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Gulf banks close merger; Fitch warns of SA review; Togo banks to merge

* Sub-Saharan Africa-focused investment company Atlas Mara Ltd. reported 2016 attributable net profit of $8.4 million, down from $11.3 million a year earlier. EPS dropped year over year to 12 cents from 16 cents.

MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA

* Moody's said Saudi Arabia's A1 rating and stable outlook are supported by a strong fiscal position, the country's large oil and gas reserves at low production costs, and high levels of external liquidity. However, the agency noted that the nation's high oil dependency is among the main credit challenges it faces.

* National Bank of Abu Dhabi PJSC and First Gulf Bank PJSC completed their merger Saturday and the combined bank, to be named First Abu Dhabi Bank, began trading Sunday on the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange under the NBAD name. The leadership team for the combined entity was also announced, including Abdulhamid Saeed as CEO and André Sayegh as deputy CEO and acting group head of corporate and investment banking.

* Fitch Ratings downgraded Gulf International Bank BSC long-term issuer default rating and senior unsecured debt rating to BBB+ from A-, among other actions.

* Capital Intelligence affirmed Bahrain's long- and short-term foreign- and local-currency sovereign ratings at BB+/B.

* Arab Banking Corp. (BSC) unit ABC Islamic Bank appointed Hammad Hassan managing director following the retirement of Naveed Khan, CPI Financial reports. Hassan has more than 22 years of banking experience and has been with the bank since 2005, serving as head of coverage for over 12 years.

* American International Group Inc. European unit AIG Europe Ltd. filed a nearly $600,000 claim against Bank Leumi le-Israel B.M. before London's High Court, Law360.com reports. The amount is allegedly owed as a result of the lender's tax evasion scheme scandal under a reinsurance agreement between the two companies.

* BLOM Bank Egypt SAE has revealed its plan to achieve growth rates of 15% in all performance indicators by the end of this year, Daily News Egypt reports. The bank achieved a 43.07% growth rate, reaching 27.8 billion pounds in 2016 compared to 19.4 billion pounds in 2015.

* Blom Egypt for Financial Investments is set to begin operating in the Egyptian market in May, Daily News Egypt reports. Tarek Metwally, deputy managing director and board member at Blom Bank-Egypt, said the bank has completed the establishment procedures and obtained all licences. The bank's board of directors has been formed and will be headed by Mohamed Ozalp, managing director and chief executive officer at Blom Bank.

EAST AND WEST AFRICA

* I&M Holdings Ltd. unit I&M Bank (Rwanda) Ltd. began trading on the Rwanda Stock Exchange on Friday, with shares jumping 11% following its listing, Reuters reports. Celestine Rwabukumba, CEO of the exchange, noted that the listing is likely to stimulate market activities and attract new investors, The East African reports.

* Kenya Bankers Association Chairman Lamin Manjang said the country plans to issue its first green bond this year, Reuters reports.

* U.K.-based money transfer firm WorldRemit will establish an office in Nairobi, Kenya this year, Business Daily Africa reports.

* The Nigerian finance ministry named the management and board members of Development Bank of Nigeria, which included Tony Okpanachi as head of the newly licensed bank and Ijeoma Ozulumba as CFO, Premium Times reports.

* The Togolese cabinet has approved the launch of the process to merge Union Togolaise de Banque and Banque Togolaise pour le Commerce et l'Industrie after an attempt to privatize the two banks failed, Financial Afrik reports. The merger forms part of the government's strategy to liberalize the economy.

* Togolese insurers must help the state to fight organized crimes, including money laundering and the financing of terrorism, said Togo Economy Minister Kossi Tofio, Financial Afrik writes.

CENTRAL AND SOUTHERN AFRICA

* Fitch Ratings said South African President Jacob Zuma's cabinet reshuffle indicates a change in policy direction and will heighten tensions within the African National Congress and its traditional allies, increasing political instability and potentially weakening public finances and standards of governance. Fitch added that these developments could result in a review of the country's sovereign ratings.

