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Three people with knowledge of the matter said Salameh himself had insisted to IMF officials that the figure not be published by the IMF on the grounds it would destabilise the financial market.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


Tighter state control eases China's producer inflation in November from 26-year high

Tighter state control eases China's producer inflation in November from 26-year high
Image: Shutterstock
Updated 16 sec ago

Tighter state control eases China's producer inflation in November from 26-year high

Tighter state control eases China's producer inflation in November from 26-year high
  • The jump in consumer prices was mainly driven by increasing food prices

Tighter government control triggered a slowdown in Chinese producer prices as they went up by an annual rate of 12.9 percent in November, easing from the previous month’s 26-year high of 13.5 percent, official data showed.

The loss of steam reflects the efficacy of the government’s policies of controlling commodity prices and supply shortfalls in the previous period. 

The world's second-largest economy has tried to adopt policies of supply and price stabilization to curb the rise in prices.

This would improve policymakers’ ability to boost the economy, Bloomberg reported.

On a monthly basis, producer prices didn’t experience any change in November compared to a 2.5 percent increase a month earlier.

Meanwhile, consumer prices went up by a yearly rate of 2.3 percent, up by 0.8 percent from a month earlier, to hit its highest level since August 2020. 

The inflationary pressures were attributable to last year’s low base effects.

The jump in consumer prices was mainly driven by increasing food prices, which went up by 1.6 percent, accelerating from the previous month’s drop. 

In particular, fresh vegetables prices surged by 30.6 percent while that of pork slumped by 32.7 percent.

In addition, annual core inflation rate, which excludes changes in volatile items such as food and energy, hit 1.2 percent in November dropping by 0.1 percent from October’s level.


Dubai-based organic nappy maker PureBorn raises $2m seed money 

Dubai-based organic nappy maker PureBorn raises $2m seed money 
Updated 10 min 9 sec ago

Dubai-based organic nappy maker PureBorn raises $2m seed money 

Dubai-based organic nappy maker PureBorn raises $2m seed money 
  • The female-led company will use the funds to expand internationally and further its product development

DUBAI: Dubai-based startup PureBorn, which produces eco-friendly baby products, has raised $2 million in its latest seed funding round. 

The female-led company will use the funds to expand internationally and further its product development, it said in a statement. 

“As a consumer goods, e-commerce business, and a female-owned and run SME (small and medium enterprise), we are thrilled to be paving the way in this exciting category,” PureBorn founder Hannah Curran said.


Celebrity shoutout platform Minly acquires Dubai’s Oulo to consolidate reach 

Celebrity shoutout platform Minly acquires Dubai’s Oulo to consolidate reach 
Updated 13 min 35 sec ago

Celebrity shoutout platform Minly acquires Dubai’s Oulo to consolidate reach 

Celebrity shoutout platform Minly acquires Dubai’s Oulo to consolidate reach 

DUBAI: Egyptian startup Minly is acquiring Dubai-based celebrity shoutout platform Oulo to combine services and reach for an undisclosed value. 

The platforms allow fans to connect with athletes, musicians, and other celebrities, and the merged business will combine the pair’s roster of celebrities across the Arab region. 

“Historically, the majority of pan-Arab celebrities were either Egyptian or Lebanese. Therefore, combining forces unlocks immense synergies as, together, we dominate the two most important sources of cultural content,” Kamal Nazha, Oula’s founder, said.

The acquisition follows Minly’s recent seed round where it raised $3.6 million off the back of a year of growth for the platform. It acquired 130,000 users and 1,000 celebrities in just over a year.

“Our mission is to become the number one creator economy platform in the region, and speed to market is critical to achieving this,” Minly chief Mohamed El-Shinnawy told Tech Crunch in an interview. 


