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Samba Q4'17 profit rises 11.38% YOY; South Africa ups VAT; Zambia cuts rate

MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA

* Samba Financial Group reported fourth-quarter 2017 net profit of 1.21 billion Saudi Arabian riyals, up from the year-ago 1.09 billion riyals. For full year 2017, net profit came in at 5.02 billion riyals, compared to 5.01 billion riyals in 2016.

* Moody's said the agreement between the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority and U.S.-based Ripple allowing Saudi banks to explore solutions for cross-border transactions using distributed ledger technology could lead to up to $400 million in savings, Arabian Business reported.

* Saudi Arabia's Capital Market Authority approved Bank AlJazira's request to boost its capital through a 3 billion riyals rights issue.

* Al Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp. will be required to pay 723 million Saudi Arabian riyals in zakat claims for the period from 2002 to 2009, Argaam noted. The bank is said to have already made a provision for such purpose.

* The Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia is in discussions to acquire a 15% interest in French hotelier AccorHotels' property arm AccorInvest, in a deal that could value the latter at approximately €6.2 billion, insiders told Bloomberg News. A group including the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund, Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC Pte. Ltd., diversified real estate investment trust Colony NorthStar Inc. and French asset manager Amundi SA is said to be eyeing a majority stake in AccorInvest.

* Qatari banks saw provisions rise by roughly 15% year over year to 15.41 billion riyals in December 2017, despite a decline in collective impairments, Gulf Times wrote, citing data from the Qatar Central Bank.

* UAE banks' total assets reached 2.693 trillion dirhams at 2017-end, up from 2.642 trillion dirhams at the end of September of the same year, news agency WAM wrote.

* A nonbinding agreement by American-Israeli businesswoman Shari Arison to sell 49% of Arison Holdings to a group of investors from North America has collapsed. Israel-based Arison Holdings, through which Arison holds a 20.1% stake in local lender Bank Hapoalim BM, said the transaction, which was disclosed in September 2017, could not "progress to a binding accord" as a result of a "lack of agreement on commercial issues."

* Bahraini Finance Minister Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed al-Khalifa said the country will press ahead with the implementation of value-added tax, after resistance from some members of parliament slowed the plan down, Reuters reported. Sheikh Ahmed said the government will "aim to have everything set up" for the plan by the end of the year.

* The Bahraini government has picked five banks, including Gulf International Bank and National Bank of Bahrain, to arrange its planned international bond issue, insiders told Reuters.

* Mumtalakat, Bahrain's sovereign wealth fund, is in early discussions to invest in Japan-based SoftBank Group Corp.'s $93 billion private equity Vision Fund, Reuters reported. Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund and Abu Dhabi's Mubadala Development Co. PJSC are among the fund's investors.

* Bahrain plans to establish by March a new $100 million venture capital "fund of funds," Gulf Daily News reported, citing Economic Development Board CEO Khalid Al Rumaihi.

* Data from the Central Bank of Iran showed that banks and credit institutions have granted more than 4.62 quadrillion rials, or $102.66 billion, in loans in the first 10 months of the current fiscal year to Jan. 20, Financial Tribune wrote. The figure represents an 8% year-over-year increase.

* Iran is working on a plan to launch its own virtual currency, Press TV reported, citing IT Minister Mohammad Azari Jahromi. The project is headed by Post Bank of Iran.

* Capital Intelligence downgraded certain ratings of Omani lenders Bank Sohar SAOG, Ahli Bank SAOG, Bank Muscat SAOG, Oman Arab Bank SAOC, and National Bank of Oman SAOG, following its recent downgrade of the country's sovereign rating.

* The Central Bank of Kuwait has allowed banks to increase fees and introduce additional charges for their services, Al Rai reported.

* Kuwait Financial Center said it has received regulatory nod to buy and sell no more than 10% of its issued capital for a period of six months.

EAST AND WEST AFRICA

* Kenya raised $2 billion in long-dated dollar-denominated bonds despite having its credit rating downgraded by Moody's last week, the Financial Times reported. Meanwhile, Jan Mikkelsen, the IMF representative in Nairobi, issued a clarification saying that Kenya's $1.5 billion standby credit facility remains in place until March-end. The statement follows reports that the IMF ended the country's access to the credit facility in June last year, Reuters noted.

* A.M. Best downgraded Kenya Reinsurance Corp. Ltd.'s financial strength rating to B (Fair) from B+ (Good) and its long-term issuer rating to "bb+" from "bbb-." The outlook on the ratings has been revised to stable from negative.

* Macau businessman David Chow said during a visit to Cape Verde that he had submitted an application to the country's central bank to establish a new commercial bank in the country, news website Macauhub reported. Chow, who heads the Legend Globe Investment Co. group, signed a memorandum of understanding with the government last year to establish a lender called Banco Sino-Atlântico.

CENTRAL AND SOUTHERN AFRICA

* The South African government raised the value-added tax for the first time since 1993 to 15% from 14%, effective in April, as part of efforts to cut the fiscal deficit and curb rising debt under new President Cyril Ramaphosa, Reuters reported. In his budget speech, Finance Minister said the VAT hike, along with an increase in income taxes, would generate an additional 36 billion rand in revenue, the Financial Times wrote.

* Banks and other financial institutions in South Africa are studying the possibility of using the rand and kwanza currencies in commercial transactions with Angola, according to the head of the South African Department of Trade and Industry Zanele Sanni, Jornal de Angola reported. She said South Africa wanted to do everything possible to help Angola overcome its foreign exchange shortage, caused by sharply lower oil prices and a decision by U.S. banks to halt dollar-clearing services to the country over transparency concerns.

* Angolan banker Carlos Silva will step down as vice chairman and director of Portugal's largest listed bank Millennium BCP but will remain as president of Banco Privado Atlântico – Europa, pending central bank approval, Jornal de Negócios, Dinheiro Vivo and Expresso all reported. Silva has been called on to give testimony as part of Operation Fizz, which accuses former Angolan Vice President Manuel Vicente of corruption during his time as president of state oil company Sonangol.

* The Bank of Zambia trimmed its key policy rate by 50 basis points to 9.75% and statutory reserve ratio by 300 basis points to 5.0%, citing expectations that inflation will remain within its target range of 6% to 8% over the next eight quarters.

* The Swiss government imposed sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, on 14 allies of Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila amid a political crisis in the African country triggered by Kabila's refusal to step down, Reuters reported.

IN OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD

Asia-Pacific: South Korea to invest in startups; India probes auditors in bank fraud

Europe: Lloyds plans £1B share buyback; ABN Amro, BNP Paribas in Luxembourg deal

Latin America: Grupo Elektra Q4'17 profit nosedives; Principal-MetLife Afore merger completed

North America: Morgan Stanley drops some global clients; Flagstar buying Santander portfolio

North America Insurance: US to ease curbs on short-term insurance; MetLife sells Mexican pension fund biz

Sheryl Obejera, Henni Abdelghani, Sophie Davies and Helen Popper contributed to this report.

The Daily Dose Middle East and Africa has an editorial deadline of 4 a.m. London time. Some external links may require a subscription.