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MENA news through Jan. 18

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MENA news through Jan. 18

* Moody's said the stable 2017 outlook for sovereign creditworthiness in the Levant and North Africa sovereigns — namely Moody's-rated Tunisia, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Egypt — reflects the lower-for-longer energy price environment in the region as well as reform momentum despite continuing political and security headwinds.

* Separately, Moody's said the negative 2017 outlook for sovereign creditworthiness in the Gulf Cooperation Council reflects continued headwinds from subdued growth and challenges to further fiscal and structural reforms. Real GDP growth in the region in the 2017-2018 period is expected to remain weak by historical standards.

* Global shipping insurers will resume nearly full coverage for Iranian oil exports, effective Feb. 20, after striking a deal to provide cover without the participation of U.S.-domiciled reinsurers, Reuters reported. International sanctions against Iran were lifted following a 2015 deal but some prior U.S. sanctions are still in place, preventing U.S. reinsurers from participating in covering Iranian cargoes.

MIDDLE EAST

* In its latest World Economic Outlook update, the IMF cut its growth forecast for Saudi Arabia on lower oil production given the November 2016 agreement by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to reduce its collective oil production target. The fund expects the country's GDP to expand 0.4% in 2017, compared with its October 2016 prediction of a 2% growth.

* Meanwhile, Saudi oil minister Khalid al-Falih said the six-month oil output cut agreement by OPEC could be renewed, The National reported.

* Saudi Arabia-based National Commercial Bank reported fourth-quarter 2016 net profit of 2.29 billion riyals, up from 2.13 billion riyals in the year-ago period. Total operating income rose year over year to 4.60 billion riyals from 4.44 billion riyals, driven by factors including higher net special commission income and gains on non-­trading investments.

* Al Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp. reported a fourth-quarter 2016 net profit of 2.05 billion riyals, up 5.03% from 1.95 billion riyals in the year-ago period.

* Riyad Bank posted a fourth-quarter 2016 net profit of 293 million riyals, down 65.6% from 851 million riyals in the year-ago period.

* Qatar National Bank SAQ reported full-year 2016 net profit of 12.4 billion rials, up 10% from 2015. QNB Group's board recommended to the general assembly a cash dividend of 3.5 rials per share and a 10% bonus share distribution, or 1 share per every 10 shares. Separately, the bank is raising a $1 billion, three-year syndicated loan from Asian lenders, insiders told Reuters. The Qatari lender also intends to boost its share capital to approximately 9.24 billion rials from 8.40 billion rials by distributing bonus shares worth 10% of its current capital.

* Qatar Islamic Bank (Q.S.C) reported a net profit of 2.16 billion rials for fiscal year 2016, up 10.3% from 1.95 billion rials a year ago. The bank's board of directors also proposed a profit distribution to shareholders of 4.75 rials per share, pending approval from Qatar's central bank and general assembly.

* Emirates NBD Bank PJSC reported fourth-quarter 2016 group net profit of 1.86 billion dirhams, down 13% from 2.13 billion dirhams in the year-ago period. Net interest income for the period fell on a yearly basis to 2.46 billion dirhams from 2.67 billion dirhams.

* Dubai private equity firm Abraaj Group would consider acquiring a stake in Barclays Africa Group Ltd. if majority owner Barclays Plc were to make it available, CEO Arif Naqvi told Bloomberg News, noting that no talks are in progress at the moment.

* Bank Leumi le-Israel B.M. CEO Rakefet Russak-Aminoach told Bloomberg News that the bank will continue to reduce staff and take steps to increase efficiency while planning to restart dividend payments.

* Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc. unit Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ Ltd. received approval to open a branch in Saudi Arabia from the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, according to CPI Financial. The branch is expected to begin operations in 2018.

* The Majlis Research Center, the Iranian parliament's research arm, said in a report that the recurring fluctuations in Iran's currency market are due to a policy by the Iranian government and central bank to "hold on to nominal exchange rates" to control the market, the Financial Tribune reported. The research body recommended that the central bank take actions aimed at allowing the rial to float freely against other currencies.

* Israel sold €1.5 billion in 10-year bonds and €750 million in 20-year bonds, its biggest euro-denominated bond issuance, in an auction that was more than four times oversubscribed, Bloomberg News reported. Demand from investors totaled €9.8 billion. The move marks Israel's first venture into the European debt market in three years.

* Oman-based Bank Muscat SAOG posted a net profit of 176.6 million rials for the year ended Dec. 31, 2016, up from 175.5 million rials in the year-ago period. Impairment for credit losses declined year over year to 70.3 million rials from 72.0 million rials.

* Kuwait's commerce and industry ministry renewed the licenses of 35 insurance companies for a period of one year, Al-Seyassah wrote.

NORTH AFRICA

* Egypt's cabinet approved a $12 billion IMF loan agreement, referring the deal to parliament, Ahram reported, citing the Middle East News Agency. Meanwhile, Egyptian Finance Minister Amr el-Garhy said the loan carries an interest rate of 1.5% to 1.75%, with each tranche of the loan to be repaid within 10 years of disbursement with a 4.5-year grace period, according to Reuters.

* Chris Jarvis, the IMF's mission chief for Egypt, said the nation is on course to receive the second tranche of the $12 billion loan, noting that although the final data for December 2016 is not yet available, early indications show that the Egypt will meet the benchmarks that the fund set.

* Egyptian central bank Governor Tarek Amer said foreign investors working in Egypt would be able to repatriate profits and capital again soon, and that free movement of investments in or out of the country will be restored, Daily News Egypt reported, citing the Middle East News Agency.

* Egypt's finance ministry fixed the customs dollar exchange rate at 18.5 pounds per dollar until the end of February and said it will review the rate each month to help importers better cope with pricing of their products following the central bank's decision to float the nation's currency in November 2016, Reuters reported.

* Banque Misr - SAE intends to sign a $150 million loan deal with Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank - Egypt (SAE) within the second quarter of financial year 2016-2017 in a bid to boost its dollar liquidity in line with the country's growing cooperation with international financial institutions, Amwal Al Ghad reported.

* Tunisia announced a new banking policy under which it will keep a single public bank, Financial Afrik reported, citing Minister for Development, Investment, and International Cooperation Fadhel Abdelkéfi.

Henni Abdelghani, Sarah Raslan and Pádraig Belton contributed to this report.