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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Egypt cuts interest rates again, as inflation slows

Egypt cut rates last month for the first time since it floated the pound in 2016

A man herds sheep outside a polling station in Cairo. Inflation in the most populous Arab state has slowed, prompting another rate cut by the Egyptian central bank. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
A man herds sheep outside a polling station in Cairo. Inflation in the most populous Arab state has slowed, prompting another rate cut by the Egyptian central bank. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Egypt’s central bank cut interest rates for the second time in six weeks after inflation slowed into its target range, shrugging off rising US rates as it unwinds record-high borrowing costs.

The monetary policy committee led by Governor Tarek Amer lowered the overnight deposit rate by 100 basis points to 16.75 per cent. The move was predicted by all eight economists surveyed by Bloomberg. The overnight lending rate was also reduced by 100 basis points to 17.75 per cent.

Egypt began its widely-anticipated easing cycle last month, cutting interest rates for the first time since it floated its currency in 2016. Analysts said the decision would benefit businesses and consumers hurt by high borrowing costs, and aid growth as the economy shakes off the aftermath of the 2011 uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

Annual inflation fell to 14.4 per cent in February, its lowest level since October 2016, after hovering around 30 per cent for much of last year. The bank has lowered the benchmark by a total 200 basis points this year.

The decline in inflation may be interrupted by the next round of subsidy cuts scheduled for the second half of the year. The central bank said in a statement it was closely watching the “timing and magnitude of potential subsidy-reform measures” as well as the “crude oil price developments and the pace of tightening financial conditions.”

Egypt lifted borrowing costs by 700 basis points after floating the pound in late 2016 to curb record inflation as it embarked on an IMF-backed economic overhaul. The high rates raised borrowing costs for the government but helped attract some $20 billion into local-currency Treasury bills, whose before-tax offered yields surged to about 22 percent in mid-2017.

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Rapid cuts, however, could tarnish the allure of Egyptian T-bills if yields follow suit. Investors have not turned away so far, and economists said they were reassured that the central bank had not decided to slash rates more sharply after beating its inflation target.

“There was a view that with inflation slowing so fast the central bank might cut more, but foreign investors will be reassured by relative caution,” said Oliver Weeks, economist at Emso Asset Management Limited, a London-based company that holds Egypt T-bills.

The yield on one-year notes fell 12 basis points to 16.559 per cent in the government’s debt auction Thursday. Returns have dropped by about 160 points since the beginning of the year, as investors priced-in the interest rate cuts.

”Yields could dip slightly but not by much, because the market was already expecting the lower rates even before the central bank started the easing cycle last month,” said Mohamed Abu Basha, head of macro analysis at investment bank EFG-Hermes in Cairo. “The fact that the cuts seem to be gradual means that they will not put much pressure on yields.”

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