Bank of Beirut Chairman-CEO, Dr. Salim Sfeir hosted an Iftar in tribute of the media and press at the Four Seasons Hotel – Beirut, in the presence of President of Editors’ Syndicate, Joseph Kosseifi, Vice President of the Press Syndicate, Georges Soulage, Director of the National News Agency, Laure Sleiman, together with a large assembly of media figures.
In his speech, Bank of Beirut Chairman pointed out that “communication between the Bank and the journalists is more than necessary for mutual understanding and to jointly support the interest of our country. Today, the entire country is living the era of the preparation for the Budget which has taken six months, and what is left of the year is only six more months, he said. Our situation may still be rectified, in the event the needed plan becomes available.”
Sfeir assured that “liquidity is available and our Lebanese pound is stable, however the absence of economic growth is a considerable issue and places us in a sensitive delicate position.” He added that “the political rank, which has been forced to reduce the deficit, has taken the easy option of approaching banks, having no consideration that banks have many obligations, both locally and internationally. It is the duty of the state to support the economy, and this may not become feasible without decreasing interest rates, and we cannot achieve low interest rates without strengthening confidence; and confidence may not be possible unless a comprehensive economic plan under political management is focused on the economy.
Bank of Beirut Chairman highlighted that the “All Lebanese banks are required to improve ratios: solvency ratios, liquidity ratios and returns on investment, which are all linked to the classification of all the global banking system… And, as and when banks do not achieve profits and increase their returns on investment, he added, their classification will decline and this will certainly lead to a regression in the credit rating of the country as a whole.”
In the same context, Sfeir stated that “bank’s role is exposed to unjustified prejudice, particularly that they represent the backbone of the national economy. The role of the press in supporting the banking sector is to place positive pressure to bear on the government in an effort to create confidence in the productive sectors to reinvest and rebuild the country's economy.”
Moreover, Sfeir said: “They are accusing the banks of making profits without taking into account the size of the private funds, which constitute the major pillar of solvency, the safety, and continuity of the sector effectively. Allow me to explain in detail the issue of the profitability of banks and the distribution of revenues realized in order that you and public opinion as well as the officials become fully aware of all the facts:
- Approximately 62% of the total profit is for the depositors
- 20% in Operating Expenses, in addition to cost of risk
- The remaining18%, of which interest and profit taxes are disbursed; and on the basis of the current budget, what remains is almost half, which is 9%; this 9%, of which about 3-4% will be distributed to shareholders and these profits are subject to a distribution tax of 10%,
- As to the remaining 9%, banks are required to add to the regular reserves within the private funds to comply with international standards, according to the Central Bank of Lebanon’s regulations, in particular the Basel III solvency ratio. These agreements and banking procedures are not up to our choice and we have no alternative, but to implement, otherwise we are out of the international market.
Sfeir warned that “continuing to target this productive sector will only result in negative repercussions if we consider the need to enable this sector to attract fresh deposits in an effort to finance the economic cycle and the needs of the Lebanese Government.”
He also called upon “the politicians and the administrators who are well aware of the potentials of the country's capabilities, to strive seriously to create a positive climate by ensuring stability, enhancing confidence and revitalizing the economy, and to halt echoing signals of concern to investors”.
Concluding his speech, Sfeir said: “I am hopeful the 2019 budget will be the beginning of a clear road map, and not just an accounting balance that lacks the substantive scientific reform and will not lead to accelerating the economy forward.”