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Egypt’s central bank saviour faces tricky balancing act

Comments (0) Business, Latest Updates from Reuters, Middle East

CAIRO (Reuters) – From bankers to carmakers, Egypt’s business community will breathe easier when Tarek Amer takes charge at the central bank on Friday, with hopes high he will revamp a monetary policy that has undermined investment and growth.

Announced last month, the leadership change unleashed anger against outgoing governor Hisham Ramez, who capped dollar deposits at $50,000 a month, starving businesses of hard currency and paralysing trade as he sought to defend the country’s pound.

Amer, the well regarded former head of commercial lender National Bank of Egypt (NBE), has already been working hard behind the scenes to inject fresh funds into a sclerotic financial system, and he is widely expected to lift the cap.

But with inflation high and the pound propped up by unsustainable central bank dollar sales, he will also need to tread a fine line between allowing the currency to settle lower while avoiding the sharp devaluation that would worsen the imbalances he is trying to correct.

“There is a belief that Tarek Amer will cancel the cap on dollar deposits at banks,” said an under-the-counter currency trader. “There is an optimistic atmosphere among clients of exchange companies and in the parallel market.”

Black market traders, bankers and businesspeople also expect Amer to work with the government to dampen demand for dollars by regulating imports and supporting exports — a source of hard currency battered by the capital controls.

Egypt’s economy has struggled since the 2011 uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule drove away investors and tourists, robbing it of foreign currency and putting the pound under severe pressure.

Fearing runaway inflation, the central bank has maintained the pound within a narrow band, but pressure has persisted.

In February, Ramez imposed the deposit caps and forced banks to prioritise food and medicine when supplying scarce dollars.

But the measures made it hard for companies to get credit to pay for imports and, as goods mouldered at ports and some factories stopped production, exports slumped by 19 percent in the first nine months.

To the business community’s relief, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced in October that Ramez would not renew his term as governor when it expired on Nov. 26.

“As long as in the central bank of Egypt there are people who are managing wisely… you should never have a foreign exchange crunch,” Raouf Ghabbour, chief executive of GB Auto, told Reuters in a recent interview.

As well as cancelling Ramez’s preventative measures, Amer should also raise interest rates, he said.


A veteran banker credited with reviving state-owned NBE, Amer began meeting with captains of industry in October.

Within two weeks, banks had supplied $1.8 billion to clear the import backlog. [ID:nL8N12Y3D0]

The following week, state banks raised interest rates on certificates of deposit to 12.5 percent from about 10 percent aiming, economists said, to limit dollarisation ahead of a potential devaluation.

Amer’s next move came on Nov. 11, when the central bank strengthened the pound by 20 piastres and supplied $1 billion to banks to cover 25 percent of dollar overdrafts they had opened for companies.

Some economists criticised the revaluation but others said it was aimed at shaking out speculators making downward bets on the pound, with a view to eventually allowing a downward drift.

Mohammed al-Naggar, head of research El Marwa Brokerage, said he believed Amer could strengthen the pound again.

“The market expects the central bank to increase the value of the pound by 10 piastres in the first (dollar) auction under Tarek Amer,” he told Reuters. “There are expectations for a big surprise.”

Expectations of change received a boost on Thursday, when Farouk al-Okda was appointed to a central bank committee of government ministers and economic experts tasked with setting the monetary agenda.

Okda, who led the central bank from 2003-2013, was credited with helping stabilise the pound within a managed floating exchange rate, and helping establish an interbank foreign exchange market that helped curtail the black market.

The revival of the central bank’s coordination council has raised hopes of greater collaboration between the central bank and the government –neglected under Ramez.

“The central bank is semi-independent but in these circumstances it will have to work hand in glove with the (government)… to come up with solutions,” said Angus Blair, chairman of Signet Institute, an economic think tank.


While an eventual devaluation looks unavoidable, turning around Egypt’s monetary policy will be a tricky balancing act.

An emerging market rout has left the pound overvalued, despite a depreciation of about 10 percent this year. Yet a sharp devaluation would stoke inflation in an import-reliant country where millions live hand to mouth, fuelling the kind of street protests that helped unseat two presidents in three years.

The government announced this week it would control the prices of 10 essential commodities — a move some read as an effort to protect vulnerable Egyptians from inflation unleashed by an eventual devaluation.

