Investment bank HSBC said that Lebanon has shown much greater economic resilience than its non-oil producing neighbors. “In fact, Lebanese consumers, accustomed to political instabilities, were somewhat maintaining the economy afloat during 2011. Accordingly, total imports increased by a yearly 12 percent in 2011,” HSBC said. The report was carried by Bank Audi’s Lebanon Weekly Monitor. It indicated that clearing activity provided further evidence of a sustained consumption pattern, as it witnessed a modest recovery during the second half of the year with the value of clear checks depicting a yearly increase of 15 percent in December 2011. “With regards to the banking sector, its performance has also surpassed that of neighboring oil-importing countries. Deposits rose by 9 percent during 2011, equivalent to 25 percent of GDP on the back of sustained strong inflows from overseas, reflecting a preserved faith in the stability of local banks albeit [in] the unstable regional environment,” HSBC said. As for credit facilities, their growth rate slowed down in 2011 and was identified by HSBC as the lowest since September 2009, it added. Yet the bank noted that the increase in loans is outpacing inflation, which remained under control in 2011. Also, the growth rate of claims in Lebanese pounds, at 24 percent, remains much higher than that of claims in foreign currencies. HSBC added that the willingness of the large expatriate population to place funds on deposit with local banks has also continued to enhance Lebanon’s overall external account position. Lebanon was the only MENA oil importer to increase its reserve holdings in 2011, with the Banque du Liban bolstering its foreign reserves (ex-gold) by another $2.2 billion to reach $30.8 billion, or the equivalent of 18.5 months of goods imports. While the Lebanese economy’s reaction to the Arab Spring remained more subdued, the widespread regional unrest, coupled with the fall of the government in January 2011 has set back economic performance. Besides the drop in the number of incoming tourists, foreign direct investment inflows are another casualty of the unrest. The latter is mainly reflected by a downturn in industrial imports and the poor performance of the stock market (down by 20 percent in 2011). Also, the balance of payments posted a deficit of $ 2.0 billion in 2011, the first since 2001. This was caused by the inability of financial inflows to offset the loss in service export revenues and a gaping trade deficit in 2011. The real estate sector has also lost pace in 2011 subsequent to a strong four-year run. Data is indeed pointing to flat prices and a marked softening of current and planned construction activity. All in all, the Central Bank’s coincident indicator, a composite indicator of economic activity, flattened in 2011. HSBC also said public finances remain a weakness.