Lebanese investors choose beer over banks

Exports are where it's at for many Lebanese investors, with the country's financial system warped by crisis.

And alcohol exporters are a popular choice. Like 961, a Lebanese craft-beer brewer, which is seeing a boom in investment.

Savers are largely locked out of their dollar-deposit accounts. So financing exporters and manufacturers is seen as a way of getting hold of hard cash.

961's chief executive, Kamal Fayad, says the banks come knocking on his door, these days.

"Four years ago I would speak with banks, institutional even private, they would even not answer me, they put their money in the bank and they would get like between 8 and 12% interest on their money in the bank, today they are all calling me and asking me, even, if I want more money because I want to take out their money in the bank. So the difference is huge between four years ago, nobody was even listening to me and today where they are asking me how much do I want."

Andre Malak co-founded The Three Brothers gin-makers, and is finding the same thing.

His firm has seen a 30% jump in outside investment during the crisis.

The thing is, depositors can still write cheques on their U.S. dollar-denominated accounts, but those cheques cannot be used abroad, and if sold at local exchanges they lose at least 75% of their value.

But by investing locally, people can unlock their so-called "lollars" - the local nickname for dollars trapped in Lebanon's banks.

"We're seeing a new situation now, where investors want to withdraw their 'lollars' and put them in our company so they can take them back in cash, especially since we've expanded our exports. The number has increased by a big percentage."

Trust in Lebanon's banks, once seen as a pillar of stability, has evaporated since the government defaulted on its debt last year.

Bank branches, barricaded with metal plates, have become a target for protests.

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