Before Lebanon's current financial crisis, central bank faced a $4.7 billion hole in reserves: IMF memo

Before Lebanon's current financial crisis, central bank faced a $4.7 billion hole in reserves: IMF memo
A member of the Lebanese security forces stands at the entrance of the Central Bank after anti-government protesters broke down a construction barrier. Getty Images
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Updated 28 October 2021

Before Lebanon's current financial crisis, central bank faced a $4.7 billion hole in reserves: IMF memo

Before Lebanon's current financial crisis, central bank faced a $4.7 billion hole in reserves: IMF memo
  • One of the deepest depressions in modern history, has propelled 74 percent of the population into poverty

Lebanon's central bank had a $4.7 billion hole in its reserves by the end of 2015 that was not disclosed to the public, an early warning sign of the financial collapse that has since all but wiped out many people's savings.


The figure is contained in an April 2016 report drawn up for Lebanese financial authorities by the International Monetary Fund and seen by Reuters.


The confidential report, known as an aide memoire, said that while the gross reserves of the Banque Du Liban central bank (BdL) were high at $36.5 billion, "reserves net of the commercial banks' claims on BdL and gold were negative USD 4.7 billion in December 2015".


Lebanon's central bank has been headed by Riad Salameh since 1993. In late 2016, it began what it called "financial engineering" - funding a ballooning fiscal deficit and keeping banks buoyant by paying ever higher interest rates for dollars.


By the time investor confidence wore out amid civil protests against the ruling elite in 2019, the central bank's losses had multiplied.


Three people with knowledge of the matter said Salameh himself had insisted to IMF officials that the figure not be published by the IMF on the grounds it would destabilise the financial market.


Asked why the negative net reserves figure was not published in a January 2017 IMF report, a central bank spokesperson, speaking on behalf of Salameh, said "the central bank does not have the power to change IMF reports" and declined to elaborate further on that point.


"The misrepresentation of the causes of the crisis to concentrate (blame) on the BdL is unprofessional and being used to throw responsibility onto one institution, the only civil institution still keeping the (financial) system alive despite the acute crisis," the spokesperson added.


An IMF spokesperson, asked by Reuters why the figure was left out of published reports and whether the Fund should have been more proactive in demanding remedial action, declined to specifically address the omission of the $4.7 billion, but said the report "provided an early warning as well as possible solutions to strengthen the financial system".


"It emphasized the need to reduce economic and financial risks, including the reliance on new deposit inflows to cover large fiscal and external deficits," the spokesperson said. "It also pointed to significant resources that would be needed to ensure banks remained capitalized in the event of a severe shock."


When foreign exchange inflows dried up in 2019, the banks, many of them with leading politicians as shareholders, shut depositors out of their accounts. Withdrawals have since been limited, mostly made in Lebanese pounds which have lost 90 per cent of their value.

By 2020 the central bank deficit had grown to $50 billion with total bank losses to $83 billion, according to a rescue plan prepared by the finance ministry in April that year. Both the central bank and the banking association dispute these figures but have not publicly given alternatives.


A forensic audit of the central bank is a condition for Lebanon to secure an urgent IMF rescue package.

The audit resumed last week after an almost year-long hiatus due to disagreements over access to information.


The crisis, described by the World Bank as one of the deepest depressions in modern history, has propelled 74 percent of the population into poverty, according to the United Nations.


"The social impact, which is already dire, could become catastrophic," the World Bank said in April. Even during Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war, the banks remained solvent and functional.


Salameh has repeatedly said he was acting only to buy time for Lebanese politicians to agree reforms to cut the budget deficit and that it was not his fault that they failed to do so.


Asked if the IMF had a duty to be more proactive in pushing for the $4.7 billion negative net reserves figure to be published, the IMF spokesperson referred Reuters to the fund's transparency rules.


These say that a country may ask for non-public material to be removed from a report if it is: "Highly market-sensitive material, mainly the Fund's views on the outlook for exchange rates, interest rates, the financial sector, and assessments of sovereign liquidity and solvency."


