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French Version


Merrill Lynch rules out financial crisis (Daily Star)

Merrill Lynch has ruled out a financial crisis over the next six to 12 months “as the Central Bank is in a strong position to counter possible pressure on the currency.”

According to the investment banking firm, the Central Bank has accumulated enough foreign currency reserves to offset a crisis and the Finance Ministry has enough hard currency to cover foreign currency maturities due through the first half of 2004.

However, even if the “‘Paris II’ (conference of donor countries) provided Lebanon with substantial breathing space in which to implement a package of reforms necessary to put the debt dynamics back on a sustainable footing, authorities have not been able to deliver promises, the fiscal adjustment has fallen short of plans and there have been no concrete results on privatization or securitization,” said the report.

It continued by stating that Lebanon had undertaken a substantial fiscal adjustment in recent years, but “the adjustment seems to have lost momentum this year.”

Moreover, the firm criticized the draft 2004 budget by saying that the “foot dragging” might continue next year.

The biggest disappointment, Merrill Lynch said, was that the government has delayed its privatization program, pointing at political wrangling as the main cause. But, “there is still a chance that the securitization of the tobacco monopoly will happen in 2003, with expected proceeds of $500 million-$700 million – but even this is now uncertain.”

The government had promised during Paris II to privatize its state assets to collect some $5 billion in receipts. However, economists believed the estimate was too high, saying the government would not be able to accumulate more than $3 billion.

Merrill Lynch said the gross public debt has stabilized, but remains dangerously high at about 179 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), as the medium-term dynamics remained daunting.

The firm provided three future fiscal scenarios, the most optimistic of which would still see Lebanon with one of the highest debt-to-GDP ratios of rated emerging markets.

Beirut 20-10-2003
Tarek El Zein
The Daily Star



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