Arab central banks move assets out of dollar
London Independent | March 14 2006
By Philip Thornton
Middle Eastern anger over the decision by the US to block a Dubai company from buying five of its ports hit the dollar yesterday as a number of central banks said they were considering switching reserves into euros.
The United Arab Emirates, which includes Dubai, said it was looking to move one-tenth of its dollar reserves into euros, while the governor of the Saudi Arabian central bank condemned the US move as "discrimination".
Separately, Syria responded to US sanctions against two of its banks by confirming plans to use euros instead of dollars for its external transactions.
The remarks combined to knock the dollar, which fell against the euro, pound and yen yesterday as analysts warned other central banks might follow suit.
Last week the US caused dismay after political opposition to the takeover of P&O by Dubai Ports World forced DPW to agree to transfer P&O's US port management business to a "US entity" .
The governor of the UAE central bank, Sultan Nasser al-Suweidi, said the bank was looking to convert 10 per cent of its reserves, which stand at $23bn (£13.5bn), from dollars to euros. "They are contravening their own principles," he said. "Investors are going to take this into consideration [and] will look at investment opportunities through new binoculars."
Hamad Saud al-Sayyari, the governor of the Saudi Arabian monetary authority, said: "Is it protection or discrimination? Is it okay for US companies to buy everywhere but it is not okay for other companies to buy the US?"
Syria has switched the state's foreign currency transactions to euros from dollars, the head of the state-owned Commercial Bank of Syria, Duraid Durgham, said.
Last week the White House told US financial institutions to terminate all correspondent accounts involving the Commercial Bank of Syria because of money-laundering concerns. Mohammad al-Hussein, Syria's finance minister, said: "Syria affirms that this decision and its timing are fundamentally political."
The euro rose a quarter of one percentage point against the dollar to a one-week high of $1.1945, although it retreated in later trading.
Monica Fan, at RBC Capital Markets, said: "The issue is whether we will see similar attitudes taken by other Middle Eastern banks. It is a question of momentum."
Last modified March 14, 2006