MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA
* Saudi Arabia reduced the income tax paid by state-owned Saudi Arabian Oil Co. to 50% from 85%, effective retroactively from Jan. 1, in preparation for the oil giant's planned 2018 IPO, Reuters reports. Insiders say the tax cut reduces Saudi Aramco's tax burden by billions of dollars, potentially enticing more private investors to its IPO.
* National Bank of Abu Dhabi PJSC is selling $587 million in five-year green bonds, an insider tells Bloomberg News. The issuance is the first green bond to come from the Gulf.
* Dubai Islamic Bank (PJSC) recently rebranded Indonesia-based PT Bank Panin Syariah Tbk as PT Bank Panin Dubai Syariah Tbk, according to Gulf News. The rebranding followed Dubai Islamic Bank's acquisition of an approximately 40% stake in the Indonesian lender, marking the UAE bank's first entry into Asia-Pacific.
* Dubai-based Arqaam Capital Ltd. is launching a globally focused hedge fund that will be domiciled in the Cayman Islands and regulated from London, Reuters reports.
* Boursa Kuwait CEO Khaled al-Khaled said the stock exchange is set to launch a new equities benchmark next year following a reorganization of its market with new categories, Bloomberg writes. Boursa Kuwait will reorganize its market by grouping listed companies in segments according to market capitalization and other criteria.
* The Kuwaiti Capital Markets Authority intends to extend the settlement cycle for stock trades to three days from two for foreign investors and zero for local traders by April-end, Bloomberg writes. Kuwaiti regulators also plan to introduce short-selling and derivative products to lure foreign investors.
* The Qatar Investment Authority intends to move forward with its expansion plans in the U.K. and the U.S. amid political uncertainty brought about by Britain's exit from the EU and U.S. President Donald Trump, Bloomberg reports. The wealth fund pledged to invest £5 billion in the U.K. over the next three to five years and announced plans to open an office in Silicon Valley in San Francisco.
* Fitch Ratings placed the A-/F1 long- and short-term issuer default ratings of Gulf Investment Corp. GSC on Rating Watch Negative, following the downgrades of Saudi Arabia to A+ and of Bahrain to BB+. Fitch withdrew the Gulf Cooperation Council-owned firm's "bb" viability rating and its support rating of 1.
* Germany-based Deutsche Bank AG will discontinue clearing euro-denominated checks for some banks in the Middle East, starting in April, as global check usage declines amid digital payment alternatives, Reuters reports.
* The board of EFG-Hermes Holding SAE recommended a cash dividend of 2.75 Egyptian pounds per share for 2016, pending general assembly approval.
EAST AND WEST AFRICA
* The Bank of Ghana reduced the monetary policy rate by 200 basis points to 23.5%, noting that inflation is projected to trend down toward the medium-term target of 8% plus/minus 2 percentage points, while growth is expected to remain significantly below potential. The rate cut is the central bank's largest since December 2006, Reuters notes.
* As expected, the Central Bank of Kenya kept the central bank rate at 10%, noting that its monetary policy committee remains concerned about the "prevailing uncertainties," including the impact of interest rate caps on the effectiveness of monetary policy. The committee expects overall inflation to remain outside the government target range in the near term.
* Kenyan Treasury Secretary Henry Rotich signaled that the government could consider revising the rate cap law implemented last year if it adversely affects the economy, Capital FM reports. Rotich said the continued decline in the private sector's access to credit was a major concern, but noted that the tightening liquidity could not be solely due to the rate cap law.
* The Kenyan Insurance Regulatory Authority is planning new measures specifically aimed at takaful, a type of Islamic insurance based on Shariah law, as part of Kenya's efforts to become an Islamic financial hub, Business Daily Africa reports.
* Barclays Plc listed Barclays NewGold ETF on the Nairobi Securities Exchange, marking the launch of the first exchange-traded fund in Kenya and in east Africa as a whole, the Financial Times reports. The ETF was listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in 2004 and is listed in five other African markets.
* United Bank for Africa Plc reported full-year 2016 group profit attributable to owners of parent of 69.40 billion Nigerian naira, compared to 58.60 billion naira a year ago. The bank's board proposed a final dividend of 55 kobo per share for 2016, up from 40 kobo per share in 2015.
* The Central Bank of Nigeria said it will sell foreign exchange to banks at 357 naira per dollar and directed lenders to sell them to customers at 360 naira per dollar for basic travel allowance, school fees and medical treatment purposes, Vanguard reports. The move comes as the naira continues to appreciate against the dollar at the black market, reaching 375 to a dollar.
* Zimbabwean economist Sipho Moyo, who was appointed cabinet director at the African Development Bank in November 2015, was dismissed at the end of February without explanations, according to Financial Afrik.
* Microfinance group Advans is planning to more than double the number of its agencies in Ivory Coast to 24 by 2020-end, Financial Afrik writes. The company, which has been in Ivory Coast since 2012, has 11 agencies in the country.
CENTRAL AND SOUTHERN AFRICA
* South African President Jacob Zuma yesterday ordered Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan to "immediately" return to the country from an investor road show in London as the presidency did not authorize the trip abroad, an insider tells Reuters. The rand dropped more than 3% against the dollar while banking shares also fell more than 3% following the news, which renewed speculation surrounding Gordhan's fate as finance minister.
* Meanwhile, insiders tell Business Report Online that Brian Molefe, the former CEO of South African electricity public utility Eskom who was recently sworn in as a member of parliament, will be appointed South African finance minister, replacing Gordhan in an imminent cabinet reshuffle.
* Banco de Poupança e Crédito SA's new board approved a capital increase of 90 billion Angolan kwanzas, Agência Angola Press reports.
* The Banco de Moçambique named Felisberto Navalha a new member of the central bank’s board, O País reports. Navalha replaces Joana Matsombe.
IN OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD
Asia-Pacific: 3 firms shortlisted for ICICI Lombard stake; Singapore, France ink fintech deal
Europe: Old Mutual sells AM stake; HSBC to hire 1,000 staff; Co-op receives interest
Latin America: Banco Indusval posts wider loss; Colombia cuts benchmark rate
North America: HNA bags Old Mutual deal; bankers launch credit card company
North America Insurance: Sanders proposes single-payer healthcare bill; Anthem grilled by appeals court
Leo Magno, Sarah Raslan, Sophie Davies and Mariana Aldano contributed to this report.
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