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MENA news through Jan. 2

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MENA news through Jan. 2

* Saudi Arabia-based National Commercial Bank and Riyad Bank are searching for advisers for their possible merger, with requests for proposals sent out to banks including Credit Suisse Group AG and HSBC Holdings PLC, sources told Bloomberg News. The combined entity would hold $182 billion in assets, becoming the third-largest bank in the Gulf.

* Saudi British Bank and Alawwal Bank have filed a request with the Saudi General Authority for Competition to approve their planned merger, Argaam reported, citing a statement from the regulator.

* Saudi Arabia's Capital Market Authority approved Gulf Union Co-operative Insurance Co.'s request to increase its capital to 241.9 million riyals from 150 million riyals by issuing 9,193,548 ordinary shares to acquire all the shares of Al Ahlia Insurance Co. for Cooperative Insurance from its shareholders through a securities exchange.

* Unicap Investment and Finance Company K.S.C.P. said it has received a proposal to sell its 37.71% stake in Iskan Oman Investment Co. SAOC.

* Gulf Investment House K.S.C.P. has increased its stake in Afkar Holding Company K.S.C. to 41.76%.

* Bahrain Kuwait Insurance Co. BSC completed the acquisition of 3,991,187 shares in Takaful International Co. B.S.C. with a total value of 340.2 million Bahraini dinars. Following the transaction, BKIC's stake in Takaful International rose to roughly 81.9% from 77.2%.

* Hina Dharamsey has obtained approval from the Central Bank of Oman to increase its shareholding in Al Omaniya Financial Services to up to 14%.

* United Gulf Holding Co. B.S.C. said 32,860,631 of its shares, representing 7.96% of its paid capital, were transferred by its controller Kuwait Projects Co. to Burgan Bank KPSC.

* Iran's Guardian Council, which is in charge of reviewing and approving legislation passed by parliament, has again rejected an antiterrorism financing bill aimed at improving the country's banking sector to bring it in line with international standards, Bloomberg reported, citing Tasnim News Agency.

* Iran and Syria are looking at establishing a joint bank in a bid to expand bilateral economic cooperation between the two countries, the Tehran Times reported.

* Bahrain's Invest Bank PSC said its shareholders unanimously adjourned its Dec. 29 general assembly meeting until Jan. 8, 2019, to consider an enhanced offer from the government of Sharjah.

* Banque Saudi Fransi's board proposed a dividend of 80 halalas per share for the second half of 2018, amounting to 959.5 million riyals.

* Kuwait's Capital Markets Authority renewed its initial approval allowing Warba Bank KSCP to undertake certain securities activities for six months beginning Feb. 14. Separately, the regulator revoked the license of Al-Muthanna Islamic Index Fund and appointed a liquidator for the fund.

* Doha Bank QPSC has closed a $525 million syndicated senior unsecured term loan facility with a consortium of international and regional banks, according to The Peninsula.

* The United Arab Emirates' economy minister and Insurance Authority Chairman Sultan bin Saeed al-Mansoori said insurance premiums generated in 2018 reached 50 billion dirhams for the first time, Emarat Al Youm reported.

REST OF MIDDLE EAST

* Israel's banking regulator will ask the Bank of Israel governor to issue a license for U.S. private equity company Warburg Pincus LLC's 2.5 billion shekel purchase of Bank Leumi le-Israel BM's credit card unit, Reuters reported.

* Israeli lenders will be required to report foreign residents with bank accounts in Israel to tax authorities of their home countries, after the Middle Eastern nation agreed to implement the automatic exchange of information, or AEOI, standard, Globes reported.

* Israel-based online trading platform Plus500 Ltd. reaffirmed that its financial results for 2018 will exceed current market expectations, citing significant market volatility during the fourth quarter.

NORTH AFRICA

* Morocco's Banque Centrale Populaire held an oversubscribed 2 billion dirham bond issue to boost its regulatory capital, Financial Afrik reported.

* Shareholders in Société d’Assurances Multirisques Ittihad AMI approved a plan to issue equity securities worth 35 million Tunisian dinars, which will be reserved for the insurance company's main shareholder, Banque Nationale Agricole, Agence Ecofin reported.

* Tunisian Islamic lender Wifak International Bank SA will issue sukuk worth 150 million dinars over the next three years to finance its activities, Agence Ecofin reported.

* Central Bank of Sudan Governor Mohamed Khair al-Zubair said the country is looking for potential foreign funding and unveiled a plan to increase revenue, print more banknotes and bring in hard currency as part of efforts to ease Sudan's economic crisis, Bloomberg reported.

* The Central Bank of Egypt kept its overnight deposit rate, overnight lending rate and the rate of the main operation unchanged at 16.75%, 17.75% and 17.25%, respectively.

Henni Abdelghani, Pádraig Belton and Sophie Davies contributed to this report.