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Old April 12th, 2012, 11:58 AM   #961
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Gasoline prices continue record climb, transport sector to strike April 11, 2012 09:17 AM By Dana Khraiche The Daily Star

BEIRUT: Gasoline prices reached a record high Wednesday for the second consecutive week, increasing by LL600 as the transportation sector prepares for its April 19 general strike.

According to the Energy Ministry's weekly price update, the price of 98-octane graded fuel is now LL39,700 while that of 95-octane graded fuel is LL39,000.

The cost of Kerosene gas increased by LL100 reaching LL31,300. The cost of diesel and fuel oil were not updated.

Last week, the price of diesel stood at LL29,200. All prices are per 20 liters of fuel.

The country's public transportation unions said last week they would strike on April 19 to urge the government to cap soaring fuel prices and increase the family compensation allowance.

Bassam Tleis, the head of the confederation of public drivers and transport unions, said the sector would proceed with the April 19 general strike unless demands to cap soaring gasoline prices are met.

“Our demands are for the government to fix the cost of gasoline and diesel oil, amend decrees governing the public transportation sector, increase the family compensation allowance and implement the public transportation plan,” Tleis told The Daily Star Wednesday.

He also warned that the nationwide general strike would be open-ended, but added that unions were open to negotiations.

The public transport unions met last week with both Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Public Works and Transportation Minister Ghazi Aridi to voice their demands and attempt to reach a resolution.

Tleis said that Mikati promised the unions to convene the ministerial committee, established in 2011 and tasked with coordinating with the public transport sector, in order to reach a settlement.

In May 2011, former Finance Minister Raya al-Hasan and Public Works and Transportation Minister Ghazi Aridi brokered a deal giving a monthly state subsidy of LL470,000 to taxi drivers and LL350,000 to truck drivers over a period of three months. The deal did away with a planned open-ended general strike that was expected to cripple the country.

Brent May crude fell 76 cents this week to settle at $122.67 a barrel, having dropped as low as $121.02 and tested below the 50-day moving average of $121.60. The decline in prices is attributed to revived talks between the West and Iran on its nuclear program.

If the talks fail, oil prices are expected to rise.

Public transport unions have also raised doubt about the Energy Minister’s weekly price update, saying that when the price of Crude oil in 2008 reached $149, local prices of gasoline hovered around LL27,000.
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Old April 14th, 2012, 03:50 PM   #962
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Real estate transactions decline in number but gain in value April 14, 2012 01:26 AM The Daily Star


BEIRUT: The number of real estate transactions in Lebanon slowed 4.29 percent in February from a month earlier, but gained in value, a report issued by Credit Libanais Bank showed.

The number of transactions fell to 5,156 in February from 5,387 in January while the value of transactions managed to climb 6.66 percent to $0.60 billion, the report said.

The average value per transaction increased from $104,342 to $116,279 in February.

In Beirut, the average value per transaction increased to $508,709 in the first two months of 2012, up from the 2011 average of $456,018.

The average value per transaction in the Metn and Kesrouan regions also rose respectively to $176,146 and $112,478 from the 2011 average of $171,784 and $97,487.

On a year-on-year basis, the number of transactions fell 0.82 percent in the first two months of 2012 in line with a decrease in the total value of transactions that shed $40 million in the same period, falling to $1.16 billion.

The average value per real estate transaction during the first two months of 2012 stood at $110,180, 2.17 lower compared to same period in 2011 when it averaged at $112,628.

The share of foreigners in real estate transactions increased slightly to 1.96 percent in the first two months of 2012 compared to 1.65 during the same period in 2011.

The number of real estate transactions fell by 12.02 percent during 2011 to reach 82,984, in comparison with 94,320 transactions registered in 2010.

The value of real estate transactions also fell to $8.84 billion, compared to $9.48 billion in 2010.
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Old April 25th, 2012, 03:54 PM   #963
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Lebanon vulnerable to food price shock
April 25, 2012 01:49 AM The Daily Star



BEIRUT: Lebanon’s vulnerability to global food price shocks may compromise its ability to make progress across a number of Millennium Development Goals, the World Bank’s “Global Monitoring Report 2012” suggests.

The report, which was published last week, rates Lebanon among the most vulnerable countries in the world to global food price shocks.

As a net importer of cereal as a share of consumption, Lebanon is categorized as a country that faces “higher import bills, reduced fiscal space, and greater transmission of world prices to local prices for imported goods such as rice and wheat,” the report states.

Where countries rely on food imports, and particularly wheat, for at least 50 percent of domestic consumption, “higher international prices can put considerable pressure on government and household budgets,” it says.

Lebanon imports almost 80 percent of its annual wheat consumption, according to 2011 figures released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The World Bank report also highlights that recent jumps in international food prices have halted the world’s progress across a number of the Millennium Development Goals.

