EIRUT: Lebanon’s gold reserve is considered the largest reserve in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and is ranked 15th globally, according to the World Gold Council.
Lebanon’s gold reserves totaled $9.2 billion at the end of 2009, ranking it in 15th place globally and in first place among 14 countries in MENA, as reported by Lebanon This Week, the economic publication of the Byblos Bank Group.
Lebanon accounted for 1.1 percent of the world’s total gold reserves, excluding gold held by the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank. It also accounted for 29.2 percent of the MENA region’s total gold reserves.
Globally, Lebanon ranked ahead of Spain with $9 billion, Austria with $8.9 billion and Belgium with $7.3 billion, and came behind the UK with $9.9 billion, Venezuela with $11.4 billion and India with $11.5 billion. Regionally, Libya followed Lebanon distantly with $4.6 billion as the second-largest holder of gold reserves among MENA countries. The US is the largest holder of gold reserves worldwide with $260.4 billion, followed by Germany with $109 billion as at end-September 2009.
In parallel, Lebanon’s total gold reserves were equivalent to 28.1 percent of GDP as at end-September 2009, ranking it in first place among 105 countries worldwide. It came significantly ahead of the Netherlands Antilles with total reserves of 9.8 percent of GDP, Libya with 7.6 percent of GDP and Switzerland with 6.9 percent of GDP. Lebanon’s gold holdings reached 26.7 percent of its total reserves compared to 9.8 percent for all countries, and 54.8 percent for Eurozone economies. It ranked in 15th place globally in this category, ahead of Belarus with 22.4 percent and Pakistan with 15 percent, and behind Switzerland with 28 percent and Belgium with 30.9 percent.
The Central Bank uses the gold reserve as a buffer zone against unforeseeable financial crisis and to support the Lebanese pound against any depreciation in value.
In principle, Parliament has sole authority to liquidate the gold reserve or use it as collateral to tap local and international markets for new soft loans.
But all experts rule out the possibility of liquidating the gold reserve and stress that the government and the Central Bank prefer to keep the reserve in the coffers.
Half of the gold reserves are in Fort Knox and the rest in the Central Bank.
Central Bank governor Riad Salameh said earlier that Central Bank foreign currency reserves also reached a record $28.6 billion in 2009, without counting the gold reserves estimated at more than $10 billion.
Salameh said “2009 was a good year, and the balance of payments recorded a historic surplus of $7.8 billion thanks to transfers which rose 10 percent from 2008 and accounted for $7 billion.”