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Takaful Emarat buying Al Hilal Takaful; Qatar launches currency-rigging probe

MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA

* Saudi Arabia will increase government spending to a record 978 billion Saudi Arabian riyals in 2018, up from 890 billion riyals in the original 2017 budget and actual spending of 926 billion riyals in the year. The 2018 budget deficit is expected to ease at 195 billion riyals, or 7.3% of GDP, against an actual 230 billion riyals in 2017.

* Takaful Emarat - Insurance (PSC) agreed to acquire Al Hilal Takaful PSC from Al Hilal Bank PJSC in an all-cash transaction that will create the largest Islamic insurance group in the United Arab Emirates based on 2016 gross written contributions. The deal is set to complete in the first quarter of 2018.

* Trading in Bahrain-based Khaleeji Commercial Bank BSC's shares on the Dubai Financial Market commenced Dec. 19, lifting the number of dual listings in the stock exchange to 14, including four Bahraini companies.

* Capital Intelligence Ratings affirmed Finance House PJSC's BBB-/A3 long- and short-term corporate ratings, with a stable outlook.

* The Qatar Central Bank said it had started a legal investigation into alleged attempts by other countries to harm the Qatari economy by manipulating its currency, securities and derivatives markets. Governor Abdullah bin Saud al-Thani pinned the blame on other Arab nations that imposed a diplomatic and trade embargo on Qatar earlier this year.

* Barclays Plc is in negotiations with the U.K. Serious Fraud Office to strike a deal to avoid new charges against its Barclays Bank Plc unit over a controversial 2008 fundraising involving the Qatar Investment Authority, an insider told Bloomberg News.

* Oman ORIX Leasing Co. SAOG and National Finance Co. SAOG received final approval from the Central Bank of Oman for their proposed merger.

* Bahrain Middle East Bank BSC's board of directors decided to extend the subscription period of its rights offering, which commenced Dec. 3, to Dec. 25. The subscription period was initially slated to close Dec. 19.

* Libya's eastern-based parliament approved Mohamed Abdelsalam al-Shukri as the new governor of the central bank based in Tobruk, Reuters reported. The central bank based in Tripoli, where the internationally recognized Libyan government is based, rejected the move by the eastern-based parliament.

* Egypt's Financial Regulatory Authority warned investors regarding the risks of dealing in cryptocurrencies, noting that the regulator "does not permit any of these currencies or even dealing in products related to them," Daily News Egypt wrote, citing Chairperson Mohamed Omran. The Central Bank of Oman also warned the public against dealing with cryptocurrencies as there are no policies or guidelines to regulate them, the Times of Oman reported.

* Morocco's central bank kept its key rate unchanged at 2.25%.

* The European Bank for Reconstruction & Development said it is providing Banque de Tunisie SA a financing package that consists of a €50 million loan for on-lending to small and medium-sized enterprises and a $20 million trade finance line.

EAST AND WEST AFRICA

* The new capital requirement for insurance companies in Ghana is expected to be pegged at 50 million Ghanaian cedi, up from the existing requirement of 15 million cedi, Joy Business reported, citing Insurance Commissioner Justice Yaw Ofori. The new capital requirement could potentially be implemented in the second quarter of 2018.

* The Central Bank of Kenya can proceed with the liquidation of troubled lender Dubai Bank Kenya, which was placed in receivership in August 2015, after the Court of Appeal threw out a ruling by the High Court that barred the liquidation, Standard Digital wrote.

* Equity Bank Rwanda Ltd., KCB Bank Rwanda Ltd., I&M Bank (Rwanda) Ltd. and Bank of Kigali Ltd. reported aggregate net profit of $32 million in the first nine months of 2017, up from $28.9 million a year ago, The East African reported.

CENTRAL AND SOUTHERN AFRICA

* Old Mutual Wealth, a unit of Anglo-South African financial group Old Mutual Plc, agreed to sell its single strategy asset management division, Old Mutual Global Investors (UK) Ltd., to the business' management team and funds managed by private equity firm TA Associates Management LP for a total consideration of approximately £600 million.

* In a meeting with lenders including HSBC and BNP Paribas held Dec. 19, South African retailer Steinhoff International Holdings NV, which is currently embroiled in an accounting scandal, said it did not have "detailed visibility" of the cash flows of its individual operating companies, Bloomberg wrote.

* Fitch Ratings said it expects political uncertainty to persist in South Africa following Cyril Ramaphosa's election as leader of the African National Congress, noting that economic and fiscal policy uncertainty could remain high in 2018.

* Investec, which trades on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange as Investec Ltd., hired Ren Plastina to oversee clean-tech deals in the Americas, insiders told Bloomberg.

* MCB Group Ltd. obtained regulatory approval to proceed with the issue of 2 billion Mauritian rupees in floating-rate unsecured notes due 2023.

IN OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD

Asia-Pacific: Industrial Bank of Korea eyes M&A in Indonesia; Chinese lender gets HK license

Europe: Old Mutual agrees to sell unit; MPS gets new chair; Bankia eyes 2,500 job cuts

Latin America: Bladex names new CEO, CFO; Brazil court approves bank compensation deal

North America: Wells Fargo seen as tax bill's top winner; Gulf Coast B&T buys SBA lender

North America Insurance: MetLife under probe over unpaid pensions; Validus' cat bond grows to $400M

Leo Magno, Henni Abdelghani, Sophie Davies and Mariana Aldano contributed to this report.

The Daily Dose Middle East and Africa has an editorial deadline of 5 a.m. London time. Some external links may require a subscription.