“High and volatile food prices do not bode well for attainment of many MDGs, as they erode consumer purchasing power and prevent millions of people from escaping poverty and hunger, besides having long-term adverse impacts on health and education,” said Justin Yifu Lin, the World Bank’s chief economist and senior vice president for development economics.

“Dealing with food price volatility must be a high priority, especially as nutrition has been one of the forgotten MDGs,” he added.

Among Lebanon’s MDGs are the targets of reducing by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day and lowering by 50 percent the percentage of people suffering from hunger in the country. In Lebanon, the population living under the poverty line reaches 28.6 percent, according to the United Nations Development Project.

The World Bank report, acknowledging the challenges governments face in responding to high food prices amid a global recession, recommends countries “deploy agricultural policies to encourage farmers to increase production.
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Old May 20th, 2012, 05:35 PM   #964
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Public Transportation Committee tours Beirut in public buses

The Public Works and Transportation Committee toured Beirut in public buses, on Wednesday. The committee was represented by its head MP Mohammad Qabbano, MPs member of the committee and Public Works and Transportation Minister Ghazi Aridi.

The bus took off from Nejmeh Square, where the parliament is located, passed through Manara, Raouche, Corniche el-Mazraa, en-Nahr and Mar Mikhael all the way back to the parliament. They toured in 47 different buses that will be working 4 stations. The buses are considered an addition to others that were rehabilitated until tenders are carried out to buy 250 public buses that match international standards and cater to the people with special needs.

Aridi said that these buses take into account Lebanon’s traffic as well as other urban characteristics. He added that bus stations are also included in the public transportation plan, adding that they are located at Beirut’s north and south entrances.

Qabbani, for his part, said that the committee attaches great importance to public transportation and the adoption of the plan, adding that the tour aims at encouraging citizens to use buses.
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Old May 21st, 2012, 12:18 PM   #965
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Great Step , i wish we can get pics for the buses though.
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Old May 21st, 2012, 03:04 PM   #966
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Lebanon gasoline prices 13 highest in world: report
May 21, 2012 01:41 PM The Daily Star


BEIRUT: The price of 20 liters of gasoline measured against daily income in Lebanon ranks 13th highest among 55 countries in the world and second highest in the Arab oil-producing countries, according to Byblos Bank.

The survey is based on the price of gasoline between April 2 when the price reached a record high, settling at LL39,100 for 98-octane gasoline and LL38,400 for 95-octane graded fuel, and April 11 when 98-octane graded fuel was sold at LL39,700 while that of 95-octane graded fuel was LL39,000.

According to the bank report, the price of a gallon of gasoline in Lebanon is equivalent to 95 percent of the country's per capita daily income, which is higher than that of the Seychelles at 94.2 percent, Brazil at 94.1 percent and Argentina at 92.7 percent and is lower than that of Lithuania, Hungary and Egypt, with the last standing at 107.2 percent.

“Lebanon also ranked in fifth place among 14 upper middle-income countries included in the survey, higher than the Seychelles, Brazil and Argentina,” it added.

The price of 20 liters of gasoline in Lebanon as a percentage also ranked second-highest among five Arab countries included in the survey. It is significantly higher than in oil producers such as Saudi Arabia but lower than in Egypt.

India is the most expensive country for gasoline based on per capita incomes as the price of 20 liters of gasoline is equivalent to 711.5% of the daily per capita income.

The report, issued by the Economic Research and Analysis division of Byblos Bank, also said that the price of 20 liters of gasoline in Lebanon is the 13th cheapest among 56 countries included in the survey.

The average price of a gallon of gasoline in Lebanon between April 2 and April 11 was $25.7, higher than prices in the U.S. ($22), Indonesia ($21.7) and Russia ($19.6), but lower than prices in Thailand ($26.2) China ($28.1) and Argentina ($28.7).

The price of a gallon of gasoline in Lebanon is lower than the 56-country average of $33.7 and the upper middle-income countries whose average stands at $25.9 but higher than the five Arab countries' average of $10.5.

The figures for Lebanon were calculated based on the International Monetary Fund's estimates of GDP per capita for 2011 while those of other countries were compiled by Bloomberg.

The price of gasoline has gradually declined since April 11 and last week stood at LL37,000 for the 98-octane graded fuel and LL36,300 for the 95-octane graded fuel.

In April, skyrocketing gasoline prices sent shockwaves across the country prompting a number of sit-ins and protests, particularly by the public transport union, asking the government to intervene.
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Old May 22nd, 2012, 03:17 PM   #967
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LibanPack: Helping edible exports- interview
May 22, 2012 01:55 AM (Last updated: May 22, 2012 03:39 PM) By Elias Sakr The Daily Star

BEIRUT: Nearly five years ago, 40 percent of barred Lebanese food and beverage exports were denied entry into North America, Europe and the Gulf region under the pretext of irregularities in packaging and labeling, according to a study by the Economy Ministry.