The IMF spokesman declined to say whether Lebanon specifically made this request and also did not address whether there is a formal limit on the size of net reserves.


Earlier this year, Swiss authorities launched an investigation into "aggravated money laundering in connection with possible embezzlement to the detriment of the Banque du Liban (central bank)".

Salameh has denied any wrongdoing and said the investigation is part of a campaign against him.


Swiss newspaper Le Temps first reported earlier this month that key information had been kept out of the public eye by the central bank in 2015. The central bank had said the report "had nothing to do with the truth".


SAMI launches JV with French firm to build aerostructure components in Kingdom

SAMI launches JV with French firm to build aerostructure components in Kingdom
Updated 04 December 2021

SAMI launches JV with French firm to build aerostructure components in Kingdom

SAMI launches JV with French firm to build aerostructure components in Kingdom

JEDDAH: The Saudi Arabian Military Industries, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Public Investment Fund, on Saturday launched a joint venture with French company Figeac Aero and the Saudi Arabian Industrial Investments Co., Dussur, to build a high-precision manufacturing facility in the Kingdom to produce aerostructure components, SAMI said on Saturday.

The company said that the joint venture’s revenue would reach $200 million by 2030 and the ownership would be divided among the two countries. Fifty-one percent would be owned by Saudi Arabia and 49 percent by France.

SAMI also signed an agreement with Airbus to form a joint project specialized in military aviation services and maintenance, the statement said. As per the deal, the Kingdom would own 51 percent of the joint venture with the European planemaker holding the other 49 percent.

 


Egypt to increase cotton gins capacity, says official report

Egypt to increase cotton gins capacity, says official report
Updated 04 December 2021

Egypt to increase cotton gins capacity, says official report

Egypt to increase cotton gins capacity, says official report

RIYADH: Egypt aims to increase cotton gins capacity to 4.4 million kantars annually up from 1.5 million kantars, according to a government report issued on Saturday.

A kantar is the official Egyptian weight unit for measuring cotton. It corresponds to the US hundredweight, and is roughly equal to 99.05 pounds, or 45.02 kg. It is equal to either 157 kg of seed cotton or 50 kg of lint cotton.

The Egyptian government is trying to breath a new life into the country’s textile industry, which contributes almost 3 percent to the gross domestic product, employs one-third of the industrial labor and generates exports worth $2.6 billion annually. 

According to reports, the country’s cotton production rose by 30 percent during 2021.

Egypt increased the cultivated area this year to 236,000 feddans (one feddan equals 1.038 acres or 0.42 hectare) compared to 182,000 feddans last year.

In its annual report on Egypt’s cotton on March 31, 2021, the US Department of Agriculture said that “cotton area harvested in Egypt was forecast to increase seven percent to 70,000 hectares (ha), from 65,000 ha in MY 2020/21.” It added that Egypt’s production is estimated to increase to 250,000 bales this year compared to 215,000 bales in the previous year.


Bitcoin falls by a fifth, cryptos see $1bn worth liquidated

Bitcoin falls by a fifth, cryptos see $1bn worth liquidated
Updated 04 December 2021

Bitcoin falls by a fifth, cryptos see $1bn worth liquidated

Bitcoin falls by a fifth, cryptos see $1bn worth liquidated

NEW YORK: Bitcoin shed a fifth of its value on Saturday as a combination of profit-taking and macro-economic concerns triggered nearly a billion dollars worth of selling across cryptocurrencies.

Bitcoin was 12 percent down at 0920 GMT at $47,495. It fell as low as $41,967.5 during the session, taking total losses for the day to 22 percent.

The broad selloff in cryptocurrencies also saw ether, the coin linked to the ethereum blockchain network, plunge more than 10 percent.

Based on cryptocurrency data platform Coingecko, the market capitalization of the 11,392 coins it tracks dropped nearly 15 percent to $2.34 trillion. That value had briefly crossed $3 trillion last month, when bitcoin hit a record $69,000.

