Lebanese banks hit by unrest in Syria

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Lebanese banks' operations in neighboring Syria have lost a combined $400 million during the 20-month-old conflict there, Lebanon's central bank chief Riad Salameh told Reuters on Friday.

He gave no breakdown for individual lenders, but Audi Bank said last month it had seen its asset base in Syria shrink by two-thirds since the start of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. Overall, however, the Lebanese bank posted a 14 percent rise in nine-month net profit to $309 million.

Salameh said that the government is also planning to exchange $1.5 billion of Eurobond debt when it matures in 2013, and he said that a public share offering for the Beirut stock exchange would be ready in "one or two years."

In September, the International Monetary Fund blamed weak government policies for a slowdown in investment in Lebanon, though many economists also cite the Syrian conflict as a factor.

Salameh said Lebanon's economy is expected to grow by 2 percent this year, marking a sharp slowdown from last year. The government says the economy grew 5.2 percent in 2011 but economists are skeptical.

The central bank chief declined to estimate a growth figure for 2013 but said that new loan facilities would be available. He said: "We want to prop up growth in 2013 as the situation in all the Arab World is not really growing."
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