In the meantime, reforms to address the ballooning trade deficit could strengthen the economy ahead of any shocks.

Egyptian Federation of Industries head Mohamed El Sewedy told Reuters recently he expected the government to implement an indicative pricing mechanism for imports before the end of the year, curtailing the common practice of avoiding customs duties by undervaluing imports on bills.

“If I regulate trade, the appetite for dollars … will become more orderly,” said El Sewedy, adding that Amer had promised to cover the remaining $3 billion of banks’ credit exposure.

Egypt’s benchmark overnight lending rates are already high at 9.75 percent, but with foreign reserves languishing at $16.4 billion – enough for just three months of imports – economists believe borrowing costs will have to rise further to avert inflation and dollarisation. The victim of high rates could be much-needed growth.

“It’s a lot to do for a new central bank governor,” said Blair. “I don’t envy him but it is a great shame he wasn’t appointed earlier.”


(By Lin Noueihed. Additional reporting by Nadia El Gowely and Ehab Farouk; editing by John Stonestreet)

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Egypt to procure poultry locally following industry pressure

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CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt will stick with buying its poultry domestically, turning its back completely on international tenders and bowing to pressure from its local producers, traders said on Monday.

The ministry of supplies said it will sign a protocol on Tuesday with the Egyptian Poultry Association to supply chicken at government cooperatives, just two weeks after holding its first-ever international tender for poultry.

Earlier this month the ministry said that Egypt’s state buyer, the General Authority for Supply Commodities (GASC) would import a broader array of essential items, including poultry and meat, in order to counter rising prices.

Egypt’s urban consumer inflation jumped to 9.7 percent in October on the back of rising food prices. Earlier in the month President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said the government would take action to counter price increases.

GASC’s decision to tender for poultry upset local industry, which then offered to match the prices offered by companies that had submitted bids in the tender, one trader said.

Egypt’s local press reported last week that an offer from a U.S. company had been accepted to supply 500 tonnes of poultry, but GASC has yet to announce details of the deal, leading many traders to believe it would be canceled.

The decision to instead procure poultry locally raises questions over whether the importing body will be able to expand its mandate without running into fierce resistance from local industries that employ thousands of workers.

The ministry of supplies declined to comment.


(Reporting by Eric Knecht and Maha El Dahan, editing by William Hardy)

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Egyptian shareholder in “constructive” talks with Adidas

Comments (0) Business, Latest Updates from Reuters, Middle East

BERLIN (Reuters) – Egyptian tycoon Nassef Sawiris, who controls 6 percent of the voting rights in Adidas, says he wants a constructive relationship with the German sportswear company.

Sawiris, whose NNS Holding fund has a 1.7 percent direct stake in Adidas, has also accumulated an additional 4.3 percent of the company’s voting rights due to “put” options he has bought that should allow him to acquire further shares.

Asked about his intentions for the investment, Sawiris told Reuters by telephone he was “interested in a constructive dialogue” with the company.

Adidas Chief Executive Herbert Hainer said last week the company had quite an “intense dialogue” with most of its key shareholders. Asked about Sawiris, he said: “Everybody is welcome and if somebody can help us we are open to listen.”

Earlier this year, Belgium’s richest man Albert Frere, who together with Sawiris was a major shareholder in French cement company Lafarge before its merger with Swiss rival Holcim, acquired a 3 percent stake in Adidas.

They have made these investments as Adidas is looking for a successor to long-serving Hainer, who came under fire last year after the company lost more market share to Nike and suffered from falling golf sales and its exposure to Russia.

Adidas shares have risen 18 percent in the last three months, compared to a 6 percent fall in the German blue-chip index. J.P. Morgan analysts said the rise could partly be explained by the stock building of Sawiris.

In May, Hainer said he had hired advisers to help fend off any potential hostile takeover bid, although he said back then Adidas had not been approached by activist investors seeking to build a stake.

Adidas said in August it was considering the possible sale of its golf brands, as demanded by some investors, but Hainer has rejected selling fitness brand Reebok, saying the long-struggling business he bought in 2005 is now on the mend.

Adidas shares jumped last week to their highest level since January 2014 after the company reported better-than-expected third-quarter results, raised its full-year guidance for sales and profits and gave an upbeat outlook for 2016.


