Egypt’s central bank governor resigns as economic woes mount

Egyptian Central Bank Governor Tarek Amer resigned as the country has struggled to address its financial woes. (AP/File)
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Updated 17 August 2022

Egypt’s central bank governor resigns as economic woes mount

  • President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi accepted the resignation of Tarek Amer and named him a presidential adviser
  • The currency is under pressure, sliding in value to about 19 Egyptian pounds to the US dollar

CAIRO: Egypt’s central bank governor resigned Wednesday as the Middle East’s most populous nation struggles to curb inflation triggered by Russia’s war in Ukraine, high oil prices and a drop in tourism.
President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi accepted the resignation of Tarek Amer and named him a presidential adviser, the Egyptian leader’s office said in a statement. The brief statement offered no explanation for Amer’s resignation.
No replacement was immediately named for Amer, who had been appointed governor of the central bank in November 2015. He has been criticized for his handling of Egypt’s financial challenges.
The currency is under pressure, sliding in value to about 19 Egyptian pounds to the US dollar. That followed a central bank decision allowing the currency to depreciate by around 16 percent in March to try to stem a growing trade deficit.
“It seems there’s a lot of tensions within policymaking circles, and I think that’s ultimately what led to Mr. Amer’s resignation,” said Jason Tuvey, a senior emerging markets economist at Capital Economics.
Tuvey said there are officials that oppose devaluing the pound and instead support measures like rationing gas consumption by curbing electricity usage, which could in turn harm business activity. Amer had traditionally been seen as in the camp that supported the pound’s depreciation as a way to secure a loan from the International Monetary Fund.
The London-based Capital Economics research firm predicts that Egypt’s currency will continue to slide, reaching 25 pounds to the dollar by the end of 2024 amid sustained pressure.
The resignation of the central bank head comes after key ministries were reshuffled Saturday as the government faces mounting pressure from economic challenges. The Cabinet shake-up, which was approved by parliament in an emergency session, affected 13 ministries, including health, education, culture, local development and irrigation. The country’s minister of tourism and antiquities also was replaced.
Egypt’s expansive tourism industry, which employs millions, was hit hard by years of turmoil, the COVID-19 pandemic and then the war in Ukraine. Prior to the conflict, around a third of tourists to Egypt came from Russia.
Russia’s war has been deeply felt in other ways in Egypt, the world’s largest wheat importer that sources around 80 percent of it from the Black Sea region.
In the first weeks after the invasion of Ukraine in late February, the price of wheat and other grains skyrocketed, as did the price of fuel. Although prices have come down somewhat, the cost of grains remains at least 50 percent higher than before the pandemic in early 2020. Furthermore, the cost of shipping to export those grains through the Black Sea is high.
Inflation in the country of 103 million people reached 14.6 percent in July, increasing pressure on lower-income households and everyday necessities. Around a third of Egyptians live in poverty, according to government figures.
The World Bank notes that Egypt’s government announced an assistance package worth 130 billion pounds (more than $8 billion) just before devaluing the pound in March to alleviate the impact of rising prices. The package aimed to increase public-sector wages and pensions, as well as expand direct cash assistance programs.
Egypt’s Gulf Arab allies have come to its assistance with multibillion-dollar investments buoyed by high oil prices that have helped their bottom line.
Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, known as the Public Investment Fund, recently established a division in Egypt that has already announced deals worth $1.3 billion with the aim of bringing in $10 billion into Egypt.

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China launches $28bn loan facility to support manufacturers

Updated 28 September 2022

China launches $28bn loan facility to support manufacturers

  • Yuan ends at weakest since global financial crisis, hits record low

BEIJING, SHANGHAI: China’s central bank said on Wednesday it has set up a relending facility worth more than 200 billion yuan ($27.59 billion) to help manufacturers and other companies upgrade their equipment, as part of a push to revive flagging demand.

The People’s Bank of China said in a statement that it will provide low-cost funds to financial institutions and guide them to lend to firms to support such upgrades. The loans will be issued on a monthly basis, and the interest rate for qualified firms will be no higher than 3.2 percent from Sept. 1, 2022 to Dec. 31, 2022, the central bank added. China’s one-year loan prime rate is currently 3.65 percent.

The lending facility will support sectors including education, health, culture, tourism and sports, electric vehicle chargers, urban underground facilities, new infrastructure and industrial digital transformation, the central bank said.

The PBoC has increasingly relied on structural, or targeted policy tools, including low-cost loans, to support the slowing economy, as it faces limited room to cut interest rates for fear of fueling capital flight and inflation.