The plunge follows a volatile week for financial markets. Global equities and benchmark US bond yields tumbled on Friday after data showed US job growth slowed in November and the omicron variant of the coronavirus kept investors on edge.

Justin d'Anethan, Hong Kong-based head of exchange sales at cryptocurrency exchange EQONEX, said he had been watching the increase in leverage ratios across the cryptocurrency markets as well how large holders had been moving their coins from wallets to exchanges. The latter is usually a sign of intent to sell.

“Whales in the crypto space seem to have transferred coins to trading venue, taken advantage of a bullish bias and leverage from retail traders, to then push prices down,” he said.

The selloff also comes ahead of testimony by executives from eight major cryptocurrency firms, including Coinbase Global CFO Alesia Haas and FTX Trading CEO Sam Bankman-Fried, before the US House Financial Services Committee on Dec. 8.

The hearing marks the first time major players in the crypto markets will testify before US lawmakers, as policymakers grapple with the implications of cryptocurrencies and how to best regulate them.

Last week, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rejected a second spot-bitcoin exchange-traded fund proposal from WisdomTree.

Data from another platform Coinglass showed nearly $1 billion worth of cryptocurrencies had been liquidated over the past 24 hours, with the bulk being on digital exchange Bitfinex.

A plunge in bitcoin funding rates — the cost of holding bitcoin via perpetual futures which peaked at 0.06 percent in October — also showed traders had turned bearish.

The funding rate on cryptocurrency trading platform BitMEX fell to a negative 0.18 percent from levels of 0.01 percent for most of November.


Saudi, French firms sign 27 MoUs as Macron visits the Kingdom

Saudi, French firms sign 27 MoUs as Macron visits the Kingdom
Updated 04 December 2021

Saudi, French firms sign 27 MoUs as Macron visits the Kingdom

Saudi, French firms sign 27 MoUs as Macron visits the Kingdom

JEDDAH: A group of leading Saudi and French companies signed 27 memorandum of understanding at an investment forum in Jeddah as French President Emmanuel Macron met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman today during his official trip to the Gulf region, where he is visiting Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar between Dec. 3 and 4.

Around 101 Saudi companies and 84 French companies attended six workshops at the forum, which was opened by Khalid Al Falih, Minister of Investment, Saudi Arabia and Franck Riester, Minister Delegate for Foreign Trade and Economic Attractiveness.

"The memorandums of understanding signed today were a cause for optimism and satisfaction," Al Falih said in a tweet after the event.

Represenatives of French companies and banks including EDF Renewables, Engie, Sanofi, and BNP Paribas are meeting with chairmen and CEOs of leading Saudi firms including ACWA Power, Banque Saudi Fransi, Riyad Bank, and Saudi Military Industries Co. Officials from the Public Investment Fund and Royal Commission of AlUla among others are also participating in the forum. 

 

Below is the agenda for the one-day forum:  


Saudi Arabia to start mandatory e-invoicing first phase on Dec. 4

Saudi Arabia to start mandatory e-invoicing first phase on Dec. 4
Updated 03 December 2021

Saudi Arabia to start mandatory e-invoicing first phase on Dec. 4

Saudi Arabia to start mandatory e-invoicing first phase on Dec. 4

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia will start implementing the mandatory application of the first phase of e-invoicing “fatoorah” on Saturday Dec. 4, Argaam reported.

An e-invoice, according to regulations, is a tax invoice that is issued electronically by each taxpayer subject to value-added tax in the Kingdom

The first phase requirements consist of ensuring that there is a technical e-invoicing solution compatible with the relevant requirements. This means no handwritten invoices or invoices written through text editors or number analysis applications on computers.

A fine of SR5,000 ($1,332) will be applied for not issuing and saving the invoices electronically.

The fine for not including the QR Code in the e-invoice and not reporting any malfunction in the issuing of the e-invoice to the authority starts with a warning. The fine for violating the deletion or modification of e-invoice starts from SR10,000.

The second phase of e-invoicing will be implemented in a phased manner, starting from January 1, 2023, to establish integration between e-systems of taxpayers and the authority’s regulations, Argaam said.