, April 17. Renault Maroc is preparing its two plants in Tangier and Casablanca ‘to adapt and adjust production as the market recovers to meet the demand both in Morocco and abroad,'” Morocco World News reports. 

Lebanon/Bristol Hotel – “A five-star hotel in Beirut that once hosted royalty and survived the civil war has been forced to close over Lebanon’s economic crisis and coronavirus lockdown, its manager said on Saturday. Lebanon is grappling with its worst financial crunch since the 1975-1990 civil war, now compounded by a nationwide lockdown since March 15 to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus,” AFP/Jordan Times reports.

Algeria – “OPEC member Algeria’s gross domestic product grew 0.8% in 2019, down from 1.4% the previous year and far below the government’s initial forecast, the government said on Sunday, after a poor performance in the energy sector and mass public protests. The government had projected 2.6% growth for 2019. Algeria was rocked in 2019 by demonstrations in which protesters demanded political and economic changes and the removal of the ruling elite. The government has now banned such protests as part of measures to limit the spread of the new coronavirus,” Asharq Al-Awsat reports.

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