World Bank berates Lebanon’s elite for ‘zombie’ economy

World Bank berates Lebanon’s elite for ‘zombie’ economy
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Updated 25 January 2022

World Bank berates Lebanon’s elite for ‘zombie’ economy

World Bank berates Lebanon’s elite for ‘zombie’ economy
  • Already one of the most unequal countries, millions more have been pushed into poverty

The World Bank blasted Lebanon’s ruling class on Tuesday for “orchestrating” one of the world’s worst national economic depressions due to their exploitative grip on resources.


The global lender said the nation’s elite were still abusing their position despite Lebanon suffering possibly one of the three biggest financial crashes globally since the 1850s.


“Lebanon’s deliberate depression is orchestrated by the country’s elite that has long captured the state and lived off its economic rents,” the World Bank said in a press release attached to a report on the Lebanese economy.


“It has come to threaten the country’s long-term stability and social peace,” the released added, echoing public sentiments that have prompted angry protests in recent years.


Fuelled by massive debt and the unsustainable way it was financed, the crisis has slashed Lebanon’s gross domestic product by 58.1 percent since 2019, plummeting to an estimated $21.8 billion in 2021, the World Bank said.


Already one of the most unequal countries, millions more have been pushed into poverty.

The World Bank expected those below the poverty line to have risen by as much as 28 percentage points by the end of 2021, after an increase of 13 percentage points in 2020.


Government revenues collapsed by almost half in 2021 to reach 6.6 percent of GDP: the lowest ratio globally after Somalia and Yemen, the bank said.


Real GDP is estimated to have declined by 10.5 percent last year, according to the report, while gross debt is estimated to have reached 183 percent of GDP, a ratio only exceeded by Japan, Sudan and Greece.

’DELIBERATE DEPRESSION'


“Deliberate denial during deliberate depression is creating long-lasting scars on the economy and society,” said Saroj Kumar Jha, the World Bank’s regional director of the Mashreq.


“Over two years into the financial crisis, Lebanon has yet to identify, least of all embark upon, a credible path toward economic and financial recovery.”


While government finances improved in 2021, that was driven by a decline in spending even steeper than in revenues, the World Bank said.


It projects a fiscal deficit of 0.4 percent of GDP in 2021 from 3.3 percent of GDP last year, helped by a recovery in tourism. Arrivals leapt 101.2 percent in the first seven months of last year, though still impacted by the pandemic.


But a sudden halt to capital inflows and a large current account deficit was steadily eroding reserves, the World Bank said.


Lebanon began talks with the IMF on Monday, hoping to secure a bailout — something Beirut has failed to achieve since 2020, with no sign of long-delayed economic reforms sought by donors.


“This elite commands the main economic resources, generating large rents and dividing the spoils of a dysfunctional state,” the World Bank said.


Lebanon’s politicians, former militia leaders and others from families wielding influence for generations over the Christian and Muslim communities often acknowledge corruption exists.

But they generally deny individual responsibility and say they are doing their best to rescue the economy.


The crisis has caused massive losses in the financial system, estimated by the government in December at $69 billion.


“Worryingly, key public and private actors continue to resist recognition of these losses, perpetuating the zombie-like state of the economy,” the World Bank said.


The nosediving exchange rate — the Lebanese pound has lost more than 90 percent of its value since 2019 — should have boosted exports.

“This did not happen,” the World Bank said, hindered by pre-crisis economic fundamentals, global conditions and the institutional environment.


Half of Gazprom’s 54 clients opened Gazprombank accounts, says Russia’s Novak

Half of Gazprom’s 54 clients opened Gazprombank accounts, says Russia’s Novak
Updated 8 sec ago

Half of Gazprom’s 54 clients opened Gazprombank accounts, says Russia’s Novak

Half of Gazprom’s 54 clients opened Gazprombank accounts, says Russia’s Novak

Half of Russian gas giant Gazprom’s 54 clients have opened accounts at Gazprombank, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said on Thursday, as Moscow seeks to compel its clients to pay for its gas in roubles.

Russia halted gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland in April after they refused to meet its demand that European buyers start paying for Russian gas in roubles, raising fears that other states could be next.

Finland’s state-owned energy provider Gasum refused to switch to the new scheme and said this week it would take its dispute over rouble payments with Russia’s Gazprom Export to arbitration proceedings.

Novak told a forum on Thursday that some big companies had already paid for Russian gas under the new scheme and that Moscow would soon know definitively which companies paid and which refused to do so.

“Gas payments under main contracts are due ... and there is information that some big companies already opened accounts, paid (gas bills) and are ready to pay on time,” Novak told a forum. “In the next couple of days we will see a final list of who’s paid in roubles and who’s refused.”