However, by 2012, this percentage has fallen considerably as many Lebanese producers have become more focused on the importance of packaging and labeling, which are seen as crucial requirements to enter markets abroad, Soha Atallah, director of LibanPack told The Daily Star.

The Lebanese Packaging Center, LibanPack is a nonprofit private-sector association founded in November 2007 with the support of United Nation Industrial Development Organization-Market Access and Compliance for Lebanese Export and funded by Switzerland.

Atallah said the major objective of LibanPack is to raise awareness among Lebanese industrialists on the importance of complying with international standards for packaging and labeling in a bid to increase the competitiveness of Lebanese products in export markets.

LibanPack services include integrated feasibility studies, technical assistance in packaging design, consultancy services to ensure compliance with international standards such as ISO 22000 and in-house training that covers manufacturing practices, Atllah said.

However, despite increased interest from Lebanese industrialists in packaging, Atallah said LibanPack still faces difficulties.

Among these difficulties is the reluctance of Lebanese industrialists to pay for consultancy services.

“Some Lebanese industrialists are still reluctant to pay for consultancy services. They would rather pay for tangible products,” she added.

However, LibanPack is drawing a growing number of customers from the Arab world such as Iraqi and Egyptian industrialists who have been cooperating with LibanPack.

The increased interest by Arab clients is helping LibanPack in its quest to accomplish self sustainability by guaranteeing the necessary funds for its operations, Atallah said.

Switzerland through its State Secretariat for Economic Affairs has committed $2.5 million to LibanPack since its kickoff for a five year period that ends in 2012, Atallah said.

“We thank Switzerland for its support that enabled us to offer free services when we started operating in 2007. Currently we are charging a symbolic fee for our services and our main revenue comes from sponsors,” she said.

Atallah added that the Lebanese Industrialists Association has also assisted LibanPack by hosting the association at its headquarters free of charge.

LibanPack offer its members three membership plans: a professional membership costing LL250,000 per year for Lebanese industries, companies and individuals; a student membership available at LL30,000 per year and an honorary membership starting at LL2,000,000 in annual fees.

Starting in 2013, LibanPack, faces the challenge of securing new funds to cover for the ending of the Swiss funding grant.

To compensate for the Swiss funding, the government should play a role in supporting LibanPack and by knock-on effect Lebanese industries, Atallah said.

With more than 60 members including industry professionals, companies, NGOs and student groups, LibanPack, a member of the World Package Organization, has extended its network by signing partnership agreements with the French and Tunisian packaging centers, she said.

Lebanon will host the 2013 board meeting of the World Packaging Organization, according to Atallah, who added that LibanPack was also organizing regional study tours for industries from Iraq and Sudan among other countries.

During the LibanPack-organized Lebanon Student Starpack 2012 award ceremony held in March, leading Lebanese industrialists said that superior packaging has boosted the competitiveness of Lebanese products and has contributed to the doubling of industrial exports over the last five years.

However, the industrialists have warned that the increasing energy costs involved in product packaging threaten the competitiveness of this new focus on image.
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Old May 23rd, 2012, 01:06 PM   #968
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Gasoline prices down by LL1,000 May 23, 2012 08:33 AM The Daily Star

BEIRUT: The price of 20 liters of gasoline declined by LL1,000 and that of diesel by LL 500 from last week's price, according to the Energy and Water Ministry.

The price of 98-octane graded fuel now stands at LL36,000 while the price of 95-octane graded fuel is LL35,300, based on the weekly price update.

Kerosene gas is now sold at LL29,700, down by LL400, with fuel oil at LL27,500 and diesel at LL27,600.

The cost of gasoline reached a record high last month when the price of 98-octane graded fuel hit LL40,000. The increase sparked outrage among unions, which demanded the government place a price ceiling at LL25,000.
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Old May 25th, 2012, 05:53 AM   #969
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Government to raise VAT, interest tax May 25, 2012 01:22 AM By Mohamad El Amin The Daily Star


BEIRUT: A new 15-percent tax on profits made through real estate transactions and a 2-percent hike on both VAT and interest-revenue taxes are part of the revised 2012 budget draft announced by Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi Thursday.

According to Safadi, the planned real-estate tax would apply to sales of land and real estate purchased after 2009. Property bought before 2009 would be taxed 4 percent of the total sale amount, the minister added.

The new draft budget revised the value added tax from 10 to 12 percent.

“The hike on VAT would be equivalent to 1 percent of GDP, while the wage increases given last January constitute 2 percent,” Safadi said in defense of his proposal to raise the largely unpopular VAT tax.

The 5 percent tax on deposit interest revenues would be increased to 7 percent rather than the previously sought 8 percent, Safadi said, adding that the government reconsidered the hike “not to hurt those depending on interest income.”

Safadi, speaking at a news conference, said increases in taxes were necessary due to soaring public expenses.

