|Lebanon's balance of payments still rising (Daily Star)
|Lebanon continues to enjoy an upward trend in this year's balance of payments despite the region's gloomy political outlook.
According to the Central Bank's monthly bulletin, the balance of payments in the first seven months recorded a total surplus of $577.6 million - a whopping $313 million of that in July alone.
"This was reflected in a rise in the net foreign assets of the Central Bank and of banks and financial institutions for an amount of $206.4 million and $106.6 million respectively," the bulletin said.
Lebanon started experiencing steady surplus in the balance of payments over the past two years thanks to the positive impact of the "Paris II" donor conference held in November 2002.
France, Saudi Arabia and other countries pledged $4.3 billion in soft loans to help the Lebanese government reduce debt servicing and finance development projects.
However, Beirut has received just $2.5 billion so far.
The country relies heavily on capital inflows, foreign direct investments and money collected from customs duties to improve the balance of payments.
Question have recently been raised about the country's ability to maintain this positive trend in light of UN Resolution 1559, which calls on Syria to withdraw its forces from Lebanon. The resolution also calls for the deployment of the army in the South and for all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias to be disarmed.
The Central Bank also said the public debt was $32.18 billion through the first seven months of 2004 - a figure that some experts suggest is actually much higher.
The Association of Banks in Lebanon, for example, estimates the public debt at $35.5 billion, while the government says it is more than $35 billion.
The bulletin said that external debt rose by $65 million at the end of July, for a total of $16.356 billion.
More than 55 percent of the country's public debt is in U.S. currency, and the rest is in Lebanese pounds.
In addition, the Central Bank said that gross foreign currency reserves stood at $12.671 billion in July.
However, this figure fell to $11.5 billion in the middle of this month due to high pressure on the pound.
The Daily Star