Banque du Liban (Arabic: مصرف لبنان; English: Bank of Lebanon) is the central bank of Lebanon. It was established on August 1, 1963, and became fully operational on April 1, 1964. It has been headed by Wassim Mansouri since 2023.
One of the main responsibilities of the bank is issuing Lebanon’s currency, the Lebanese Pound. Other responsibilities include maintaining monetary stability, regulation of money transfers, and maintaining the soundness of the banking sector. Banking is a very important part of Lebanon’s economy with over 100 different banks, which makes the role of BdL particularly important. It currently owns 99.37% of the shares of Lebanon’s national carrier, Middle East Airlines. The BdL is also the dominant shareholder of the Intra Investment Company (IIC) which in turn owns 53% of Casino du Liban, making it the only central bank worldwide to rule over a Las Vegas-style gambling casino.
Ottoman domination of Lebanon, which lasted for more than four centuries, was brought to an end on October 6, 1918, with the entry of the Levant Marine Division into Beirut. The paper money issued by the Turkish Treasury, with a forced exchange rate, suffered the same fate.
In order to normalize economic life in the occupied territories and cover the expenses of the allied forces, British authorities imposed the banknotes of the National Bank of Egypt, the Egyptian currency having been, since October 30, 1916, closely linked to sterling and entirely covered by securities issued in sterling.
In accordance with the convention signed between the French and the British governments on September 15, 1919, a new occupying authority started to rule Lebanon. French troops replaced the British, under the command of General Gouraud, who was appointed on October 12, 1919, as “High-Commissioner of the French Republic in Syria and Cilicia, and Commander-in-Chief of the Levant Army”. Consequently, the use of the Egyptian currency, suitable for the British Treasury, became inappropriate. To obtain Egyptian pounds, France, being the sole occupying power, had to offer increasing amounts of francs.
During World War I, the French franc had maintained its status thanks to advances from the British and American treasuries. However, in 1919, the French franc registered a drop because of the British government’s decision to stop these advances, thus breaking the alliance between the franc, sterling and the dollar, and also because of the United States Government‘s decision to suspend its regulating role of the associated change rates. In order to replace the Egyptian pound, the French government decided, by Decree N° 129 issued by the High Commissioner on March 13, 1920, to endow Syria with a national currency.
On September 1, 1920, the representative of France proclaimed Great Lebanon. In 1920, the Banque de Syrie et Liban (“Bank of Syria and of Lebanon”), which had been created for that purpose by the French-controlled Ottoman Bank, was granted the concession of issuing the Syrian-Lebanese currency, which became legal tender on May 1, 1920. Banknotes issued by this bank were reimbursable to the bearer or at sight by checks drawn on Paris, at the rate of FF 20 for £S 1 .
As a consequence, an independent, currency-issuing department was established at the Banque de Syrie et Liban. It was responsible for putting in circulation and withdrawing banknotes. Issuances were made either on behalf of the Treasury in Paris or on behalf of the Bank itself.
Concerning commercial operations, the Issuing Department was to provide the Banque de Syrie with banknotes only in exchange of foreign currencies or foreign securities, which constituted, together with the credits granted by the Treasury in Paris, the coverage of the currency in circulation. The Banque de Syrie et du Liban‘s Issuing Department would later form the basis for the establishment of the Banque du Liban.
Role and function
The Banque du Liban was established by the Code of Money and Credit promulgated on 1 August 1963, by decree no. 13513. It started to operate effectively on 1 April 1964. BDL is a legal public entity enjoying financial and administrative autonomy. It is not subject to the administrative and management rules and controls applicable to the public sector. Its capital is totally appropriated by the State.
A favorable environment has characterized the Lebanese economy in 2003. Lebanon is maintaining its commitment to exchange rate stability and to the soundness of its banking sector, in addition to implementing an ambitious fiscal adjustment program.
Confidence was boosted by the successful outcome of Paris-II conference, held in November 2002 with the participation of a number of countries and international organizations. An aggregate amount of US$4.3 billion was pledged in 15-year loans at reduced rates to support the government’s economic reform plan for lowering the servicing cost of public debt, which accumulated over the years due to costly reconstruction efforts.
These developments led to a significant drop in TBs’ interest rates, followed by a cut in commercial banks’ average deposit and lending rates in Lebanese pound (LBP) and in foreign currencies. In parallel, USD holdings were being converted on a wide scale into LBP holdings. Moreover, the BOP performance, which started to improve in May 2002, remained on the same trend, with cumulative surpluses exceeding $2 billion at end-April 2003, while BDL assets in foreign currencies stood at more than $10 billion, excluding gold.
In the last few months, a strong demand emerged on Lebanese government paper in local and foreign currencies, due to increased confidence, reinforced in April by the Government’s ability to pay from the Treasury a maturing $500 million Eurobond issue, without resorting to rollover as in the past. This was accompanied by a positive assessment by the IMF and major international rating agencies, which considered that Lebanon is on the right track in trying to end its economic and financial difficulties, and that its performance in coping with the aftermath of the war in Iraq is the best in the region.
In the banking sector, equity capital continued to increase, reaching $3.5 billion at end-April, and pushing the average capital adequacy ratio to 18%. Despite their modest growth, private sector loans attained 100% of GDP, a unique performance in itself. Deposits grew at an annual 11% rate, reaching $47 billion at end-April – more than double the GDP – with a dollarization rate dropping to 68%, from a 74% peak in May 2002. This excellent performance was buttressed by the BDL’s efforts to strengthen prudential supervision, paving the way for compliance with Basle-II requirements by a sound banking sector, ready to better manage operational risks, and to improve transparency and good governance.
The government’s commitment to decelerate the growth of public debt and to reduce its servicing cost was reflected in the conservative budgets of 2002 and 2003. Coupled with measures to achieve the highest possible proceeds from privatization and securitization, this strategy will be pursued over the medium term, expectedly leading to a public finance recovery.
The government has recently launched an ambitious 5-year economic reform program in hopes to cut the country’s debt. The outcome of the reform program will largely be dependent on Banque du Liban.
The Banque du Liban is managed by the Governor who is assisted by four vice-governors, as well as by the Central Council. By convention, the Governor of the Banque du Liban is always a Maronite Christian.
The Banque du Liban is managed by the Governor assisted by four vice-governors and the Central Council. The Governor is the legal representative of the Banque du Liban and has extensive authority over the management of the bank. He is entrusted with the enforcement of the Code of Money and Credit and the implementation of the Central Council’s resolutions. Upon the proposal of the Minister of Finance, the Governor is appointed by decree sanctioned by the Council of Ministers, for a renewable six-year term. After the consultation with the Governor and upon the proposal of the Minister of Finance, the vice-governors are appointed by decree sanctioned by the Council of Ministers for a renewable five-year term. They assist the Governor in managing the bank, carrying out functions specified by the Governor, In addition, they assume their duties as members of the Central Council.