Nearly all the supply contracts EU companies have with Gazprom are in euros or dollars and some top Western companies have already opened accounts at Gazprombank.


Saudi stocks drop on mixed investor sentiment: Opening bell

Saudi stocks drop on mixed investor sentiment: Opening bell
Updated 32 min 46 sec ago

Saudi stocks drop on mixed investor sentiment: Opening bell

Saudi stocks drop on mixed investor sentiment: Opening bell

RIYADH: Saudi stocks open lower in the last trading session of the week on mixed earnings reports, which result in mixed investor sentiment.

The main index, TASI, fell 2.52 percent to reach 12,393, while the parallel market, Nomu, lost 1.51 percent at 22,487, as of 10:08 a.m. Saudi time.

United Wire Factories Co. dropped 2.35 percent, after announcing that it had extended its agreement with A-1 Fence Arabia Co.

Tabuk Cement Co. slumped 0.95 percent, after reporting it swung into losses of SR7 million ($2 million) in its first-quarter earnings as sales dropped.

United Cooperative Assurance Co. slipped 1.38 percent, after reporting its net loss was trimmed by 26 percent to SR19.9 million last quarter.

Saudi Real Estate Co. increased 3.34 percent to lead the gainers, after it received shareholder approval to increase capital to SR3.7 billion.

Rabigh Refining and Petrochemical Co. slipped 5.65 percent to lead the fallers.

Saudi Aramco, the largest player on the Saudi oil market, opened today’s trading down 2.70 percent.

In the financial sector, the Kingdom’s largest valued bank Al Rajhi edged down 2.81 percent, and Alinma Bank fell 4.76 percent.

Brent crude settled at $110.43 a barrel, and US WTI crude traded at $110.34 a barrel, as of 10:16 a.m. Saudi time.


Commodities Update — Gold flat; Wheat extends gain; Copper buoyed by easing China curbs

Commodities Update — Gold flat; Wheat extends gain; Copper buoyed by easing China curbs
Updated 37 min 7 sec ago

Commodities Update — Gold flat; Wheat extends gain; Copper buoyed by easing China curbs

Commodities Update — Gold flat; Wheat extends gain; Copper buoyed by easing China curbs

RIYADH: Gold prices were flat on Thursday, as an elevated US dollar and rising Treasury yields weighed on greenback-priced bullion, with the metal’s outlook already dampened by an aggressive Federal Reserve stance on inflation.

Spot gold held its ground at $1,813.96 per ounce, as of 0512 GMT. US gold futures were flat at $1,813.40. 

Platinum drops

Spot silver was flat at $21.40 per ounce, while platinum dropped 0.8 percent to $927.78.

Palladium rose 0.5 percent to $2,027.38. 

Grains up

US wheat extended gains on Thursday, after India unexpectedly banned wheat exports last week, while the Russia-Ukraine war kept underpinning global grains markets.

The most-active wheat contract on the Chicago Board of Trade was up 0.89 percent at $12.41-3/4 a bushel.

CBOT wheat had climbed more than 8 percent over the past two days, following India’s wheat ban and reports showing bad condition of US winter crop.

CBOT soybeans edged up 0.95 percent to $16.78-1/2 bushel, extending gains, while corn rose 0.48 percent to $7.85-1/4 a bushel.

Copper inches higher

London copper prices inched higher on Thursday, buoyed by easing COVID-19 restrictions in top metals consumer China, although mounting worries over a global economic slowdown limited gains.

Benchmark three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange was up 0.2 percent at $9,254 a ton, as of 0702 GMT, after dropping 1.4 percent in the previous session. 

The most-active June copper contract on the Shanghai Futures Exchange ended daytime trading down 0.3 percent at $10,576.04 a ton.

LME aluminum was down 0.1 percent at $2,853.50 a ton.

(With input from Reuters)


Crypto Moves — Bitcoin, Ether down; Russia to legalise cryptocurrency; Coinbase establishes think tank; Bitso launches in Colombia

Crypto Moves — Bitcoin, Ether down; Russia to legalise cryptocurrency; Coinbase establishes think tank; Bitso launches in Colombia
Updated 45 min 40 sec ago

Crypto Moves — Bitcoin, Ether down; Russia to legalise cryptocurrency; Coinbase establishes think tank; Bitso launches in Colombia

Crypto Moves — Bitcoin, Ether down; Russia to legalise cryptocurrency; Coinbase establishes think tank; Bitso launches in Colombia
  • Coinbase, the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the US, is launching a global think tank to shape the policy debate around digital assets

RIYADH: Bitcoin, the leading cryptocurrency internationally, traded lower on Thursday, down 1.73 percent to $29,293 as of 10:10 a.m. Riyadh time.

Ether, the second most traded cryptocurrency, was priced at $1,965, down 3.03 percent, according to data from Coindesk.

