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MENA news through Jan. 25

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MENA news through Jan. 25

MIDDLE EAST

* Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority Governor Ahmed Alkholifey said the cash shortage that squeezed the country's commercial lenders in 2016 has ended, and the central bank does not see a need to take further measures to boost banking liquidity, Bloomberg News reported.

* Oil and gas firm Saudi Aramco invited banks, including Morgan Stanley and HSBC, to pitch for an advisory role on its IPO, insiders told Reuters. The news came as law firm Baker McKenzie forecast that global activity is set to increase to $167 billion in 2017 from $133 billion in 2016, and is expected to peak at $275 billion in the next two years.

* The Saudi Capital Market Authority wants its planned parallel market to have at least 10 firms listed when it is launched in February, Al Watan wrote.

* Alawwal Bank received local regulatory approval to establish a fully owned subsidiary in the Cayman Islands. The bank decided not to distribute dividends for 2016, a move that it said will support its financial position and future plans.

* Arab National Bank also obtained the Saudi central bank's approval to set up a Cayman Islands-based derivatives trading and repo business. The bank reported fourth-quarter 2016 net profit of 565.1 million riyals, down from 594.4 million riyals a year ago.

* Saudi British Bank posted fourth-quarter 2016 net profit of 607 million riyals, down from 939 million riyals in the year-ago period.

* United Arab Emirates President and Abu Dhabi Emir Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan issued a law finalizing the merger of sovereign wealth funds Mubadala Development Co. PJSC and International Petroleum Investment Co. to create Mubadala Investment Co. The combined fund will hold assets of about $125 billion and will be headed by Khaldoon al-Mubarak, Reuters reported.

* Data from the Central Bank of the UAE showed that total bank deposits rose by 41.7 billion dirhams in December 2016, driven by an increase in resident and nonresident deposits. Gross bank assets rose by 1.6% to 2.611 trillion dirhams at the end of December 2016 from 2.569 trillion dirhams a month ago.

* Mashreqbank PSC reported fourth-quarter 2016 net profit of 441 million dirhams, down from 556 million dirhams a year ago, Reuters reported. Dubai Islamic Bank (PJSC) meanwhile posted a 6% year-over-year rise in 2016 income to 4.05 billion dirhams.

* UAE-based Union Insurance Co. PSC reached a strategic alliance with Hansard International Ltd. that will see the Hansard Global Plc insurance subsidiary serve as reinsurer and administrator of Union Insurance's new savings and investment proposition "Infinity."

* Amlak Finance PJSC appointed Gaurav Agarwal COO, effective Jan. 22.

* The Bank of Israel kept its benchmark interest rate at 0.1% for February, citing an upward inflation trend and a positive picture of real economic activity. Separately, the central bank issued the first permit to hold up to 7.5% of the means of control in a banking corporation. The permit was issued to Israeli investment bank Meitav Dash, according to Reuters.

* Israel's government granted two banks dealing with Palestinian counterparts immunity from lawsuits accusing them of financing terrorism, Haaretz reported. Bank Hapoalim BM and Israel Discount Bank Ltd. reportedly demanded legal and financial protections from the government to continue working with Palestinian banks.

* Meanwhile, Bank Hapoalim faces a lawsuit alleging that customers restricted from drawing checks are charged fees for returning checks, a practice that the plaintiff said is illegal. The plaintiff, who is seeking a class-action status, seeks about 590.9 million shekels, but wishes to be allowed to alter the amount based on further findings in the case.

* Bank Leumi Le-Israel BM sold a 4.6% stake in Kenon Holdings to Ansonia Holdings Singapore for 112.5 million shekels, reducing the bank's stake in the company to 2.3%, Reuters reported.

* Kuwait's central bank did not order local banks to increase prudential provisions for the first time since 2008, signaling a shift in the regulator's policies, an insider told Al Qabas.

* The Kuwaiti commerce ministry set up a commission to review the country's insurance sector, Al-Seyassah wrote.

* National Bank of Kuwait SAKP reported a full-year 2016 net income of 295.2 million dinars, compared to 282.2 million dinars a year ago.

* BBK BSC set up an investment company in London.

* Jordan Ahli Bank appointed Saad al-Machir chairman, Ad-Dustour reported. He succeeds Omar Razzaz, who was recently named Jordan's education minister.

* Azerbaijan and Iran began talks on the integration of the two countries' bank cards systems, according to Sputnik News.

NORTH AFRICA

* Egyptian Finance Minister Amr el-Garhy told Bloomberg that his country's planned stamp duty on stocks will not be "of any magnitude that will hinder investors from coming" to ensure that demand for its equities remains strong. El-Garhy also said the government stands with its decision to delay the introduction of a capital gains tax until 2020.

* Central Bank of Egypt Governor Tarek Amer said the first $2.75 billion tranche of an IMF loan received in November 2016 was added to the regulator's foreign-currency reserves and was not used to pay any foreign debts so far, Daily News Egypt reported.

* Egypt is considering a currency swap agreement with Russia, similar to the one reached with China in October 2016, Egypt Independent reported.

* Banque Misr - SAE and National Bank of Egypt (SAE) received definitive judicial approvals to proceed with selling most of the assets of hotel operating company Dreamland Group, Daily News Egypt reported. The banks also obtained judicial rulings obligating Dreamland Group head Ahmed Bahgat to pay them 600 million pounds.

* Moody's said Tunisia's subdued economic growth, evolving regulation and significant asset risk pressure will maintain pressure on the performance of banks in the country. Moody's Vice President Oliver Panis said the agency expects Tunisian banks' nonperforming loans to remain at high levels of around 17% of gross loans at 2016-end.

Henni Abdelghani contributed to this report.