A proposed retroactive wage increase for public sector employees since February, soaring payments to Electricité du Liban and adjustment in funds allocated to several ministries increased total expenditure from LL17.706 trillion ($11.7 billion) in 2011 to LL21.355 trillion in 2012.

The wage hike for public servants increased wages and salaries by 31 percent to a total of LL1.7 trillion, Safadi said.

He added that the actual figure would stand at LL2.2 trillion, if resulting increases, including hikes on hospitalization payments, were to be included.

Safadi also said transfers to electricity provider EDL jumped by LL500 billion to LL3.3 trillion.

The budget draft takes into consideration the impact of the economic slowdown internationally as well as the impact of local and regional political instability, Safadi argued.

He said the draft focused on sustaining a decline in debt-to-GDP ratio, a key economic indicator.

“The percentage will stand at 134.8 percent compared to 135.1 percent at the end of 2011,” Safadi said.

The GDP to debt ratios are calculated based on a 5.2 percent GDP growth in 2011 and a projected 3 percent for 2012, according to Safadi.

Economists have doubted the 2011 official growth figure, which significantly differs from figures released by the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and the Economist Intelligence Unit.

The three organizations have estimated Lebanon’s 2011 growth levels at around 1.5 percent.

Nassib Ghobril, chief economist at Byblos Bank, criticized the economic logic behind the tax hikes.

“This is a very bad idea, particularly in a time of economic downturn. Any increase in taxation would strangle economic activity,” Ghobril said.

Instead, he argued that the government should look into ways to improve tax collection and improve efficiency and accountability of public spending.

“Increasing taxes cannot be seen as a way to boost social justice. Realizing social justice starts by clamping down on tax evasion and trimming squandering of public finances,” he said.

While highlighting that the government had little choice but to increase taxes to meet its soaring expenses, economist Louis Hobeika echoed Ghobril, saying the government should have instead focused on reforming the largely inefficient public administration.

Hobeika said the increase on VAT would not translate into a significant increase in public revenues as he projected that consumption levels would fall on higher prices caused by tax hikes.

Safadi also said the ministry was discussing with banking sector representatives the possibility of raising taxes on bank profits from 15 percent to 20 percent in order to boost state revenues.

Investments in infrastructure constitute a large share of increases in state expenditures in the 2012 draft budget.

Safadi said a 65-percent increase in spending on infrastructure investments would include roads, electricity, gas pipelines and telecommunications.

Safadi said hotels outside Beirut would benefit from a proposed five-year tax exemption if the draft budget was approved.
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Old May 27th, 2012, 07:31 AM   #970
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Lebanese economic activity to remain slow in coming months
BEIRUT |
iloubnan.info, with agencies - April 22, 2012, 11h13 print this article
Photo: AFP The Lebanese economy continues to suffer from the impact of regional unrest as reflected by recently released indicators, Lebanon This Week stated, while quoting Business Monitor International.

The Lebanese Central Bank's monthly Coincident Indicator contracted by 1.8% year-onyear in January 2012, which pushed the three-month moving average to a nine-month low of -0.1%, According to the Business Monitor International.

The Coincident Indicator is a measure for the underlying health of the economy given the absence of timely official GDP data. According to BMI, the number of transactions in points-of-sale expanded by just 0.7% year-on-year in January 2012 relative to growth of 0.4% in December 2011, which reflects ongoing weakness in private consumption. It indicated that the growth in the three-month moving average of cement deliveries and construction permits reached a multi-year low of -11.1% and -7.7% year-on-year, respectively, in January.

BMI considered that the current economic slowdown is broad based, with consumption, trade and investment indicators all pointing to an economy fluctuating on the edge of recession. It said that Lebanon's economy has been affected by the ongoing crisis in Syria despite having avoided any incidence of large-scale public unrest associated with the Arab Spring.

It expected economic activity to remain depressed in the coming months given the low prospects for a lasting resolution to the Syrian conflict over the near term. However, it anticipated the ongoing rise in global oil prices to have a positive impact on the Lebanese economy through higher remittance inflows, an increase in bank deposits, and a rise in investments from Gulf countries.
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Old June 6th, 2012, 02:52 PM   #971
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Gasoline prices continue to fall
June 06, 2012 08:52 AM (Last updated: June 06, 2012 03:45 PM) The Daily Star

BEIRUT: Gasoline prices continued their decline Wednesday, with the cost of 20 liters decreasing by LL700, according to the Energy and Water Ministry.

The price of 98-octane graded fuel is now LL34,600, while the 95-octane graded fuel is LL33,900, marking the lowest prices for 2012 thus far.

Both the price of diesel and fuel oil saw a big drop, settling at LL26,300 and LL26,100 respectively. Kerosene gas is now sold at LL28,400, based on the weekly price update.