Gazprom Neft expects record hydrocarbon output this year, topping 100m tonnes

Gazprom Neft expects record hydrocarbon output this year, topping 100m tonnes
Close-up of Gazprom Neft truck. Translation of a sign in Russian means Gazprom Oil. Shutterstock
Updated 38 min 2 sec ago

Gazprom Neft expects record hydrocarbon output this year, topping 100m tonnes

Gazprom Neft expects record hydrocarbon output this year, topping 100m tonnes
  • The company has been actively developing northern regions of Russia, mainly the Yamal region

Gazprom Neft, the oil arm of Russian gas giant Gazprom, expects its hydrocarbon production to exceed 100 million tons of oil equivalent this year, reaching a record high, it said on Thursday.


Gazprom Neft had aimed to reach the 100 million tons target by 2020 but had to delay that due to production restrictions agreed by the OPEC+ group of leading oil producing countries.


The company has been actively developing northern regions of Russia, mainly the Yamal region, as its key oilfields in Western Siberia are beсoming increasingly depleted.


Gazprom Neft said on Thursday that higher production volumes in 2021 have been supported by the commissioning of the Tazovskoye field in the Yamal-Nenets region, as well as the launch of a new integrated gas treatment plant at the Vostochno-Messoyakhskoye field.


The company also said it would increase investment next year.


“In 2022, Gazprom Neft’s total investment is expected to increase by more than 10 percent, with funding for the investment program expected to exceed 500 billion roubles ($6.8 billion),” it said.


Italy hits Amazon with $1.3bn antitrust fine

Italy hits Amazon with $1.3bn antitrust fine
Image: Shutterstock
Updated 09 December 2021

Italy hits Amazon with $1.3bn antitrust fine

Italy hits Amazon with $1.3bn antitrust fine
  • As Europe powers ahead with antitrust litigation, US regulators are closely watching its approach to big tech firms

Italian regulators hit Amazon with a 1.1 billion euro ($1.3 billion) antitrust fine Thursday for allegedly abusing its dominance in the market, the latest action against US Big Tech in the EU.


US technology giants have been in the firing line in the European Union over their business practices.


In the latest salvo, Italy’s competition watchdog said Amazon abused its dominant position by promoting its own logistics service on its Italian platform to the detriment of third-party sellers who did not use it.


“The abusive strategy adopted by Amazon is particularly serious, since it is likely to discourage, if not eliminate competition in the relevant markets,” read the 250-page decision.


The move comes two weeks after the same authority imposed a 68.7 million euro fine on Amazon for infringing EU laws through restrictions that penalized sellers of Apple and Beats products.


In the same action, Apple was ordered to pay 134.5 million euros.


As Europe powers ahead with antitrust litigation, US regulators are closely watching its approach to big tech firms, after Washington pledged to intensify scrutiny of the technology industry.


Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Italian watchdog said Thursday that third-party sellers who do not use Amazon’s logistics service are excluded from “a set of advantages essential for obtaining visibility and better sales prospects.”


Those included better access to Amazon’s “most loyal and high-end customers” who use Amazon Prime, the e-commerce giant’s loyalty program.


Moreover, a tough performance measurement system is reserved for sellers who do not use Amazon’s logistics system, which can lead, if failed, to suspension of the seller’s account.


“In doing so, Amazon has harmed competing e-commerce logistics providers by preventing them from presenting themselves to online sellers as service providers of comparable quality to Amazon’s logistics,” said the watchdog, adding that such conduct had “increased the gap between Amazon’s power and that of its competitors.”


In its decision, the authority said it had imposed measures on Amazon subject to review by a monitor.


The company must grant sales privileges and visibility to all third-party sellers who meet fair and non-discriminatory standards for fulfilment, and must decide and publish such standards, it said.


Last month, EU legislation to impose unprecedented restrictions on how US tech giants do business passed a first, significant hurdle, with a European Parliament committee approving their version of the Digital Markets Act.


That would slap far-reaching rules on companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft.


Such tech companies have been variously accused of stifling competition, not paying enough taxes, stealing media content and threatening democracy by spreading fake news.