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Lebanese banks aim Iraq and Libya as home market stalls

28 Nov 2012
Bank Audi, Lebanon’s biggest bank will begin operations in Iraq next year and its rival Byblos Bank is to enter the Libyan market as both compete with a flagging domestic economy. The domestic operations have become increasingly significant for Lebanese banks hit by failing in war-torn Syria, conventionally their biggest international market. Though, the slowing economic growth of Lebanon has compelled its banks to look farther afield. The business in Lebanon is running slow, but it is influencing our productivity and is attractive to diversify geographically even more. It is expected that the economic growth in Lebanon will come in at only 2% this year, down from an average of 8.1% between 2007 and 2010, based on the data from Moody, the rating agency. The second largest lender of Lebanon, Blom Bank also has plans to enter a new market in coming year but is not completely ready to proclaim where it is going to be, the general manager of Blom Bank, Saad Azhari stated. Bank Audi held $29 billion of assets at September 30, followed by Blom with $24 billion and Byblos with nearly $17 billion. Although Bank Audi has a second plan to leave Syria, if they face a deteriorated situation, stated by the Chief Executive Samir Hanna. But the general managers of both the banks, Byblos and Blom, said that they would not pull out of the country. The biggest trading partner of Iraq is Turkey and Hanna believes that would provide Bank Audi with a captive customer base, serving Turkish customers who do business with Iraq. He also said that the new venture will begin by concentrating on the fields such as trade credit and will not be a retail bank. Byblo was the first Lebanese bank to start business in Iraq in 2007. Haddad thinks that the country is a grossly under-banked and said that Byblos aims to add two branches to the three it has in the country, already. He states that one has to be stupid enough not to make money. Haddad has plans to travel Libya next month to know if they have got good opportunities for Byblos. He said that those options can be, opening branches or may be buying a small private sector bank. The maximum investment would be $50 million, which can be financed from the existing resources, Haddad said. The bank still has an eye on Egypt, but it would need a capital injection to fund entry into that market. Haddad said that the minimum investment would be about $300 million. Both of the banks, Audi and Blom already have operations in Egypt. Bank Audi has decreased its presence in Syria from 22 branches to 18. Bank Audi has already reduced its deposit base in Syria significantly and has the availability of liquidity to pay all of its depositors, Hanna said. Source: [Reuters]
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