All prices are per 20 liters.
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Old June 7th, 2012, 01:33 PM   #972
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Solidere shares slip further in thin trading on Beirut bourse June 07, 2012 01:23 AM The Daily Star



BEIRUT: Solidere shares slipped further Wednesday after the company announced the results of 2011 which showed a 16.9 percent drop in net profits compared to 2010. Solidere A shares fell 1.31 percent to $12.71 while B shares decreased 0.38 percent to $12.78.

But some brokers believe the fall in the prices of Solidere shares has nothing to with the company’s performance but rather is a result of the general negative mood in the country which has discouraged investors from buying more shares from the dormant Beirut Stock Exchange.

These brokers say Solidere is still a solid company that is valued at more than $9 billion.

They added that the shares of the company would surely rise above the $13 ceiling once political stability is restored in the country.

Solidere also invited shareholders to attend the general assembly on June 28 so they could be briefed about the performance of the company as well as hear the board of directors’ report for 2011.

It is not yet clear how Solidere will cope with the rising tension in the region and the sharp fall in real estate transactions this year. Experts say results this year could be even worse than 2011 if the political situation in the country does not improve soon.

Meanwhile, The BLOM Stock Index edged 0.22 percent down to close at 1,149 points following trades of 27,342 shares valued at $435,512. In the banking sector, Bank of Beirut Preferred stock class E added 0.28 percent to end the session at $25.07.

The BLOM Bond Index inched 0.01 percent up to 108.61 points Tuesday. The portfolio’s average weighted yield widened 6 basis points to 5.54 percent, while the spread against the US benchmark contract 1 bps to 491 bps.
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Old June 9th, 2012, 07:52 AM   #973
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EDL: Subscribers must pay accumulated electricity bills June 09, 2012 01:41 AM The Daily Star


BEIRUT: Electricite du Liban said Friday citizens would have to pay accumulated electricity bills due to the open-ended strikes by contract workers at the state-run company.

“What the contract workers have done by not collecting money will force customers to pay two invoices or more instead of one at a time in the coming period due to the accumulation of unpaid bills,” EDL said in a statement.

It added that the state-run company would have to send out bills for several months because the collectors had failed to issue them.

More than two months of protests and a strike by contract workers demanding permanent employment at EDL have left the electricity provider struggling to conduct vital repairs and collect due bills.

Power supply has dwindled across the country, reaching as low as two hours per day in some areas.

The protests erupted when private sector service providers employed by the Energy Ministry were set to begin work in June.

A newly created Parliament committee was tasked with drafting a law authorizing EDL to offer permanent employment to nearly 1,200 contract and part-time workers in a bid to end the strike.

However, the committee, which was supposed to meet Thursday to discuss the draft law, failed for the second day in a row to address the thorny issue after a dispute erupted over who is authorized to attend the meeting.

In its statement Friday, EDL said the strike by some of its contract workers obstructed the work of “this vital public sector” by preventing employees from entering the EDL building during protests.

EDL also accused the contract workers of breaking surveillance cameras, confiscating keys for equipment and cutting off phone lines inside the state-run firm’s headquarters.

“The company apologizes to the citizens for its inability to serve them in the best manner given the circumstances mentioned above that are beyond its control,” the statement said.

EDL contract workers have suspended their protests in order to allow politicians to reach an agreement that would make them permanent employees of the state-run company.

A proposal reportedly under study involves allowing the workers to sit for a restricted employment exam and granting them permanent employment if they pass.

However, EDL and government officials say the firm cannot afford to hire all 2,000 of the part-time workers because they have a limited budget.

The two-month-long strike has exacerbated the already strained finances of EDL, which is incurring more than $1.5 billion in losses each year.

It remains to be seen whether the government will be able to resolve the row as political differences within the parliamentary committee have delayed its work and may ultimately derail such an effort.
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Old June 9th, 2012, 07:53 AM   #974
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Hehehe ironic but true :P
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Old June 10th, 2012, 08:26 AM   #975
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What have we learned? June 09, 2012 01:42 AM The Daily Star



Nothing. We have literally learned nothing. Around us an interrelated world is jammed in elections (the U.S.), a currency, banking and sovereign debt crises (the eurozone), uprisings of angry populations reacting – some violently – to decades of abuse and aspiring to a yet undefined political model, the contours of which they have not yet perceived let alone comprehended (the Arab world). Oblivious to this maelstrom of historic proportions, Lebanon is adrift.

In the words of the renowned Lebanese scholar Samir Khalaf, it is drifting away from responsible citizenship and a sense of national identity blown by the winds of “an inept political culture which remains indifferent to [the citizens’] vital everyday needs.”

This indifference has over the years materialized in a series of policies driven by the legislative and executive authorities, which are often divorced from realities and unmindful of requirements.

