Lebanon

The political crisis in Lebanon has sent yields on some of its dollar bonds into triple digits. Rates on the government’s $1.2 billion of notes maturing in March next year have climbed 28 percentage points this week to 105%, Bloomberg News reported. They were at 13% five weeks ago, just before the start of protests that led to the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri and exacerbated the nation’s economic woes. Protesters marched to parliament in Beirut on Tuesday, forcing it to suspend a session as the army and riot police tried to disperse them.

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Investors are braced for more losses on Lebanese bonds as Beirut faces urgent calls to restructure its towering debt pile, the Financial Times reported. The value of Lebanon’s sovereign debt has plummeted since rating agencies pushed the dollar bonds even deeper into junk territory earlier this month. The country’s two-year bond has lost a quarter of its value over the past 30 days and now trades at 64 cents on the dollar.

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The withdrawal of a candidate to become Lebanon’s prime minister is once again threatening to drag out the process at a time the country faces calls to take urgent steps necessary to avoid economic collapse, Bloomberg News reported. Mohammed Safadi, a wealthy Lebanese businessman and former finance minister, put an end to his bid just two days after winning the backing of Lebanon’s major political parties. Lebanon has been without a government since Saad Hariri resigned late last month in the face of protests over mismanagement that’s pushed the economy to the verge of bankruptcy.

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Lebanon just got one of its starkest warnings yet that it will need to restructure its $30 billion of Eurobonds. Franklin Templeton, which oversees more than $690 billion of assets worldwide, said the government will have to renegotiate the debt load to stave off an economic collapse, Bloomberg News reported. “The system is broken and the credibility is gone,” Mohieddine Kronfol, the firm’s Dubai-based chief investment officer for Middle Eastern and North African fixed income, said in a Bloomberg Television interview with Tracy Alloway and Yousef Gamal El-Din.

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Lebanon’s banks are worried that a central bank deadline for compulsory capital increases is too tight as they grapple with the fallout from weeks of anti-government protests, banking sources familiar with the matter said, Reuters reported. They said it was possible lenders might ask the banking regulator for an extension to the requirement to raise their Common Equity Tier 1 capital, a key measure of financial strength, by 10% through cash injections by the end of the year. The central bank did not respond to a request for comment.

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Lebanon’s credit rating was cut one notch further into junk territory by Moody’s Investors Service on Tuesday as protests roil the nation, reflecting the increased likelihood of debt rescheduling or other steps that may constitute a default, Bloomberg News reported. Moody’s analyst Elisa Parisi-Capone said the viability of the currency’s peg to the U.S. dollar and macroeconomic stability are both threatened by social protests and a loss of investor confidence.

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Lebanon’s central bank asked local lenders to raise their capital by 20% in the next year, the state-run National News Agency reported, to boost their liquidity and prepare for possible downgrades in credit ratings, Bloomberg News reported. The Banque du Liban said raising capital by $4 billion would help banks “confront the current situation and any future developments particularly in the face of a possible credit downgrade,” the news agency said.

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Lebanese banks have curtailed the transfer of dollar deposits abroad until political turbulence that has engulfed the country and raised fears of a collapse in its currency peg subsides, Bloomberg News reported. Lebanon has not imposed official restrictions on the movement of money as lenders reopen their doors after two weeks of nationwide anti-government protests. But banks have independently moved to tighten informal limits already in place for months to avoid capital flight amid crumbling confidence.

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The resignation of Saad al-Hariri as Lebanon’s prime minister on Tuesday has plunged the country’s economy deeper into uncertainty as protesters continue to occupy public squares, calling for a clear-out of the entire political elite, the Financial Times reported. Banks remain shuttered for a second week amid fears that the unrest will trigger capital flight and a run on lenders by customers anxious about their dollar deposits. The Banking Association said they would reopen on Friday.

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Lebanon’s political and banking crisis has put growing pressure on its 22-year-old currency peg to the U.S. dollar and foreign funds fear a devaluation now could be disastrous for a country with one of the world’s biggest foreign debt burdens, Reuters reported. The risk of devaluation has risen as Lebanon grapples with its most severe economic pressures since the 1975-90 civil war, with widespread protests that have toppled the coalition government of Saad al-Hariri.

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