Lebanon

The market’s memory is so short when it comes to Lebanon that a few weeks of government inaction all but wiped out a bond rally fueled by Gulf aid pledges and the end of a nine-month political stalemate, Bloomberg News reported. The brief morale boost is giving way to frustration among investors and creditors as a new cabinet formed in January fails to discuss, let alone act on, promised measures meant to shrink a yawning budget gap and jumpstart growth.

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The powerful Lebanese Shi'ite group Hezbollah on Tuesday urged the new government to launch talks with banks to bring down the cost of servicing the state's massive public debt, setting out its view on the major problem in unusually clear terms, the International New York Times reported on a Reuters story. The remarks by a Hezbollah lawmaker in parliament point to the wider influence his heavily armed group aims to exercise over the way Lebanon is governed as it departs from the more marginal role it has played in the past.

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Authorities in Lebanon, which has one of the world’s highest debt to GDP ratios, have not asked the International Monetary Fund to provide funding, the IMF’s regional head told Reuters on Monday. Lebanon has some of the world’s worst debt and balance-of-payments ratios and recently spent more than nine months without a government it needed to enact long-overdue reforms, Reuters reported. Concern grew over the state of the economy and government finances as the impasse dragged on. But despite its problems, the government has avoided asking for IMF aid.

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Lebanon is committed to launching fast and effective reforms that could be “difficult and painful” to avoid a worsening of economic, financial and social conditions, according to a draft government policy statement seen by Reuters on Wednesday. The statement sets the main policy objectives of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s national unity government that was finally formed last week after nine months of wrangling over cabinet portfolios, Reuters reported.

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With fixed exchange rates and some of the world’s worst debt and balance-of-payment ratios, Lebanon’s newly-formed government knows it needs to act fast to avoid sinking into a full-blown economic crisis, Reuters reported. Lebanon’s ability to dodge financial disaster has for years confounded critics, whose warnings of debt defaults, balance of payments crises and a collapse of the pound currency, have all failed to materialise. The hope is that it will stay that way, but as the charts below show the numbers are daunting.

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Lebanon should consider a voluntary debt restructuring to avert a financial crisis despite pledges of aid from Gulf benefactors, according to Franklin Templeton Investments, which manages $650 billion in assets worldwide, Bloomberg News reported. A debt overhaul needs to be part of a reform program backed by lenders such as the International Monetary Fund, said Mohieddine Kronfol, the firm’s chief investment officer for global sukuk and Middle East and North Africa fixed income.

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A report by Moody's Investors Service that downgraded the country's long-term investment ratings reflects the urgent need for quickly forming a new government, implementing reforms and reducing budget deficit, Lebanon's finance minister and experts said Tuesday.

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Qatar said on Monday it plans to buy $500 million of Lebanese government bonds to help support one of the world’s most indebted countries, Bloomberg News reported. Eurobonds rallied by the most since September. Lebanon’s struggling economy needs a cash infusion to reassure bond holders still reeling from mixed remarks by officials about the possibility of debt restructuring this month.

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Lebanon’s central bank aims to keep the exchange rate of its pound currency stable in 2019, the bank’s governor said on Wednesday. Riad Salameh also said Lebanese bank deposits climbed by 3.5 percent in 2018, Reuters reported. The comments were his first in public since remarks by the finance minister last week about Lebanon’s public debt triggered concerns that the debt might be restructured, leading to a sell-off in the country’s dollar-denominated sovereign bonds.

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