Businesses Live with Dollarization in Lebanon
Birches Group reports on what is happening in labor markets that are making headlines around the world, bringing you up to date on the news
Experiencing a financial and economic collapse that the World Bank ranks among the world’s worst since the 1850s has led to dollarization in Lebanon.
The country’s currency, the Lebanese Pound (LBP), has lost over 90% of its value since the crisis erupted in 2019. International Crisis Group reports that the plummeting LBP has caused havoc across the Lebanese economy. Salaries have melted in value. Hyperinflation has reached triple digits, immensely reducing purchasing power. According to the United Nations (UN), over 80% of the population lives in sudden, multidimensional poverty.
A highly volatile and dollarized market
Birches Group first observed signs of volatility in Lebanon in November 2022, when the country was listed in the Market Monitor report at Level 4 (of six). In mid-December, Lebanon’s level of volatility escalated to Level 5, indicating a wide prevailing practice to denominate salaries in United States Dollars (USD). (It should be noted that the significant exchange rate movement we have been seeing in Lebanon is most likely caused by the UN switching its source of exchange rates to one that better reflects local conditions.)
The LBP’s plunge has led to a de facto dollarization of the economy, says Arabian Gulf Business Insight. Some observers and economists believe dollarization would be a solution to the crisis and a way to secure monetary stability.
Dollarization is the process of replacing the domestic currency with a foreign one to serve the essential roles of money in the economy. This occurs when a country’s currency loses its usefulness as a medium of exchange due to hyperinflation or instability.
Businesses begin to dollarize
The decline in the LBP’s value has led to businesses pricing their items in USD, where customers pay the local currency based on the daily parallel market rate. In March 2023, shops and supermarkets began to price their products in USD. Other businesses have started charging for their goods and services—including rent, household items, clothing, gas, health insurance, and medical care in USD. Outside the public sector, employees are fully or partially paid in USD.
Why are organizations in Lebanon dollarizing?
Trust and confidence in the LBP have waned over the past three years due to many factors and recent events.
Currency devaluation. Since 1997, Banque Du Liban (Lebanon’s central bank) has set the exchange rate at 1,507.50 LBP to 1 USD. The rate remained unchanged for 25 years.
In February 2022, Banque De Liban revalued the official exchange rate to 15,000 LBP to 1 USD—a 90% devaluation from the longtime peg. Officials say the measure is a step towards stabilizing the LBP and eliminating the many exchange rates that have emerged in recent years. But the official exchange rate is well below the rate on the street, says Al-Monitor. According to parallel market rates on LiraRate.org, the LBP trades at 79,000 to 1 USD as of 6 March 2023.
ECA International foresees more devaluations of the official rate in months to come.
Presidential vacuum. Political paralysis has made matters worse for Lebanon. Since the end of October 2022, the country has been without a president. Its deeply divided Parliament has yet to elect a new head of state. This deadlock is unsustainable and paralyzes the government at all levels, says the International Support Group for Lebanon (ISG).
With only a caretaker government and limited authority, an economic plan with reforms required by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has yet to be devised. The ISG has urged leaders to immediately harmonize exchange and adopt the laws needed to restore investor confidence. Unifying exchange rates, including the parallel market rate used for most goods and services, is a precondition the IMF has set to secure a US$3-billion aid package.
Central bank governor under investigation. European investigators are currently probing the alleged state fraud and actions of Banque Du Liban governor Riad Salameh, who has held the post for three decades. Salameh is suspected of financial misconduct, including money laundering and embezzlement. In March 2023, Lebanese prosecutors charged Salameh, his brother, and an associate with forgery, illicit enrichment, and tax law violations.
How Birches Group can guide your organization
It’s not wrong to dollarize, but denominating salaries in US dollars requires careful thought. Remember that returning to the local currency is difficult once you’ve dollarized. Carefully consider how this process will affect your pay practices and staff.
Is your organization in Lebanon considering paying staff in US dollars? Get guidance on making such a big switch. Contact us today to learn how we can help you develop a Special Measures Policy that includes dollarization.
- 1 April Market Monitor