x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Egypt warns of $8bn outflow

SPECIAL REPORT: The head of Egypt's largest private bank said capital outflows were just a fifth of the amount the bank had forecast during last week's protests in a sign that the situation was stabilising.

Banks opened for the first time yesterday since anti-Mubarak protests intensified. Khaled Desouki/AFP
Banks opened for the first time yesterday since anti-Mubarak protests intensified. Khaled Desouki/AFP

As much as US$8 billion (Dh29.38bn) could flood out of Egypt's banking system in the next two weeks, the country's central bank warns.

The alarm was raised over the possibility of investors and Egyptian residents withdrawing their money in the wake of 13 days of demonstrations against the government.

Outflows from banks yesterday, however, were not as heavy as had been feared.

Hisham Ezz al Arab, the chairman of Commercial International Bank Egypt (CIB), said money leaving his bank yesterday was just a fifth of the CIB's forecasts.

"The most difficult time is the first day," he said. "But today the capital outflows were not even 20 per cent of the estimates we had for when banks re-opened … The amount was minimal compared with our expectations."

He said customers came into branches yesterday morning to withdraw money and make payments. CIB is the largest private bank in Egypt.

"Today people were getting back to business," he said. "A lot of things have changed forever in this country in a positive way, but life has to go on."

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But as many businesses remain shuttered and people stay home, the political crisis is costing Egypt at least $310 million a day, said the investment bank Credit Agricole.

Investors had feared dramatic impacts on the first day of business in Egypt after the central bank injected an extra 5 billion Egyptian pounds (Dh3.1bn) into the financial system and limited withdrawals.

Currency traders said they were surprised the Egyptian pound, which fell as low as 5.9260 against the dollar in afternoon trading compared with 5.8550 on January 25, did not fall further.

Analysts said the true impact of the protests and their effect on the country's economy would come over a number of days, as western banks opened for operation today and the stock exchange resumed trading, which is due to be later this week. The government also appeared to be trying to limit runs on banks with a withdrawal limit of 50,000 Egyptian pounds per individual per day.

The expected re-opening of the Cairo stock exchange, and the sale of 15bn Egyptian pounds worth of treasury bonds today, are two major bellwethers for how risky the Egyptian economy appears to investors.

Spreads on five-year credit default swaps, which is the cost of insuring Egyptian debt and a measure of risk, have widened to 379 basis points since January 24, when the protest began, a rise of 77 basis points.

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Mr al Arab said the biggest challenge for banks was transporting money across the country as hundreds of thousands of protesters, police and military personnel clogged the streets. Four of the bank's more than 150 branches were damaged in the demonstrations last week.

Companies have been badly affected as Hosni Mubarak, the president, holds on to his 30-year regime in the face of protests in which the UN says 300 people have died.

The economy has been hit across the spectrum, from tour guides at the pyramids of Giza to the largest financial institutions.

Hussein Choucri, the chairman and managing director of HC Securities and Investment, said "it's a very uncertain time" in the economy, but added there would be long-term benefits from the political changes expected to take place in the coming months.

"Who will not say that Egyptians will be better off having a democracy where people are held accountable?" he said.

His company lost money as it was shut down over the past 10 days, but Mr Choucri said he was planning to re-open tomorrow.

"There have been calls for Egyptians not to take out more deposits than you need or liquidify more than you need," he said. "We don't have to have a big decline in prices."

There was little doubt yesterday that uncertainty over the political future of Egypt will overshadow the economy in the coming months and may well stall existing deals, but opportunities could also come out of the crisis.

"The volatility in Egypt may actually be advantageous to more opportunistic players who have a greater appetite for risk," said Andrew Tarbuck, a corporate partner at the Dubai law firm Latham & Watkins.

"Potential Egyptian target companies may be well priced for those buyers willing to take on more risk, although potential targets may prefer to ride out the storm in the hope of a higher valuation."

 

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