|Salameh offers help for small, medium enterprises
|Banque du Liban Governor Riad Salameh said Tuesday that the body was in a position to subsidize medium-term loans for small- and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) in Lebanon - with conditions.
"The Central Bank today at more than any other time has the means to subsidize the liquidity that will be earmarked for medium-term loans for SMEs provided that they are securitized," Salameh told participants in a conference on small- and medium-size businesses at Unesco Palace in Beirut.
The global credit crunch has apparently induced many Lebanese expatriates and wealthy Gulf Arab nationals to transfer billions of dollars to the Lebanese banks.
This has allowed the banks to amass high liquidity that could be used to finance different projects in Lebanon.
The Central Bank's gross foreign currency reserves are now close to $19 billion, excluding the gold reserves, which are worth more than $8 billion.
Bankers at the conference said this cash inflow has encouraged many banks to consider new loans to small- and medium-size business at better terms.
"The medium-term loans that will be put at the disposal of the Central Bank by international financial institutions and NGOs will facilitate the funding of SMEs and create a balance between supply and demand," Salameh said.
Citing a study conducted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the governor stressed that the Middle East and North Africa will not be affected to the same degree by the global credit crunch as in the case of the US and Europe.
"The IMF projects GDP growth of 6 percent for the emerging markets and 3 percent for Western nations. But if Lebanon wanted to achieve the 6 percent then we should help the SMEs," Salameh said.
Francois Bassil, the president of the Association of Banks in Lebanon, said supporting the SMEs was vital to achieving higher economic growth.
He added that 99 percent of the companies in Lebanon are either small or medium sized.
"These small- and medium-size businesses employ nearly 82 percent of the working force in Lebanon," Bassil said.
He added that the banking sector has encouraged and will continue to encourage new alternatives to finance SMEs through private equity and venture capital.
The Daily Star