Lebanon: financial markets remain calm despite storm

Published October 24th, 2012 - 09:35 GMT
Small mercies for Lebanon'c Central Bank boss Riad Salameh, as there is no sign of a currency flight after the Achrafieh bombing
Small mercies for Lebanon'c Central Bank boss Riad Salameh, as there is no sign of a currency flight after the Achrafieh bombing

The financial markets in Lebanon remained calm Tuesday and the country’s currency remained relatively stable despite a series of security incidents following Friday’s assassination of Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan.

Exchange dealers and bankers told The Daily Star they did not see any unusual demand for the U.S. currency or any other foreign currencies Monday and Tuesday.

“Few people changed [currencies] or bought U.S. dollars in the past two days. I think the Lebanese have become accustomed to occasional security incidents in the country. Above all, they realize that the Central Bank is flush with foreign currency reserves,” one exchange dealer said over the telephone.

The dollar traded between LL1,507 and LL1,514, rates that have been largely stable over the last few years.

The Central Bank has close to $35 billion in gross foreign currency reserves while the gold reserves are valued at more than $11 billion.

Bankers say that these reserves will allow Lebanon to weather any unforeseeable crisis for many years.

Shadi Karam, economic and financial adviser to the president, also assured Al-Markazia news agency that the demand for the Lebanese pound is still strong.

He added that the prices of treasury bills remained stable ,although the rates of the certificates of deposit slightly declined.

The BLOM stock index fell Tuesday by 0.43 percent and 0.71 percent Monday. But brokers say that Beirut bourse has been plunging since the beginning of the year, and for this reason any slight fall in volume or value should not be cause for alarm.

According to recent figures released by the Beirut Stock Exchange, total trading volume reached 44.5 million shares in the first nine months of 2012, constituting a decrease of 30.3 percent from the same period last year, while total turnover amounted to $339.2 million, down 23.8 percent from a turnover of $445.4 million in the first nine months of 2011.

Market capitalization decreased by 2.6 percent from the end of 2011 and by 5.9 percent from the end of September 2011 to $10 billion, of which 75.4 percent was in banking stocks, 20.7 percent in real estate stocks, 3.3 percent in industrial stocks, 0.3 percent in fund stocks, and 0.2 percent in trading stocks.

The BSE added that market liquidity ratio was 3.4 percent, down from 4.2 percent in the same period last year.

Bank stocks accounted for 76.3 percent of aggregate trading volume in the first nine months of the year, followed by real estate stocks with 17.9 percent, trading stocks with 5.5 percent, and industrial stocks with 0.2 percent. In terms of market value of shares traded, banking stocks accounted for 66.5 percent of aggregate value, followed by real estate stocks with 31.4 percent, trading stocks with 1.7 percent and industrial stocks trailing with 0.3 percent.

The BSE added that the average daily traded volume for the period was 239,178 shares for an average daily value of $1.8 million. The figures reflect decreases of 31.8 percent in volume and 25.5 percent in value year-on-year.

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