(Reporting by Emma Thomasson and Joern Poltz; Editing by Arno Schuetze and Jane Merriman, Reuters)

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Siemens could expand Egypt power deal, says CEO

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FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Siemens could win an expansion of its record 8 billion euro ($8.8 billion) power deal with Egypt, the German industrial group’s chief executive said in a staff newsletter.

Joe Kaeser said Egypt, whose state-run electricity grid is creaking under the weight of fast-growing demand, needed extra capacity before the start of the hot summer months – faster than Siemens could build new turbines under the existing deal.

“We had to come up with a good plan as to how we could help – and this plan pleased the president,” Kaeser said after a trip to Egypt during which he met President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

“We have a handshake on which we can build,” he added in the interview with Siemens Welt seen by Reuters on Friday.

The extra capacity would be 800 megawatts, which would be produced by upgrading existing power stations and putting into place decentralised power-generation units, Kaeser said. He did not say how much the deal could be worth.

The 8 billion-euro deal signed in June was for 16.4 gigawatts and is designed to boost Egypt’s power-generation capacity by 50 percent after going online in 2017.


(Reporting by Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Mark Potter, Reuters)


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Egypt’s GB Auto says output resumes after 20-day stoppage

Comments (0) Business, Latest Updates from Reuters, Middle East

CAIRO (Reuters) – Egyptian auto distributor GB Auto said on Thursday that production at some of its factories was halted for 20 days during September and October due to delays in supplies but is now back on track.

“GB Auto factories faced some turbulence in production during September and October due to delays of production input shipments which have led to the halting of production at some factories for 20 days,” the firm said in a bourse statement.

GB Auto said factories were now functioning in a “regular manner” due to the availability of production material.

Egypt is facing a currency shortage which is affecting the ability of businesses to import products.

GB Auto, Egypt’s largest listed auto assembler and distributor and the country’s distributor of tuk-tuks and motorbikes made by India’s Bajaj, has been affected by the currency crisis like many other companies in the country.

In August, the firm posted a 65 percent drop in its second-quarter net profit and said the currency shortage has depleted its inventory of some key models.

GB Auto made 22.4 million Egyptian pounds ($2.79 million) in the second quarter compared with 63.6 million in the same period a year earlier. [nL5N10L2EX]

(Reporting by Asma Alsharif, editing by David Evans, Reuters)


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EgyptAir to launch 10-year restructuring plan

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DUBAI (Reuters) – EgyptAir, the state-owned flag carrier, is in final stages of launching an overhaul and expansion plan that will reverse its downturn and propel it towards growth, its chairman said on Tuesday.

“We’re developing a 10-year restructuring plan, which should be finalised by mid-December,” Sherif Fathi Attia, chairman and chief executive of EgyptAir Holding told Reuters on the sidelines of an industry conference in Abu Dhabi. Attia is optimistic the plan will get government approval.

The plan includes a network and fleet expansion and Attia said the airline could place aircraft orders in the first quarter of 2016. He said wide-body aircraft would account for 20 to 30 percent of its total order.

The airline has struggled to make a profit, facing setbacks during the 2008 financial crisis, which was followed by the turmoil after the overthrow of then-president Hosni Mubarak.

EgyptAir reported an annual loss of 2.20 million Egyptian pounds at the end of June 2011, the last results the group published since the revolution.

The turnaround project, that could see changes in middle-management, aims for profitability at the end of the current fiscal year.

Attia ruled out initial public offering for the company, which had previously been under consideration.

EgyptAir is part of a group of seven companies which includes EgyptAir Cargo. It currently has a fleet of about 66 aircraft and flies to about 162 countries.

(By By Nadia Saleem, Reuters)

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Egyptian Parliamentary Elections: The Path to Prosperity?

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This week, more than 27 million Egyptians in 14 of the country’s 27 provinces began voting in the first round of long-delayed elections to choose a new parliament. The country has been without one since Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court dissolved the People’s Assembly in 2012, a body which was dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. In place, current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi – former head of the Egyptian Armed Forces who helped oust the Brotherhood’s President Mohamed Morsi in 2013 – has held all legislative powers, ever since he was overwhelmingly elected in 2014 with 96.6% of the vote.