Russia to legalize cryptocurrency sooner or later: Minister

Russia will sooner or later legalize cryptocurrencies as a means of payment, Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov said on Wednesday, suggesting that the government and central bank may be moving closer to settling their differences.

Manturov was asked at a forum whether he believed cryptocurrencies would become legal as a means of payment.

“The question is, when this happens, how it will be regulated, now that the central bank and government are actively working on it,” he replied.

“But everyone tends to understand that, sooner or later this will be implemented, in some format or other.”

Russia has plans to issue its own digital rouble, but the government has only recently come round to supporting the use of private cryptocurrencies, having argued for years that they could be used in money laundering or to finance terrorism.

Coinbase establishes think tank to push policy goals

Coinbase, the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the US, is launching a global think tank to shape the policy debate around digital assets as regulators and Congress explore how crypto-assets should be governed.

The Coinbase Institute will accelerate research on cryptocurrency and Web3 — a decentralized version of the Internet — and spearhead discussions with policymakers and academics on the intersection of technology and finance, said Hermine Wong, director of policy at Coinbase and the director of the institute.

“We’re interested in every area of research that involves the crypto economy and how it is interdisciplinary, how it is connected to our global economy, and so there’s nothing that’s going to be off limits,” she said.

Mexican cryptocurrency platform Bitso launches in Colombia

Mexican cryptocurrency exchange platform Bitso has begun operating in Colombia, its fourth market, where it hopes to accumulate 1 million clients just this month, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Daniel Vogel said.

Bitso is among Latin America’s growing collection of “unicorns” — companies with a valuation of at least $1 billion — and is worth some $2.2 billion, following a 2021 funding round where it raised $250 million.

Bitso will offer customers instant transfers via the PSE payment system, sales of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ether, as well as use of its new investment platform Bitso+.

Bitso currently has 4 million customers in Mexico, Brazil and Argentina.

“With our launch in Colombia we hope to hit 5 million customers and we think we can do that this month,” Vogel told Reuters in a phone interview.

“We see Colombia as a key market for us, which we are entering with this expansion plan from the point of view of our products, hiring people (and) growing in the country — it is a very dynamic market in terms of cryptocurrencies,” he added, though he declined to say how much Bitso would invest in the Andean country.

(With input from Reuters) 


Oil Updates — Crude recovers; Russian firms halt publishing data; SCOR tightens oil sector cover

Oil Updates — Crude recovers; Russian firms halt publishing data; SCOR tightens oil sector cover
Updated 54 min 37 sec ago

Oil Updates — Crude recovers; Russian firms halt publishing data; SCOR tightens oil sector cover

Oil Updates — Crude recovers; Russian firms halt publishing data; SCOR tightens oil sector cover
  • SCOR, the world’s fourth-biggest reinsurer, said on Wednesday it would stop covering new oil field production projects from 2023

RIYADH: Oil prices rose on Thursday, recovering from early losses, on hopes that the planned easing of restrictions in Shanghai could improve fuel demand while lingering concerns over tight global supplies outweighed fears of slower economic growth.

Brent crude futures for July were up $1.53, or 1.4 percent, at $110.64 a barrel at 0447 GMT, after falling by more than $1 earlier in the session.

US West Texas Intermediate crude futures for June rose 93 cents, or 0.8 percent, to $110.52 a barrel, recovering from an early loss of more than $2. 

Russian firms, entities halt publishing data amid sanctions

Oil pipeline monopoly Transneft has joined other Russian entities in curbing access to trade and financial data, sources told Reuters.

In the wake of Western sanctions imposed on Russia after it sent troops into Ukraine, the central bank said it would allow companies to withhold financial results.

Russian authorities are also allowing companies and banks to conceal information on securities issued and on their contractors.

Apart from Transneft, other companies that have stopped publishing data include Aeroflot, Alrosa, Gazprom, and Lukoil. 

Reinsurer SCOR tightens oil sector cover over carbon emissions

SCOR, the world’s fourth-biggest reinsurer, said on Wednesday it would stop covering new oil field production projects from 2023 unless the company involved had an acceptable plan to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century.

The move is the latest by a leading insurer to impose tighter policy conditions on coverage for the oil and gas sector, the main driver of man-made greenhouse gas emissions, as scientists warn faster action is needed on climate change.

It also follows an International Energy Agency report last year which said expansion of the oil and gas industry needed to cease if the world wanted to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average.

SCOR said in a statement accompanying results of the French company’s annual general meeting that it aimed to double the amount of insurance coverage for low-carbon energies by 2025.

“SCOR believes that reaching net-zero can only be achieved by combining climate mitigation and climate adaptation measures, supported by strong engagement with clients and partners, and an active approach to transition,” it said.

(With input from Reuters)