The PBoC has rolled out relending facilities to support the transport, logistics and storage sectors that have been hit hard by COVID-19, as well as carbon emission reduction, tech innovation and elderly care.

On Sept. 14, China’s Cabinet announced steps to support equipment upgrades by companies, extending a raft of measures to bolster the COVID-ravaged economy.

Onshore yuan

China’s onshore yuan extended losses on Wednesday to end the domestic session at its lowest level against the dollar since the global financial crisis of 2008, while the offshore yuan hit a record low, pressured by expectations of more US rate hikes.

Currency traders said the yuan was reacting to broad greenback strength in global markets as the dollar hit a fresh two-decade peak against a basket of currencies, buoyed by safe-haven demand and a hawkish Federal Reserve.

In onshore markets, the yuan finished the domestic trading session at 7.2458 per dollar, its weakest such close since January 2008 and down 658 pips or 0.91 percent from previous late night close of 7.18.

The offshore yuan followed suit and weakened 1.15 percent on the day to trade at 7.2635 around 0830 GMT.

Fuel export

China may tweak a proposed sharp increase in refined fuel export quotas for this year by extending the plan into next year, as it weighs the benefits to the economy of higher exports against low domestic stocks and operational challenges, four sources told Reuters.

However, the four sources with direct knowledge of the matter — and three others — said the government was still reviewing the matter.

The market has been widely expecting China to release a fifth batch of fuel export quota of up to 15 million tons for the rest of the year, which would be its largest so far in 2022 and lift China’s sagging exports.

The proposal from refiners’ planning departments, following a government call to boost trade, has led some refiners to ready an increase in output to take advantage of the quota.


Third Jordan-Gulf Economic Forum begins in Amman

Updated 28 September 2022

Third Jordan-Gulf Economic Forum begins in Amman

  • Jordanian minister said value of trade between his country and Gulf Cooperation Council member states reached $6.6 billion in 2021

AMMAN: The third session of the Jordan-Gulf Cooperation Council Economic Forum began in Amman on Tuesday. It brings together officials and business representatives from Jordan and GCC member states to discuss opportunities for the expansion and development of economic relations, the Jordan News Agency reported.

The forum, which is taking place under the title New Horizons for Economic and Investment Cooperation, aims to advance the strategic objectives and interests of all participating nations, according to the Jordanian Ministry of Industry, Trade and Supply.

The delegates at the two-day event include businessmen, investors, the heads of trade federations and chambers of commerce, and representatives of Gulf and Jordanian government stakeholders, according to the ministry.

In his opening remarks, Youssef Shamali, the Jordanian minister of industry, trade and supply, said that the value of trade between his country and GCC member nations reached $6.6 billion in 2021. Jordanian exports to the GCC were worth $1.7 billion of that total, while Jordan’s imports accounted for $4.9 billion.

The minister added that Gulf nations are responsible for the most significant foreign investments in Jordan, and capital from the region has benefited the nation’s economy and created jobs for the Jordanian people.

He added that if Arab nations were to unite to form a powerful economic bloc, it would allow them to boost exports, increase production, create new job opportunities for young people, and achieve greater integration into the global economy.
 


ECB eyes blockchain for settling bank transactions, says official

Updated 26 September 2022

ECB eyes blockchain for settling bank transactions, says official

  • The ECB is among a number of central banks around the world working on digital versions of their currency in response to the popularity of digital tokens

FRANKFURT: The European Central Bank is studying ways of settling transactions between banks on a blockchain in a bid to keep control of money even if lenders switch to distributed ledgers, ECB board member Fabio Panetta said on Monday.

The ECB is among a number of central banks around the world working on digital versions of their currency in response to the popularity of digital tokens such as Bitcoin and the blockchain technology that powers them.

This distributed ledger technology is predicated on market participants verifying transactions and keeping a copy of them rather than relying on a trusted party, such as a central bank.

On top of a digital euro for consumers, the ECB is looking at how it could let banks settle wholesale transactions between them on a distributed ledger, rather than the central bank’s own.

“Despite the uncertainties surrounding DLT’s potential, we want to be prepared for a scenario where market players adopt DLT for wholesale payments and securities settlement,” Panetta said. 

We want to be prepared for a scenario where market players adopt DLT for wholesale payments and securities settlement.

Fabio Panetta, ECB official

He added letting banks settle among themselves or use stablecoins, which are crypto tokens pegged to a conventional currency, would result in “trading and liquidity becoming fragmented.”

Meanwhile, giving stablecoins the ECB’s backing would “outsource the provision of central bank money to private entities, endangering monetary sovereignty,” Panetta said.

