SHARM AL-SHEIKH, Egypt (Reuters) – Egypt’s biggest lender, the state-owned National Bank of Egypt, provided more than $2.5 billion to cover import payments in the last three months as the country faces a currency crisis, Chairman Hisham Okasha told Reuters in an interview.
Egypt, which depends heavily on imports, has been suffering from a worsening dollar crunch since a 2011 uprising drove away foreign investors and tourists, both major sources of hard currency.
In its latest effort to curb dollar spending on imports, Egypt announced on Sunday it would raise tariff rates on a series of goods from Feb. 1.
“During November, December and January we opened letters of credit worth more than $2.5 billion to meet import payments,” Okasha told Reuters on the sidelines of a banking conference in Sharm al-Sheikh.
In December, the central bank said it sold $7.6 billion in previous weeks to help importers pay for goods. It was not clear whether NBE’s dollar injection was part of the central bank’s $7.6 billion.
No comparative figures for letters of credit opened were immediately available as banks are not required to disclose them.
The central bank has been keeping the pound artificially strong at 7.7301 pounds to the dollar, burning through its reserves which tumbled to around $16.4 billion in December from $36 billion in 2011.
In order to fight a black market the central bank imposed a cap of $50,000 a month on dollar deposits at banks, making it harder for importers to open letters of credit and clear cargoes.
It later raised the cap to $250,000 but only on specific imports of essential goods, capital machinery and manufacturing components and medicines.
Okasha also said his bank aims to increase its deposits and loans portfolio by around 15 percent by the end of 2015/16.
The bank’s loans portfolio was around 140 billion pounds in June 2015, while deposits were 447 billion pounds.
“Deposits reached more than 485 billion pounds by the end of December 2015 while loans reached around 178 billion pounds,” Okasha said.
(Reporting by Ehab Farouk; Writing by Asma Alsharif; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)