MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA
* Saudi Arabia's banks have overcome the worse effects of the liquidity crunch last year but their profitability are expected to continue to decline this year due to increasing impairment charges and funding costs, according to Fitch Ratings.
* Saudi Aramco extended the bookbuilding process for its debut sukuk to April 4 from April 3, Reuters reports. The reason for the extension was that some accounts needed more time for approvals before placing their orders. The size of the deal is expected to be between $2 billion and $4 billion.
* Bahrain Kuwait Insurance Co. BSC has made a mandatory offer to acquire the remaining 36.31% shares in Takaful International Co. BSC that it does not currently own.
* France's central bank has lifted the restrictions imposed on Bank Saderat Iran's branch in the country, enabling it to resume its operations, the Islamic Republic News Agency writes.
* Al Hilal Bank PJSC named Alex Coelho its new CEO, The National writes. Former CEO Khaled al-Khoori left the company following the completion of his task to restructure the lender.
* Islamic Development Bank gave the initial price guidance for its five-year U.S. dollar-denominated Islamic bond in the low-to-mid 40 basis points over midswaps, Reuters writes. The lender is expected to price the sukuk today.
* S&P Global Ratings, Fitch Ratings and Moody's took ratings actions on First Gulf Bank PJSC and National Bank of Abu Dhabi PJSC following the banks' merger. The ratings of First Gulf Bank, which ceased to exist, were withdrawn.
* Capital Intelligence also withdrew all of First Gulf Bank's ratings. At the time of withdrawal, the agency affirmed First Gulf Bank's financial strength rating at A+, citing its solid capitalization, sound asset quality and strong profitability.
* Italian lender Intesa Sanpaolo SpA has opened new offices in Abu Dhabi and Doha as part of its plan to strengthen its international network and boost its presence in the Arabian Gulf.
* Emirates NBD Bank PJSC is teaming up with Samsung to provide its clients with early access to Samsung Pay, Finextra reports.
* Meanwhile, Emirates NBD KSA has obtained approval from the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority to open three new branches in Riyadh, Jeddah and Al-Khobar, in addition to its main branch in Riyadh, The Saudi Gazette writes.
* Kuwaiti Finance Minister Anas al-Saleh said the country intends to increase its borrowing from international markets "in a prudent, rational way" as it seeks to plug a budget deficit stemming from the decline in oil prices, AFP writes.
* Umnia Bank, the new participatory finance institution created by Qatar International Islamic Bank (QSC) and Crédit Immobilier et Hôtelier, is to start operating in a "short while," said QIIB Chairman Khalid Bin Thani Abdullah Al-Thani, L'Economiste writes.
* A number of Egyptian banks remain at risk of struggling to meet minimum regulatory capital requirements due to the weakness of the country's currency following its flotation in November last year, Fitch Ratings says. This is because the banks have high exposure to foreign-currency loans.
* Housing & Development Bank is awaiting the Central Bank of Egypt's approval of its plan to separate its real estate and investment activity from its banking business, Daily News Egypt writes, citing Housing & Development Bank Chairman and Managing Director Fathy El Sebai Mansour.
* Banque Centrale Populaire has launched via subsidiary Mediafinance, a new bank dedicated to securities, L'Economiste writes. It is the first bank in Morocco devoted exclusively to securities.
* South Sudan is poised to become the newest member of African Export-Import Bank, Business Daily writes. Benedict Oramah, head of the Egypt-based pan-African trade financier, said the membership will give South Sudan access to certain financial and trade information and services.
EAST AND WEST AFRICA
* The Bank of Ghana will soon unveil new sanctions for financial institutions breaching anti-money laundering regulations, Graphic Online reports.
* Michael Hasenstab, Franklin Templeton's high-profile bond fund manager, has made a "substantial" position in Ghana's 15-year cedi-denominated government bonds at an auction this week, insiders tell Reuters. The move is believed to be in line with the fund manager's strategy of purchasing unloved assets and betting on turnaround and full payout when the debt matures.
* Wema Bank Plc will launch what it said will be the first fully digitalized banking service in Africa in the first half of the year, the News Agency of Nigeria writes. Segun Oloketuyi, the bank's managing director and CEO, said the new service is designed to boost the firm's business model, reduce costs and improve efficiency.
* Data from the Bank of Mauritius showed a 41% jump in foreign direct investment in the country last year to 13.64 billion Mauritian rupees, owing to investment in real estate, financial and insurance activities, Reuters reports.
CENTRAL AND SOUTHERN AFRICA
* Moody's placed on review for downgrade the Baa2 long-term local- and foreign-currency deposit ratings of the five largest South African banks — Standard Bank Group Ltd. unit Standard Bank of South Africa Ltd., FirstRand Ltd. unit FirstRand Bank Ltd., Barclays Plc unit Absa Bank Ltd., Old Mutual Plc unit Nedbank Ltd. and Investec Ltd. unit Investec Bank Ltd. Standard Bank Group's Baa3 issuer rating was also placed on review for downgrade. The placement followed a similar action on South Africa's ratings.
* Moody's also put the Baa2 long-term foreign-currency issuer ratings of Development Bank of Southern Africa and Industrial Development Corp. of South Africa Ltd. on review for downgrade, along with the long-term local-and foreign-currency issuer ratings of Land & Agricultural Development Bank of South Africa, citing the potential weakening of the South African government's credit profile.
* Meanwhile, Standard Bank Group said South African lenders are well-positioned to cope with the impact of sovereign credit rating downgrades, following S&P's downgrade of South Africa's credit rating to junk status, Reuters reports. Nedbank Group, meanwhile, said it is well-prepared to deal with the downgrades.
* South African Reserve Bank Deputy Governor Daniel Mminele said the downgrade by S&P was a "serious setback" for the country and stressed the need for authorities to redouble efforts in demonstrating their commitment to sound macroeconomic policies, Reuters writes.
* Lungisa Fuzile, director general of South Africa's Treasury, addressed media reports that he has stepped down following the firing of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and other leadership changes by President Jacob Zuma last week, saying "I am still here," Reuters writes. Insiders tell Bloomberg News that Fuzile has asked to leave his post at the end of April, a year before his contract ends amid the political turmoil in the country. He has hinted earlier this week that he does not want to be "permanent" in his role and that people should be allowed to leave.
* Meanwhile, South Africa's banking index has plummeted to more than 8% since the abrupt change in leadership of key government institutions in the country, Bloomberg News notes.
* Angolan central bank Governor Valter Filipe da Silva said the country is seeking to make its financial systems compatible with international standards by the beginning of next year to enable commercial banks to restart dollar clearing operations in the country, Reuters reports.
* The Bank of Namibia's foreign reserves have declined to a six-month low at the end of February to 22.7 billion Namibian dollars, compared to 24.6 billion dollars in the previous month, Reuters writes.
* Joseph Eyok has been appointed deputy CEO of Allianz Cameroun, Financial Afrik writes. He was previously finance director at the Cameroonian insurer.
IN OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD
Asia-Pacific: Swiss regulator halts probe into UBS; Daiwa mulls new European subsidiary
Europe: Banco Popular CEO leaving; Veneto Banca's big loss; Euronext-ICE deal
Latin America: Investa Bank sells brokerage firm; Chile cuts 2017 growth forecast
North America: Asset managers move to block Lone Star-Novo Banco deal
North America Insurance: Republicans push new healthcare bill; AIG remains opposed to split
S&P Global Ratings and S&P Global Market Intelligence are owned by S&P Global Inc.
Sheryl Obejera, Sarah Raslan, Sophie Davies and Helen Popper contributed to this report.
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