. . . for a change, I might add, coming from Lebanon.
Lebanon central bank chief got it right
Riad Toufic Salame bucked pressure in 2005 and kept Lebanese banks from investing in mortgage-backed securities. Now the sector is prospering amid the global downturn.
In 2005, he defied pressure from the Lebanese business community and bucked international trends to issue what now looks like a prophetic decree: a blanket order barring any bank in his country from investing in mortgage-backed securities, which contributed to the most dramatic collapse of financial institutions since the Great Depression. So as major banks in America and Europe were shuttered or partly nationalized and thousands of people in the U.S. financial sector were laid off, Lebanon's banks had one of their best years ever.
Billions in cash continue to pour in to the relative safety of Lebanese savings accounts, with comfy but not extravagant yields of 6%. A nation shunned for years as the quintessential failed state has become a pretty safe bet, or as safe a bet as investors are likely to find in this climate.
In a country known for windbag politicians prone to soaring oratory, Salame favors mundane technical facts as he describes the effort of growing Lebanon's banking sector from $7 billion in assets in the early 1990s to $91 billion today.