Lebanon struggles to restore normality amid protests

Banque du Liban, the country’s central bank, provided banks with money from their deposits in order to meet citizens’ needs. (Reuters)
Updated 22 October 2019

Lebanon struggles to restore normality amid protests

  • The ISG urged Lebanese authorities to address people’s complaints, demanding structural reforms and responsible and acceptable social changes that truly curb corruption and waste
  • Such changes, the ISG said, should ensure proper governance and full accountability, and lead to sustainable and stable growth

BEIRUT: Lebanese banks will remain closed in light of nationwide protests for the fifth consecutive day, the Association of Banks in Lebanon announced.

However, Banque du Liban, the country’s central bank, on Tuesday provided banks with money from their deposits in order to meet citizens’ needs.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Akram Chehayeb ordered all schools and universities to resume classes on Wednesday “in order to preserve the interests of students and to preserve the academic year.”

Prime Minister Saad Hariri met with the International Support Group (ISG) for Lebanon, which includes envoys from the US, Russia, France, Britain, Germany, Italy, the EU, China and the Arab League, as well as the UN special coordinator for Lebanon, Jan Kubis. 

The ISG urged Lebanese authorities to address people’s complaints, demanding “structural reforms and responsible and acceptable social changes that truly curb corruption and waste, away from sectarianism.”

Such changes, it said, should “ensure proper governance and full accountability, and lead to sustainable and stable growth.”

Kubis said Hariri “committed that the government and its legitimate security forces will continue to protect civilians who are demonstrating peacefully, and will take appropriate measures against any possible violent incitement, to protect public and private property and institutions, and the people’s right to peacefully express their views.”

On behalf of the ISG, Kubis urged “officials and political actors in Lebanon to listen to the legitimate demands of the people, work with them on solutions, apply them, and refrain from any statements and acts that could inflame tensions and incite confrontation and violence.”

After meeting Hariri, Kuwait’s ambassador to Lebanon, Abdel Aal Al-Kinai, said: “Now is not the time to speak but to act.”

The CEDRE Conference follow-up committee will convene in Paris on Nov. 15 to launch the implementation of development projects worth $11 billion to help Lebanon overcome its economic and financial crisis.


HSBC reports lighter-than-expected third-quarter profit fall

Updated 27 October 2020

HSBC reports lighter-than-expected third-quarter profit fall

  • HSBC has a further headache – geopolitical tensions via its status as a major business conduit between China and the West

HONG KONG: HSBC said Tuesday its third-quarter post-tax profits fell 46 percent on-year as the Asia-focused banking giant continued to take a hammering from the coronavirus pandemic and spiraling China-US tensions.
However, the profit falls were not as bad as some analysts had predicted and HSBC said it expected credit losses to be at the lower end of a previously announced $8 billion to $13 billion range.
The global economic slowdown caused by the virus has hit financial giants hard and there is limited optimism on the horizon as Europe and the United States head into the winter with infections soaring once more.
HSBC has a further headache — geopolitical tensions via its status as a major business conduit between China and the West.
As a result, the lender is in the midst of a worldwide overhaul, aiming to slash some 35,000 jobs by 2022, primarily in its less profitable European and American divisions.
“We are accelerating the transformation of the Group, moving our focus from interest-rate sensitive business lines toward fee-generating businesses, and further reducing our operating costs,” chief executive Noel Quinn said in a statement accompanying the results.
Reported post-tax profit for the third quarter came in at $2 billion with revenue down 11 percent at $11.9 billion, the statement said.
Adjusted pre-tax profit slid 21 percent to $4.3 billion in the period, beating a $2.8 billion estimate by Bloomberg analysts.
Quinn described the latest figures as “promising results against a backdrop of the continuing impacts of Covid-19 on the global economy” as well as low interest rates.
In the first six months of 2020, HSBC’s post-tax profits were down 69 percent, meaning the third-quarter results were something of an improvement as some major economies relaxed some of their coronavirus restrictions.
The bank said its board would consider whether to pay “a conservative dividend” for 2020 based on final end of year results and how the global economy looks in early 2021.
Earlier this year, UK regulators called on British banks to scrap dividends for the year to preserve capital during the pandemic crisis.
HSBC makes 90 percent of its profit in Asia, with China and Hong Kong being the major drivers of growth.
As a result, it has found itself more vulnerable than most to the crossfire caused by the increasingly bellicose relationship between Beijing and Washington.
The bank has tried to stay in Beijing’s good graces.
It vocally backed a tough national security law that Beijing imposed on Hong Kong in June to end a year of unrest and pro-democracy protests.
The move sparked criticism in Washington and London but analysts saw it as an attempt to protect its access to China, which has a track record of punishing businesses that do not toe Beijing’s line.
“Geopolitical risk, particularly relating to trade and other tensions between the US and China, remains heightened,” HSBC said in Tuesday’s profit statement.
The US has sanctioned nearly a dozen key Hong Kong and Chinese officials over the national security law, telling international banks to stop doing business with them.
China’s national security law, however, forbids businesses in Hong Kong from adhering to foreign sanctions regimes, leaving many in an unclear regulatory tight spot.
“Investor and business sentiment in some sectors in Hong Kong remains dampened and ongoing tensions could result in an increasingly fragmented trade and regulatory environment,” HSBC said in its statement.
The bank also highlighted the uncertainty over Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union as another potential headwind.
Talks for a post-Brexit trade deal have made little headway with a 31 December deadline fast approaching.
“There is a risk of additional ECL (expected credit losses) charges, particularly in the UK in 4Q20, if the UK and the EU fail to reach a trade agreement,” the bank said.