As a possible solution, Panetta said the ECB might build a bridge between the private sector’s blockchain platforms and its own Target 2 settlement system.

Alternatively, it could make central bank money — the claim against the ECB in which wholesale transactions are settled — available on those platforms or create its own, he added.

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Indian currency seen at record low as dollar, US yields surge; RBI eyed

Updated 26 September 2022

Indian currency seen at record low as dollar, US yields surge; RBI eyed

  • The rupee is tipped to open at around 81.30 per US dollar, down from 80.9900 in the previous session

MUMBAI: The Indian rupee is poised to hit a new lifetime low against the US currency on Monday, as worsening risk sentiment and a tumbling pound lifted the dollar index to its highest since 2002.
The rupee is tipped to open at around 81.30 per US dollar, down from 80.9900 in the previous session.
The local unit had reached a record low of 81.2250 on Friday, prompting the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to sell dollars, according to traders. The RBI’s intervention had aided the rupee to turn briefly higher on Friday.
“It will be another choppy and volatile session. All eyes will be on state-run banks at open,” a trader at a Mumbai-based bank said, alluding to intervention from the RBI through these banks.
“The intervention by RBI at 81.20 was quite forceful and markets will want to know if that level will be protected again,” the trader said, adding, the RBI may not be too inclined to intervene given the “carnage” across Asian currencies.
The dollar index in Asia trading climbed above 114.50, the highest since May 2002, thanks to demand for safe-haven assets and a collapsing British pound.
The pound tumbled to a record low on Monday on fears the new government’s economic plan will stretch its finances to the limit. The rout prompted speculation of an emergency response from the Bank of England.
Asian equity gauges fell by as much as 2.4 percent and futures pointed to more losses for the S&P 500 Index. The offshore Chinese yuan declined below 7.16 to the dollar and the Korean won dropped more than a percent.
Treasury yields continued to march higher, not benefiting from the risk-off sentiment. The 2-year Treasury yield reached a fresh multi-year high of 4.27 percent on bets that the Federal Reserve will continue to hike rates aggressively despite the mounting growth risks. 


Bahrain’s GDP grows at 6.9% in Q2 2022

Updated 25 September 2022

Bahrain’s GDP grows at 6.9% in Q2 2022

  • The Gulf country will see modest hike in oil production in 2022 to 0.19 mbpd

RIYADH: Bahrain’s gross domestic product grew 6.9 percent year on year in the second quarter of 2022, posting the biggest annual increase since 2011, Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa said on Twitter on Sunday.

In the first quarter, the Gulf country’s GDP grew 5.5 percent year on year at constant prices. The country’s non-oil economy recorded growth of 7.8 percent in the same period.

According to the latest Economic Insight report for the Middle East, commissioned by ICAEW and compiled by Oxford Economics, Bahrain’s oil sector growth will be driven by higher oil production, despite a decline in the first quarter. Since 2015, the annual real growth of Bahrain’s oil sector has only expanded once relative to the previous year, in 2019. Based on the current OPEC+ agreement, Bahrain will see a modest increase in oil production in 2022 to 0.19 million barrels per day from 0.17 million bpd.

This small increase, combined with elevated prices, will return the oil sector to growth in 2022 before stagnating again as the government continues its diversification efforts. The forecast is for oil production to expand by 5.8 percent in 2022, compared to 2.4 percent in 2021.

Scott Livermore, ICAEW economic adviser, and chief economist and managing director, Oxford Economics Middle East, said: “The surge in oil prices and introduction of a 10 percent VAT is supporting Bahrain’s revenues and will help authorities come close to balancing the budget in 2022, two years earlier than the 2024 target set in the Fiscal Balance Program.”

The rise of inflationary pressures and rate hikes by the US Fed will force the Central Bank of Bahrain into more rate increases, beyond the 225 basis points cumulative increase in the key policy rate already this year.

Inflation averaged 3.4 percent in the first half this year, a level not seen since 2016, before rising to 3.9 percent in July.

ICAEW expects inflation to average 3.9 percent this year after prices fell annually in both 2020 and 2021.

Consumer spending is likely to be increasingly constrained going into 2023, leading to a GDP growth slowdown to below 2 percent by 2024.

As of now, the central bank has sufficient reserves to maintain the currency peg with the US dollar and is likely to follow policy moves by the Fed closely so it’s not expected to have significant pressure to devalue the dinar.

The current account returned to surplus in 2021 at 6.7 percent of GDP, the largest surplus since 2013. ICAEW expects the higher price of oil exports and a continued resurgence of international travel to push this surplus above 10 percent in 2022.

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