Lebanon banks tighten withdrawal caps, sparking outcry

Lebanon banks tighten withdrawal caps, sparking outcry
A man walks past concrete barriers erected by authorities to block a street leading to the parliament building in Beirut, Lebanon January 24, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 03 February 2020

Lebanon banks tighten withdrawal caps, sparking outcry

Lebanon banks tighten withdrawal caps, sparking outcry
  • Banks have imposed informal controls on dollar withdrawals and transfers abroad since September

BEIRUT: Major banks in Lebanon began tightening banking controls this month, halving the amount of dollars depositors are allowed to withdraw every month, despite growing public anger.
Faced with a dollar liquidity crunch, banks have imposed informal controls on dollar withdrawals and transfers abroad since September amid widespread anti-government protests and Lebanon’s worst economic crisis in decades.
Withdrawal limits differ from bank to bank, but have so far generally been capped at around $1,000 a month, while most transfers abroad have been halted.
Some banks have now imposed even tighter restrictions.
Three major banks contacted by AFP on Monday said they have halved the dollar withdrawal limit since the beginning of February, some capping the amount at $600 a month.
Several banks have allowed slightly larger allowances to depositors who have more than $100,000 in their accounts, customers said on social media.
But even depositors who have more than one million dollars in their accounts can’t withdraw more than 2,000 to 3,000 a month.
The informal controls have sparked public outrage in protest-hit Lebanon, where an anti-government street movement launched on October 17 has grown increasingly angry at banking policies.
“These new illegal measures by banks come with the political blessing of the new government,” said activist Lucien Bourjeily.
The new cabinet, which was formed last month, is expected this week to outline its financial rescue plan.
Experts and demonstrators say banking controls amount to a de facto “haircut” on savings because they are forcing dollar depositors to deal in the nosediving Lebanese pound.
The currency has plunged against the greenback on the parallel exchange market, though the official peg of 1,507 pounds to the dollar in place since 1997 remains unchanged.
Central bank chief Riad Salameh last month said that he agreed with money exchange houses to cap the parallel rate at 2,000 — but several exchanges continue to charge rates edging toward 2,200.
Salameh last month asked for special powers to authorize the banks to set withdrawal limits, which had not formally been backed by the government.
The finance ministry, however, has yet to publicly respond to his request.


Saudi Arabia’s biggest gym chain swings to loss

Saudi Arabia’s biggest gym chain swings to loss
Updated 20 April 2021

Saudi Arabia’s biggest gym chain swings to loss

Saudi Arabia’s biggest gym chain swings to loss
  • Operates 135 gyms in UAE and KSA
  • Pandemic has hit fitness sector hard

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s biggest gym chain swung to a first quarter loss as the pandemic forced the closure of thousands of fitness clubs worldwide.
Leejam Sports Company reported a net loss of more than SR6.9 million in the first quarter compared to a profit of SR6.2 million a year earlier, it said in filing to the Tadawul stock exchange where its shares are listed.
Overall revenues dipped by about a quarter over the period to SR148.5 million, it said.
Total gym memberships, personal training revenues and rental income fell by more than SR49 million as a result of gym closures in the Kingdom from Feb.5, 2021 to March 6, 2021, it said.
Meanwhile the need to apply precautionary measures in response to the pandemic reduced the number of members joining the clubs.
Leejam operates some 135 Fitness Time centers in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.


‘Many more airlines will go under’ Qatar Airways boss tells CNN

‘Many more airlines will go under’ Qatar Airways boss tells CNN
Updated 20 April 2021

‘Many more airlines will go under’ Qatar Airways boss tells CNN

‘Many more airlines will go under’ Qatar Airways boss tells CNN
  • Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al-Baker gave a bleak assessment of the challenges facing the industry as it struggles to recover the collapse in global air travel

DUBAI: Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al-Baker has warned that many more airlines will be forced out of business by the pandemic.
In an exclusive interview on CNN’s Quest Means Business, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al-Baker gave a bleak assessment of the challenges facing the industry as it struggles to recover the collapse in global air travel.
“By the time this pandemic is over, there will only be few airlines that are strong and will continue operating,” he said. “A lot of other airlines will go under. And this will continue to happen, because we have not seen the worst of it over yet.”
He said that returning the airline industry to full strength should be a key priority to boost the global economic outlook.


“If this pandemic prolongs for too long, this will completely destroy the world’s economy which is so dependent on airlines for delivering business, carrying freight around, and most importantly creating jobs,” he said.
The outspoken airline chief highlighted some of the safety measures adopted by the airline and its hub at Hamad International Airport in Doha.
These include high-tech temperature sensors, ultraviolet disinfectant processes, and mask-wearing on flights.
He also spoke about the process of asking the company’s shareholders – the Qatari government – for a cash injection during the pandemic, “I couldn’t just jump the queue and go and tell my boss, the ruler of my country, that our situation is so dire, and this is what we need. Because I am sure there were a lot of other people in the queue before me telling him the same thing.”

