Lebanon’s economy is in crisis. GDP contraction could top 20 percent in 2020, the local currency has lost more than 60 percent of its value on secondary exchange markets, and most banks are dollar insolvent. Since October 2019, Lebanon’s financial sector imposed ad hoc capital controls, preventing most Lebanese from transferring any money overseas or withdrawing dollars from their bank accounts, despite the fact that 75 percent of accounts in Lebanese banks are denominated in dollars. On March 7, 2020, Lebanon announced it would default on and restructure its nearly USD 31 billion in dollar-denominated debt, the first such default in Lebanon’s history. On April 30, the government published an economic plan with a focus on restructuring its financial sector and attracting foreign assistance; the next day Lebanon signed an official request for IMF assistance. Most analysts assess that Lebanon’s near- and medium-term economic future is bleak, with likely fiscal austerity, continuing capital controls, further devaluation, and a potential loss of value applied to wealthy accountholders to recapitalize the banking sector. The Minister of Finance in May said Lebanon needs USD 28 billion in financial assistance over the next four years. The World Bank projected that the poverty rate will reach 40-50 percent by the end of this year.
These developments hold consequences for Lebanon’s potential as a destination for foreign investment. Much depends on how Lebanon implements overdue economic and governance reforms, including in connection with its negotiation and implementation of a potential IMF program. If the country is able to implement necessary reforms, attract foreign capital, stabilize the exchange rate, and recapitalize its financial sector, opportunities remain for U.S. companies. To date, Lebanon has the legal underpinnings of a free-market economy, a highly-educated labor force, and limited restrictions on investors. The most alluring sector is the energy sector, particularly for power production, renewable energies, and oil and gas exploration, though challenges remain with corruption and a lack of transparency. Information and communication technology, healthcare, safety and security, waste management, and franchising have historically attracted U.S. investments. However, corruption and a lack of transparency have continued to cause frustration among local and foreign businesses. Other concerns include over-regulation, arbitrary licensing, outdated legislation, ineffectual courts, high taxes and fees, poor economic infrastructure, and a fragmented and opaque tendering and procurement processes. Social unrest driven by a decline in public services and growing food insecurity may further hamper the investment climate.
If Lebanon is able to reform its business environment – a likely condition as part of an overarching IMF program – it may one day regain its role as a hub for foreign investment in the Middle East. Lebanon’s economic crisis is likely to be long and painful, however, and recovery can only be accelerated through quick but careful implementation of reforms.
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2019||137 of 180||http://www.transparency.org/
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report||2019||143 of 190||http://www.doingbusiness.org/
|Global Innovation Index||2019||88 of 129||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions)||2019||$407 million|| https://apps.bea.gov/international/
|World Bank GNI per capita||2019||$7,600||http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/