Much of what was done lacked inspiration and has consistently skirted indispensable reforms. The result is a quasi-complete deterioration in most of public services and a translation into a “mediocracy” sheltering behind the converging influences of all that saps the role of the state – confessionalism, clientelism, corruption, wastage and a lack of accountability – thus effectively damaging the economic and social fabric, probably beyond repair.

One wonders why on earth, given this gloomy picture, so many competing external powers are trying to muscle their way in.

Turning to domestic woes, not only has nothing been done to alleviate them but measures have and are taken – perhaps innocently – to worsen them, to the point one wishes for the paralysis in decision-making that plagues the present government to endure because of its salutary effect. Paralysis has become constructive.

The latest such example is the 2012 draft budget. It has hastily been presented to the Cabinet (for the second time after having been retrieved “for review” early this year) as a possible way out of an impasse on authorizing ex post facto expenditures made beginning in the second quarter of 2011, an imbroglio which has been lasting for over eight months.

Looked at from a purely arithmetic viewpoint, as though it was operating in a vacuum, this budget is conceived for an economy boasting full employment, excessive asset price inflation and real growth rates hovering over the 5 percent mark. One would be tempted to say: “Please look out of the window gentlemen!”

The private sector economic associations, meeting at one of the local hotels last Monday, have petitioned, in no minced words, that activity has gone down drastically (they claim by about 40 percent to 50 percent).

Normal folks – such as the author of this piece and many of the readers of this paper – who do not travel in tainted glass four-wheel drives with blaring sirens surrounded by a horde of armed goons, are in touch with the populace. They know in every family around them one or two individuals who have lost their jobs.

Anyone who cares to take a trip to the local supermarket or you friendly corner grocer will realize that prices of basic necessities have gone up steeply. Recently, we almost had riots over the price of the “rabta” (the bag of Lebanese bread that now contains seven loafs). It all ended in a surreal fashion by maintaining the price but removing one loaf from the “rabta.”

Yet, slow growth, unemployment and inflation all seem immaterial when we prepare a budget in Lebanon. A budget is the single-most important set of policy measures in a country.

It has a determining influence on economic outcomes and on their social sequels.

It is a complex exercise that requires a thorough analysis of facts, a careful calibration of prospective economic vision, tuning in to monetary policy and enough flexibility to adapt to the volatility that characterizes a world of intimately connected markets.

None of this is perceptible in the draft budget proposal submitted to the Cabinet last week. Instead, we can read a haphazard collection of tax increases, most of which should be presented in separate proposals and not drowned in an omnibus text to avoid piecemeal examination and debate by Parliament.

An increase of VAT by 20 percent (from 10 percent to 12 percent and maybe more) is accompanied by a series of levies the legality of which is under scrutiny. This is the subject of debate as this article goes to press, which is certain, as it affects the main drivers of growth in Lebanon, to push what is already a feeble economy into a full recession accompanied by further inflation and increased unemployment.

That is definitely not the way to go. A proper tack would be to do the exact opposite, i.e., to drum up a “reflationary” growth-driven budget with ample provision to incite the private sector to participate substantially in a much needed, overdue, rebuilding and expanding of basic infrastructure and services: electricity, water, roads, public transport, etc.

The excessive public debt to gross domestic product ratio would definitely improve in a growth environment as it has in the recent past and would undoubtedly deteriorate in a recessionary setting.

Do we need to review the tax structure? Assuredly, but by overhauling the entire set of taxes toward a more equitable system that hits on revenues from capital and profits like it now affects salaries.

However, it should not be done suddenly, massively and overnight by improvising an unstitched fiscal bedlam at the expense of crippling the economy and violating the sacrosanct principle of fiscal continuity.

But before a general hike of taxes why not attempt a little house cleaning first by trying to identify and control the numerous areas of wastage in the expenditure apparatus of the state? Not one single budget for as long as observers can remember has even bothered to mention this effort in its preamble. Not even as a cosmetic “conscious-clearing” initiative.

What have we learned from the global debate on the vainness of austerity and the almost-unanimous agreement that growth is the key to exiting from the present vicissitudes of the U.S. and the eurozone?

What have we learned from the need for vigilance as Greece (two hours away) drowns into chaos and Cypriot banks (30 minutes away) struggle to stay above water?

What have we learned from rapidly fleeing deposits, runs on the Lebanese pound and Sisyphean efforts to laboriously rebuild confidence that we have had to exert in the past?

What have we learned from the mayhem political vociferation invariably creates in our economy?

One wonders and cannot but conclude: nothing. Nothing, against the backdrop of an explosive security situation that in and by itself is a sufficiently destabilizing factor for the domestic economy.
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Old June 12th, 2012, 05:29 PM   #976
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Beirut replaces Abu Dhabi as most expensive city in Middle East Tuesday, June 12 - 2012 at 16:19


The Middle East sees its ranking fall in Mercer's 2012 Worldwide Cost of Living Survey due largely to a drop in rental prices.

