Egypt’s Serial Adjustment Agitation

Egyptian stocks rallied on submission of an estimated 3-year $10 billion IMF loan request after the government denied such recourse on consecutive occasions, with the MSCI index climbing almost 15 percent through end-July and the decision also staving off further currency devaluation. The pound stumbled to 12.5/dollar on the informal market amid a squeeze forcing state banks to limit travel deposit withdrawal and credit card use abroad, as the central bank spurned an outright float but hinted at another 5-10 percent depreciation.  Despite the trend, the current account deficit is the worst in three decades at 6 percent of GDP as the real effective exchange rate is 20 percent higher, tourism is down 40 percent and remittances and official transfers from the Gulf flag. The non-energy trade deficit shrank on dollar curbs, but only half the Q1 $5.5 billion shortfall was financed by FDI. External borrowing has turned to Saudi Arabia and the UAE as well as China, which extended a $1 billion credit after President Xi’s visit. Reserves are over $16 billion, but the negative errors and omissions category reflects large informal currency and oil transactions. Gulf allies undergoing their own fiscal and structural reforms have prodded President Al-Sisi to strengthen efforts slated as core conditions of the IMF package. The budget deficit is again in double digits and VAT application, fuel subsidy cuts, and capital gains levy reintroduction are likely near-term steps. With tight monetary policy to subdue 12 percent inflation, domestic debt expense may also rise and the emphasis will be on expanding the investor base through foreign investor-specific sukuk and conventional issues. International participation was 25 percent of the local T-bill market before Mubarak’s resignation, and has since been absent. Fund managers complain of erratic tax treatment and secondary trading, and authorities intend to open another channel through the stock exchange to boost liquidity. A tender went out for a possible global bond placement in the second half which would ride the momentum from an approved Fund relationship, expected before the October annual meeting in Washington. It would join Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia in the post-Arab Spring stable, which all experienced Q1 GDP falls to 1-2 percent. Morocco’s advance the previous quarter was 5 percent on good agricultural rains, but since downgrade to MSCI’s frontier list stock market performance has been solid, with a 15 percent gain so far this year.

Egypt and North African neighbors are on the geopolitical front line as well with the security and refugee repercussions of Libya’s collapse, as US warplanes began to bomb ISIS strongholds there. Western donors hope the pattern of Iraq’s retaking of Mosul can repeat after it fell to the militants two years ago. The Prime Minister vowed to complete the process in coming months as a centerpiece for a $2 billion pledging conference in July which got North American, Gulf and EU commitments. According to reports 3 million citizens are displaced and the country hosts 250, 000 Syrian refugees. When fully recaptured, control over oil wealth may again be in dispute with the Kurdish regional authority that has fielded large groups of fighters, and constitutional haggling is set to resume in another prolonged battle.

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