* Malusi Gigaba, South Africa's newly appointed finance minister, said he had "cordial and robust" discussions with rating agencies Moody's and Fitch, and will subsequently talk with S&P Global Ratings, Reuters writes. The statement comes after analysts expressed concern regarding the country's sovereign ratings following the dismissal of Gigaba's predecessor, Pravin Gordhan.

* Gigaba also said he will work within the country's fiscal framework and has no intention of removing Treasury Director-General Lungisa Fuzile from his post, Bloomberg News writes. Gigaba added that he will use the National Treasury to promote inclusive economic growth and stick with the terms of the fiscal policy stance approved by the government.

* Meanwhile, Gordhan dismissed as "absolute nonsense" an intelligence report alleging him of plotting to overthrow Zuma, the Financial Times reports.

* Baleka Mbete, South Africa's parliamentary speaker, said she is considering a request to debate a motion of no confidence in Zuma following increased pressure within his ruling African National Congress to justify the wide-ranging reshuffling of his cabinet, Bloomberg News reports.

* Bidvest Group Ltd. founder Brian Joffe will list investment firm Long4Life on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange on April 7, Reuters reports.

* Separately, Brimstone Investment Corp. Ltd. wholly owned subsidiary, Newshelf 1169 Proprietary Ltd., entered into a subscription agreement with Long4Life Ltd. to subscribe for 40 million ordinary shares in Long4Life at a price of 5.00 rand per share, resulting in Brimstone acquiring an approximately 9.88% stake in Long4Life. Effective date of the deal is expected to be April 4.

* Angola's government is planning to exclude foreign-owned banks from access to scarce hard currency to give priority to seven mainly local banks, Expresso reports, citing an Angolan government source. It said banks including Caixa Angola, controlled by Portugal-based Caixa Geral de Depósitos SA, will only have access to 20% of the foreign currency sold by the country's central bank during weekly auctions.

* The new board of directors at Angola's troubled state-run bank Banco de Poupança e Crédito SA has been formally sworn into office, Jornal de Angola reports. Ricardo Daniel Sandão Queirós Viegas d'Abreu is chairman of the bank's executive committee and board, which comprises 11 directors, seven of whom also serve on the executive committee.

* Banco Angolano de Investimentos SA saw a massive jump in net profit to 49.74 million kwanzas in 2016, the highest level since it started operating 20 years ago, Jornal de Angola reports. Net income rose 213% from a year earlier, due partly to a 62% increase in net interest from its loan portfolio, a lower-than-inflation increase in administrative costs and reduced impairment charges.

* Angola's insurance industry grew 4.0% in 2016 in terms of premiums issued with five new companies entering the market, according to data compiled by the country's association of insurers, Jornal de Angola reports. Growth in health insurance premiums reached 34%, helping offset a 20% decline in car insurance. Insurers' loss ratio rose to 42% from 36% in 2015. Meanwhile, leading insurer NOSSA Seguros closed the year with a net profit of 826 million kwanzas, up 143% from a year earlier, O Pais notes.

* An independent audit into Mozambique's public debt will only be published by the country's attorney general 90 days after it is completed, Zitamar reports. The results of the vital audit, which has been demanded by international creditors as a condition to resume lending to the country, will include names of people involved in a scandal over hidden public debt as well as other sensitive information. The audit, being conducted by Kroll, is due to be completed this month.

* BIM – Banco Internacional de Moçambique SA recorded a solvency ratio of 18.8% in 2016, well above the minimum of 8.0% set by Mozambique's central bank, Jornal Noticias reports.

* Botswana-based Letshego Holdings Ltd. appointed Yande Sikazwe-Mothae CEO of Letshego Financial Services Lesotho.

IN OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD

Asia-Pacific: HNA to bid for German lender; Fubon Financial to divest stake in Dutch insurer

Sheryl Obejera, Sarah Raslan, Sophie Davies and Helen Popper contributed to this report.

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