MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA
* Saudi Arabian Oil Co. has mandated Citigroup Inc. to lead work on a $2 billion loan backed by British export credit agency UK Export Finance, insiders told Reuters. The mandate, while not particularly lucrative, is seen by some lenders as a step to securing a role in Saudi Aramco's planned IPO, the sources said.
* National Bank of Kuwait SAKP CEO Isam al-Sager told Bloomberg News that the Kuwaiti lender has received "required approvals" to launch two more branches in Saudi Arabia by the end of 2018, while Egyptian unit National Bank of Kuwait - Egypt (SAE) is planning to increase its branch count to 60 from 43 by 2020. George Richani, CEO of National Bank of Kuwait's international banking group, said in a separate interview that the bank is also considering establishing branches in India and Germany.
* Boubyan Takaful Insurance Co. KSC CEO Khalil al-Shami said the company is working on listing its shares on the Kuwaiti stock exchange once it meets the regulatory requirements and reduces its losses, Al Jarida reported.
* Kuwait's Ministry of Finance does not recognize the bitcoin and, along with the country's central bank, prohibits Kuwaiti financial firms from trading using the virtual currency, the Arab Times reported.
* Al Ahli Bank of Kuwait KSCP appointed Robin Omar Fernandez as general manager of treasury and investment, effective from Jan. 14, 2018.
* Oman-based National Securities Co. SAOG said it is looking at various options for restructuring the company, noting that it is currently obtaining advice and approval from the Capital Market Authority regarding the matter.
* Solidarity Saudi Takaful Co. canceled its contract with Holding Co. for Insurance to market and sell Solidarity's insurance policies across Saudi Arabia, as of Dec. 18, Argaam wrote.
* Alpen Capital said in a report that it expects the insurance market in the Gulf Cooperation Council to grow at a compounded annual rate of 10.9% to $44 billion in 2021 from $26.2 billion in 2016, owing to various factors including the implementation of mandatory health insurance and risk-based pricing in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, Gulf News reported.
* The IMF called for the urgent implementation of Iran's planned financial sector reform, saying the country's economy is recovering but faces near-term challenges such as rising financial vulnerabilities and external uncertainty. The fund said the country's credit institutions and banks need urgent restructuring and recapitalization.
* Central Insurance of Iran head Abdolnasser Hemmati said two unnamed insurers from Italy and Germany are currently in talks to purchase shares of Iranian insurance companies, according to the Financial Tribune.
* Bank Hapoalim BM named Gabriel Hamani CEO of unit BHI USA, the American Banker reported. Hamani replaces Yair Talmor, who has been named chairman of BHI USA Advisory Group.
* Sirius International Insurance Group Ltd. received approval from the Israeli antitrust commissioner for its acquisition of Delek Group Ltd. remaining 47% stake in Phoenix Holdings Ltd.
* A.M. Best affirmed the financial strength rating of B+ (Good) and the long-term issuer credit rating of "bbb-" of Arab Reinsurance Co.
EAST AND WEST AFRICA
* Bernard Kibese, deputy governor for financial stability and deepening at the Bank of Tanzania, said the central bank is set to introduce an interest rate cap on loans as early as March next year, Tanzania's Daily News reported. Such a move would make Tanzania the second in East Africa to cap interest rates on loans, after Kenya.
* A research by Standard Investment Bank showed that the nonperforming loan ratio among local banks in Kenya reached a 10-year high in the third quarter, Business Daily Africa wrote.
* The Bank of Uganda maintained the central bank rate at 9.5%.
* Bank of Ghana Governor Ernest Addison said the central bank is considering not to grant licenses to new banks, savings and loans, or microfinance institutions in 2018 as the regulator implements its new capital requirement of 400 million Ghanaian cedis for existing commercial banks, Citi Business News wrote.
* BEIGE Bank, previously BEIGE Capital Savings and Loans, has officially launched in Ghana after obtaining final approval in June from the Bank of Ghana to operate as a universal bank, Joy Business reported.
* A.M. Best revised the outlooks to stable from positive and affirmed the financial strength rating of B+ (Good) and the long-term issuer credit rating of "bbb-" of AXA Mansard Insurance Plc.
* Issa Fadiga has been appointed new head of Ivory Coast's Caisse Nationale des Caisses d'Epargne, tasked with restructuring the public bank that is on the verge of bankruptcy, Financial Afrik reported.
CENTRAL AND SOUTHERN AFRICA
* The African National Congress, South Africa's longstanding ruling party, elected Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa as its new leader to succeed President Jacob Zuma, defeating former cabinet minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Ramaphosa is likely to become the next South African president after elections in 2019.
* Retailer Steinhoff International Holdings NV, which is currently embroiled in an accounting scandal, said it will provide further information regarding the company following a meeting with bankers Dec. 19.
* The Bank of Botswana kept the bank rate unchanged at 5%.
IN OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD
Asia-Pacific: HK fines StanChart unit; AMP Capital to buy stake in US investment manager
Europe: Fitch upgrades Portugal, Ireland; France eyes cap on banks' corporate exposures
Latin America: Chile, Honduras decide presidents; prosecutors look to replace Caixa VPs
North America: Nigeria sues JPMorgan; OCC closes Washington Federal Bank for Savings
North America Insurance: Humana in talks to buy health company Kindred; suit over ACA subsidies settled
Leo Magno, Henni Abdelghani, Sophie Davies and Mariana Aldano contributed to this report.
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