But where Sisi has hailed this election a milestone in the country’s path to prosperity, and the final stage in the country’s three-step transition to stability (step one being the vote on a new constitution, step two, the election that made him president), Egyptian voters appear less interested and critics have called it a sham.

Low turnout in the first round of Egyptian parliamentary elections

Turnout has been low. On Wednesday, the head of the Electoral Commission reported that voter participation was 26.56%, even after the government declared a half-day holiday on Monday to encourage more to vote. Reuters put that figure at 10% on Sunday.

Egypt’s foreign ministry spokesman has strongly rebuffed claims that the low turnout represents a failed political environment. He insists the country is moving toward stability. “Anyone with a basic knowledge of Egypt’s political landscape should know that this year’s parliamentary elections are subject to many complex factors,” he said, citing, for example, Egypt’s continuing development of stable political opposition parties.

But whether low turnout can be called evidence of voter fatigue (Egyptians have voted seven times since the removal of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011), or disenchantment (most of the more than 5,000 candidates are perceived to support Sisi who has cracked-down on opposition groups and extremism), it seems that Sisi is losing some of his cult-like adoration.

What will the new parliament look like?

Held under heavy security – reportedly 185,000 soldiers and 180,000 police were deployed as a result of ISIS militant attacks over the past year -, this is the first phase of a two phase vote to select 596 MPs. The second round is set for November. 448 will be voted in as independents, 120 on party lists, and 28 as presidential appointees. There are quotas for women, Christians, youth, farmers, workers, and Egyptians abroad.

The independents list – which will form 75% of the assembly – tends to favor wealthy, well-connected, pro-government candidates. And the liberal, pro-market Free Egyptians Party, founded by telecoms tycoon Naguib Sawiris, who famously offered to buy an island for people fleeing Syria, has already seen 65 of its candidates qualify for the runoffs in 51 constituencies. Pro-Sisi coalition, For the Love of Egypt, an alliance of businessmen, politicians, and former NDP members, is also doing well, having secured all 60 party seats on offer in this first round.

Slow signs of reform

Many of these businessmen – who strongly supported Sisi’s rise to power – believe he can deliver the stability needed, and open up investment opportunities. But relations are also strained.

On election, Sisi – widely seen as a friend of economic reform – promised a rebalancing of government finances, a reduction of state debt and energy subsidies, reforms of the investment environment, a broadened tax base, the introduction of a value-added tax, labor reforms, and more. It is a commitment he repeated at the World Economic Forum in Davos, stating his intent to remove obstacles to private-sector development and resolve disputes between investors and the government.

But evidence of actual significant reform is slow. And in a country where half the population is under 25, average per capita yearly income growth has sat at around 2% since 1980. Unemployment has increased to 12.7%. Inflation is just under 10%. The economy is only projected to grow 5% in 2015-2016 (roughly the same as in 2009-2010 under Mubarak). And the main stock index is down 23% this year, more than twice the decline of the MSCI Emerging Market Index.

Sisi has focused his efforts on using the military (his preferred approach to achieving stability) to oversee huge infrastructure projects, such as the expansion of the Suez Canal area. Many think this strategy does little for long-term economic growth and reveals a suspicion of the private sector.

Courting foreign investment

Courting foreign investment should be essential for Sisi, if he is to fulfil his promises. Foreign direct investment is currently at $6.4 billion (year ending June 2015), compared with an average of almost $10 billion in the four years preceding 2011. Government debts to foreign oil and gas companies – who provide the essential fuel for industry and power stations – have grown to $5.7 billion, so many of them have pulled back or exited altogether. And the foreigners who once held around $10 billion of domestic bonds have left, and not yet returned.

But there are positives to be drawn. With Sisi holding a tight grip on the security and safety of Egypt, many believe that financial and economic policies will be the only area in which a parliament will be able to play. Particularly one with its own interests in business. And these elections are also a signal that Egypt is committed to creating stability – both political and economic – whether or not there is still a long way to go. Good news, perhaps, for future foreign investment.

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Russia’s Rosatom says Egypt nuclear talks in final stages

Comments (0) Latest Updates from Reuters, Middle East, Politics

ABU DHABI (Reuters) – Russia’s state-owned nuclear firm Rosatom is in the final stages of talks for a contract to build a nuclear power plant in Egypt, a senior official of the company said on Wednesday.

