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Syrian Firms Seek $3.5 Bln in Loans, Bank Audi Says

Syrian companies will seek $3.5 billion in bank loans over the next two years to finance projects as the country relaxes rules on corporate lending, Bank Audi Syria SA Chief Executive Officer Bassel Hamwi said.

The companies will request loans for industrial, real estate and hotel projects, Hamwi said in an interview yesterday in Damascus. The bank, a unit of Banque Audi SAL of Lebanon, is now allocating about 75 percent of its loans to companies and 25 percent to individuals.

Syria is encouraging private businesses in its state-dominated economy as it seeks to make up for a decline in oil production. The country opened its first stock exchange in 2009 and in September announced a plan to attract as much as $55 billion in foreign direct investment over the next five years.

“Lending from local banks is available,” said Hamwi. “What we need is concerted efforts between investors, the government and the legislators to ease the lending process.”

The Credit and Monetary Council, which regulates the banking industry, plans more measures this year to support lending to companies, especially to small enterprises, Central Bank Governor Adib Mayaleh told a press conference yesterday.

Bank Audi Syria has arranged two syndicated loans with other lenders since starting operations in 2005, a seven-year $340 million facility to Lafarge SA’s Syrian Cement Co. in 2009 and a $77 million loan announced yesterday to part-finance the construction of a hotel near Damascus, owned by Bena Properties, the real estate arm of Cham Holding.

Bena is building four hotels in Syria, with the first two to open next year, according to its website.

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