The survey found that Beirut is the most expensive city to live in this year within the Middle East, moving up eight notches to number 67.

Mercer's survey factors in the cost of living for 214 cities globally. The consultancy compares the price of more than 200 factors in each location, including housing, transport, food and clothing costs.

Abu Dhabi, the most expensive city in the region in last year's survey, is the 76th most expensive city in the world to live in this year, which is down from 67 last year. The cost of living in Dubai has also fallen, with the city ranking 94th overall this year compared with 81 last year.

However, the UAE is nonetheless still the most expensive place to live in the GCC, Mercer's report noted. In addition to the lower accommodation costs across the UAE, the fall in Abu Dhabi and Dubai's ranking has come about as a result of several other factors that range from slower increase in the prices of goods and services in the country relative to the base city, New York, to the stabilisation of the real estate market in the Middle East.

Tokyo, meanwhile has taken over as the most expensive city in the world for expatriates, displacing Luanda, Angola, which dropped to second place. Further, the top ten most expensive cities continue to be predominantly led by those located in Europe and Asia.

Following are the top 5 most expensive cities, globally, for 2012:
1 Tokyo, Japan
2 Luanda, Angola
3 Osaka, Japan
4 Moscow, Russia
5 Geneva, Switzerland

The top 5 most expensive cities, in the Middle East, for 2012 are:

1 Beirut, Lebanon
2 Abu Dhabi, UAE
3 Dubai, UAE
4 Amman, Jordan
5 Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

http://www.ameinfo.com/beirut-replac...ve-city-303508
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Old June 13th, 2012, 04:05 PM   #977
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Government must rein in public debt June 13, 2012 01:28 AM By Elias Sakr The Daily Star


BEIRUT: The Lebanese government should ratify a five-year strategic budgeting plan to lower the debt-to-GDP ratio or risk economic collapse, a top official in the industrial sector said Tuesday.

Nemat Frem, head of the Lebanese Industrialists Association, told The Daily Star that the government had to focus on cutting short the rising public debt in the 2012 draft budget.

“The government should work on two fronts: increase revenues to cut short the rising public debt and to boost growth to lower the GDP-to-debt ratio. Otherwise, it would speed up the country’s economic collapse,” he said when asked about the 2012 draft budget.

The Finance Ministry forecasts the GDP-to-debt ratio at 134.8 percent in 2012 based on a projected 3.5 percent growth compared to 135.1 percent in 2011based on a 5.2 percent GDP growth.

Economists have doubted the 2011 official growth figure, which significantly differs from figures released by the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and the Economist Intelligence Units that estimated Lebanon’s 2011 growth levels at around 1.5 percent.

While some economists have also doubted the 2012 projected 3.5 percent growth, Frem said such a growth rate could be achieved if the 2012 average oil price stands below $110.

The Institute of International Finance forecasts $114 average oil price in 2012.

While some argue that the negative impact of high oil prices on the Lebanese economy is offset by a flow of remittances from Lebanese expatriates in the Gulf, foreign direct investment and an increase in the number of Gulf visitors to Lebanon, Frem said public finances would be largely harmed.

As the price of oil in the international market moves up or down, the annual deficit of the state-run Electricite du Liban fluctuates.

The government has failed miserably to end or at least reduce the massive losses in the electricity sector, which stood close to $1.8 billion at the end of 2011.

Frem said the government should consider key reforms as part of a long-term strategic budgeting plan that starts with securing cheaper alternatives to fuel oil such as liquefied natural gas or coal.

Another top priority reform is the ratification of a Private Public Partnership law, according to Frem, who added that the government should provide incentives for foreign direct investments in a bid to create more than 25,000 needed job opportunities on an annual basis.

While members of the private sector voiced concerns over the government’s intent to raise taxes, Frem said a hike in VAT tax was acceptable but added that he was in favor of having it broken down into two categories comprising luxury products and basic items.

Frem said the government should improve its tax collection system and crackdown on smuggled products, which are valued at 10 to 20 percent of their real total value, rendering the collected VAT tax negligible.

The Finance Ministry’s 2012 budget draft includes a new 15-percent tax on profits made through real estate transactions and a 2-percent hike on both VAT and interest-revenue taxes.

Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh recently warned that any tax hikes should be coupled with structural reforms and development projects in partnership with the private sector to boost economic activity and offset inflation.
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Old June 13th, 2012, 04:07 PM   #978
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Noooo wayyy,Beirut ahead of Abu Dhabi???
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Old June 13th, 2012, 04:10 PM   #979
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Fuel prices continue to decline June 13, 2012 08:41 AM The Daily Star


BEIRUT: Gasoline prices continued their decline Wednesday, decreasing by LL700 from last week, according to the Energy and Water Ministry.

The price of 98-octane graded fuel is now LL33,900, while 95-octane graded fuel is LL33,200, as listed in the weekly price schedule.

