Middle East

Is This Really a Good Time to Invest in Lebanon?


A Syrian refugee builds a home from shipping pallets in northern Lebanon

Photograph by David Enders/MCT via Getty Images

A Syrian refugee builds a home from shipping pallets in northern Lebanon

Lebanon doesn’t leap to mind as a place to invest your hard-earned money, not with neighboring Syria embroiled in a civil war. “Chaotic influx of refugees to Lebanon stirs fears,” read a recent headline on this website. In December Lebanon’s national news agency reported that at least four people were killed and 43 wounded in clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli.

Nonetheless, about 80 people showed up today at Lebanon Capital Markets Day 2013 in New York to hear speakers laud Lebanon’s resilience and potential. One speaker even described Lebanon as “anti-fragile,” evoking the title of the best-selling new book by Lebanese-born author Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

The meeting was held in the splendor of the St. Regis Hotel’s Beaux Arts-style ballroom, with generous helpings of gilt, crystal chandeliers, and puffy pink clouds adorning the vaulted ceiling.

Joseph Torbey, president of the Association of Banks in Lebanon, lauded the strength of Lebanon’s banking system “despite all the turmoil that has beset our country in past decades.” Salim Zeenni, chairman of the American Lebanese Chamber of Commerce, said Lebanon “has emerged from the ashes over and over again.” Nicholas Nahas, the minister of economy and trade, who dropped the anti-fragile reference, said, “I hope I have touched your minds, your hearts, and consequently your funds’ availability.”

One good reason to invest in Lebanon is that eventually the Syrian civil war will end and at that point Lebanon would be a natural base for the rebuilding effort, Tony Ghorayeb, chairman of Beirut’s Levant Investment Bank, said in an interview outside the ballroom.

“There’s a lot of interest, but people are waiting on the sidelines to get involved,” David Grayson, the co-founder and managing director of Auerbach Grayson, the brokerage firm that organized the conference, said in an interview. Right now, he said, “they’re unsure of the political fallout.”

Coy_190
Coy is Bloomberg Businessweek's economics editor. His Twitter handle is @petercoy.

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