The CEO also spoke about access to vaccinations and mitigating the risks amid the slow roll out of vaccines in some countries. He told Quest, “It will be a problem for the aviation industry. And we will have to work a way within this risks that we will have to take. But we will have to do things, we'll have to put processes, we'll have to put systems in place to mitigate that risk.” A resurgence of the coronavirus in many countries in recent weeks is threatening to quash some positive signs that had been slowly emerging from the sector. At the same time many passengers are reluctant to fly even where permitted, because of safety concerns and confusion over the different vaccination, testing and quarantine requirements of different countries. Industry body IATA has been trying to address that challenge with its trial Travel Pass initiative aimed at informing passengers about what tests, vaccines and other measures they require at their destinations.

Eni helps UAE emirate of Ras Al-Khaimah look for natural gas

Eni helps UAE emirate of Ras Al-Khaimah look for natural gas
Updated 20 April 2021

Eni helps UAE emirate of Ras Al-Khaimah look for natural gas

Eni helps UAE emirate of Ras Al-Khaimah look for natural gas
  • Eni is already present in Ras Al-Khaimah operating Offshore Block A

DUBAI: Italian energy giant Eni is helping the UAE's northernmost emirate explore for gas.

Its Eni RAK unit has struck an exploration and production agreement with Ras Al-Khaimah Petroleum Authority, the Italian company said in a statement.
The agreement relates to "Block 7" which covers an area of 430 square kilometers. Eni RAK will act as operator of the block with a 90 percent participating interest and Ras Al Khaimah’s national oil company RAK Gas as a partner, with a 10 percent stake.
"Block 7 represents an under-explored acreage in a complex thrust belt geological setting, similar to that of the recent discovery of Mahani in the adjacent Sharjah Emirate," Eni said in a statement.
"The newly acquired 3D seismic will allow the joint venture to assess the geological setting of the area and eventually unlock its hydrocarbon potential. The presence of the existing gas processing facilities in the emirate would also allow a rapid development of any discoveries."
Eni has been involved in a number of gas finds in the Middle East in recent years, most notably in Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean where the discoveries have ushered in dramatic economic transformations.
Eni is already present  in Ras Al-Khaimah operating Offshore Block A where, after an initial geological and geophysical study period, preparations for drilling operations have started, it said.
The company holds the largest exploration acreage among the international oil companies present in the UAE covering more than 26,000  square kilometers.


UAE extends key parts of $13.6bn economic support plan until mid-2022

UAE extends key parts of $13.6bn economic support plan until mid-2022
Updated 20 April 2021

UAE extends key parts of $13.6bn economic support plan until mid-2022

UAE extends key parts of $13.6bn economic support plan until mid-2022
  • Move will help banks offer new loans
  • Part of wider response to pandemic

The UAE Central Bank has extended key parts of its 50 billion dirams ($13.6 billion) economic support plan until mid-2022.
Under this extension, financial institutions will still be able to benefit from a zero-cost liquidity facility covered by a guarantee of 50 billion dirhams until June 30, 2022, it said in a statement on Tuesday.
The extension decision enables banks to provide new loans and financing to individual clients, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and other private sector companies affected by the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The extension of the targeted economic support plan will provide continuous support from the financial system for the sectors adversely affected by the pandemic,” said Governor Khalid Al-Tameemi.
“This comes as part of support for the recovery phase, in line with the Emirates Central Bank’s mandate to ensure Financial and monetary stability in the Emirates,” he explained.
The Targeted Economic Support Plan is a comprehensive program that covers all measures taken by the Central Bank of the United Arab Emirates in response to the coronavirus pandemic.


Saudi Arabia reduces US bonds holdings by 27.9% in 2021

Saudi Arabia reduces US bonds holdings by 27.9% in 2021
Updated 20 April 2021

Saudi Arabia reduces US bonds holdings by 27.9% in 2021

Saudi Arabia reduces US bonds holdings by 27.9% in 2021
  • Saudi Arabia’s investments in US Treasury bonds included $105.98 billion in “long-term bonds”

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia reduced its holdings of US Treasury bonds to $132.9 billion by the end of February, down by $2.2 billion on a monthly basis, Okaz newspaper reported.
Saudi Arabia has reduced its holdings by 27.93 percent during the last 12 months to $132.9 billion by the end of February of this year.
The Kingdom maintained its 14th position among the largest holders of US bonds in February 2021.
Saudi Arabia’s investments in US Treasury bonds included $105.98 billion in “long-term bonds,” representing 80 percent of the total, and $26.92 billion in “short-term bonds,” accounting for 20 percent of the total.