Kerosene gas is now priced at LL27,600 down by LL800. Fuel oil also saw a drop of LL700, settling at LL25,400, and diesel is now sold at LL25,600 down from LL26,300.

All prices are per 20 liters.
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Old June 15th, 2012, 03:15 PM   #980
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Beirut becoming less affordable for expats
June 15, 2012 01:37 AM
By T.K. Maloy, Mohamad El Amin
The Daily Star



BEIRUT: In a new list of the most expensive cities for expatriates, Lebanon’s capital has outstripped Abu Dhabi as one of the least affordable metropolises in the Middle East region.

According to global consultant and investment adviser Mercer, in a report issued this week, Beirut has overtaken Abu Dhabi as an expensive expat city, while Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, still ranks as the least expensive city in the region.

“On the whole, most Middle Eastern cities have dropped in the ranking, mainly because price increases on goods and services have been more moderate here than in our benchmark city, New York. Slight decreases in expatriate accommodation costs were also observed in Abu Dhabi and Dubai,” said Nathalie Constantin-Métral, principal at Mercer.

Beirut is now the 67th most expensive city for expats in the world, up eight places. Abu Dhabi is at 76th, down nine places.

For American University of Beirut economist Jad Chaaban, Beirut’s combination of high-cost housing, food and energy render living in the city very expensive compared to the rest of the Middle East.

“The most important factor is the cost of housing. There is a very limited supply of rentable apartments in Beirut. Those available are big and very expensive apartments that target wealthy individuals,” he said.

“Expats demand small apartments that are between 60 and 80 square meters. Even when such an apartment is available, it would rarely cost less than $1,000 a month,” Chaaban added.

He pointed out that speculation on the real estate market contributes to inflating the cost of housing for expats and locals alike.

In addition to housing, he said the cost of food in Beirut is strikingly high compared to other areas in Lebanon, set aside other cities in the region. “The cost of groceries, for instance, is up to three times higher than any area outside the capital,” he highlighted.

Adding to living costs, Chaaban highlighted, is inflated energy cost.

In addition to individuals and businesses having to hire private generators to cover for electricity rationing, Lebanon’s obsolete public transportation renders the use of private cars necessary. “Given the high cost of gasoline and traffic jams, transportation is also a major expense,” he added.

M. P., a longtime American expat who asked that his full name not be used, echoed many of the AUB economist’s analyses.

“It’s the lack of renovated, affordable, middle-class housing. Lebanon’s cost of living is ruined by rent prices; Apartments in Beirut continue to rise in rent as Lebanese owners renovate or build only five-star-style luxury apartments. Or on the lower level, they’re renting apartments that haven’t seen any renovation since before the Civil War. As a result, you can pay $400 a month or $1,500 plus a month but there’s almost nothing in between,” he said.

Journalist and author Claude Salhani said that “inflation in Beirut is getting out of hand with prices sky-rocketing. Add to that the tourism scare brought about by Gulf Arabs advising their citizens not to remain in Lebanon – where visitors from the oil-rich states like to spend their summers and a few billion dollars on everything from renting luxurious apartments on Beirut’s waterfront, to fancy cars, restaurants, clubs and hotels – which will further impact the economy in a negative manner.”

He added with some invective: “Now top it off with the U.N. declaring the violence in Syria officially ‘a civil war’ and more tourists are likely to stay away.”

Mercer’s annual Cost of Living survey reported that Tokyo was the world’s most expensive city for expatriates, pushing Luanda, Angola, down to second position, with Osaka coming in as the world’s third most expensive city, up three places from last year.

Moscow remains in fourth place and Geneva in fifth. The Mercer report said Zurich and Singapore share sixth place, up one and two places respectively since 2011. Ndjamena, Chad, drops five places, but Hong Kong retains its ninth place.

Constantin-Métral, who is responsible for compiling the ranking each year, said: “Deploying expatriate employees is becoming an increasingly important aspect of multinational companies’ business strategy, including expansion. But with volatile markets and stunted economic growth in many parts of the world, a keen eye on cost efficiency is essential, including on expatriate remuneration packages.”

“Making sure salaries adequately reflect the difference in cost of living to the employee’s home country is important in order to attract and retain the right talent where companies need them.”

Constantin-Métral said the annual survey covers 214 cities across five continents and measures the comparative cost of over 200 items in each location, including transport, food, clothing, household goods and entertainment.

Often the cost of housing is the biggest expense for expatriates; it plays an important part in determining where cities are ranked, in the survey. New York is used as the benchmark city and all cities are compared against it. Currency movements are measured against the U.S. dollar.

According to the report Karachi is ranked as the world’s least expensive city for expatriates (214th), less than one-third as expensive as Tokyo.

The Cost of Living survey reported that recent world events, including economic and political upheavals, have affected the rankings for many regions through currency fluctuations, inflation and volatility in accommodation prices.
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