Anton Moskvin, Rosatom Overseas vice president, said that the deal was expected to be signed by the end of the year.

Speaking on a visit to the United Arab Emirates, Moskvin said construction of the the first reactor of the plant at Dabaa in Egypt’s north would finish by 2022 if a contract was signed by the end of 2015. The contract would involve a loan from Russia to Egypt, he said.

“The sooner we finish the better,” Moskvin said.

“We can start site assessment work next year and then see how soon we can start real site work,” he said.

Egypt has been considering building a plant in Dabaa, situated in the Matrouh governorate, on and off since 1981.

Cairo froze its nuclear programme after the 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, but announced in 2006 it planned to revive it. Plans for a tender were being prepared when President Hosni Mubarak was deposed in February 2011.

In February this year, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said he had signed a memorandum of understanding with Russia for the project.

The Dabaa plant will have four reactors when complete by 2025. Rosatom is currently the only firm in negotations with Egypt over the project.

“There are some 200 people from both sides meeting every month and sometimes twice a month to discuss commercial, technical and other issues,” Moskvin said.

Rosatom is also in talks with Saudi Arabia’s nuclear government body, the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy, over the kingdom’s nuclear plans.

“We are in constant contact with the King Abdullah City, the latest meetings took place in September,” Moskvin said. “Our primary interest there is in a building contract.”

Saudi Arabia and Russia signed an agreement to cooperate on nuclear energy development in June. [ID:nL5N0Z5163]

In 2012, Saudi Arabia said it aimed to build 17 gigawatts (GW) of nuclear power by 2032 as well as around 41 GW of solar capacity. The oil exporter currently has no nuclear power plants.

(By Maha El Dahan, Reuters)

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Egypt awards four offshore oil and gas exploration licences

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CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt has awarded four new licences to explore for oil and gas off its Mediterranean coast, weeks after ENI’s giant Zohr gas find piqued fresh international interest in the area.

Egypt’s state gas company EGAS said in a statement it had awarded one licence to Britain’s BP and one to Italy’s Edison. A consortium involving BP and ENI’s Egyptian subsidiary had also picked up a bloc as had another consortium involving ENI, BP and France’s Total.

ENI announced in late August that it had discovered the largest known gas field in the Mediterranean off the Egyptian coast, predicting that the find could help meet the country’s energy needs for decades to come.

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Egyptian business activity grows at slower pace in September

Comments (0) Business, Latest Updates from Reuters, Middle East

CAIRO (Reuters) – Business activity in Egypt expanded for the second consecutive month in September, although the pace of gains in output and new orders slowed, a survey showed on Monday.

Egypt’s economy is still struggling since a popular uprising ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and was followed by political instability that kept foreign investors and tourists away.

In a survey, the Emirates NBD Egypt Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) for the non-oil private sector fell to 50.2 points in September, from an eight-month high of 51.2 in August, but stayed above the 50-point mark that indicates growth in activity.

The index was below 50 points for the first five months of 2015.

“Given ongoing weakness in the export sector, it is encouraging that the overall PMI index continued to show an expansion in private sector activity,” said Jean-Paul Pigat, senior economist at Emirates NBD.

“While the pace of growth is moderate, the survey nevertheless points to a slight improvement in domestic demand in the first quarter of Egypt’s fiscal year FY2015/16. The challenge will be to maintain this momentum through the remainder of the year.”

The PMI’s output sub-index eased to 51.5 points in September from 52.8 points in the previous month, and only one-in-five panellists reported improved activity due to stronger demand.

The new orders index slipped to 50.5 points, from August’s 52 points, while the new export orders index shrank for the third consecutive month, to 47.8 points from 49.2 points a month earlier.

The employment index for the non-oil private sector fell to its lowest level in five months at 48.7 points, from 49.3 points in August.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has pledged to reduce the jobless rate to 10 percent over the next five years. Unemployment stood at 12.8 percent during the first three months of 2015 according to the government’s statistics agency, but analysts believe actual unemployment may be higher.

The index of output prices fell to 49.5 points from 50.2 points in August.

Egypt’s urban consumer inflation has slowed, to 7.9 percent in August from 8.4 percent in July, official data showed in early September.

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