Monday, 28 November 2022

AM — More than 60% of Egyptian adults now have access to the nation’s financial system

TL;DR

WHAT WE’RE TRACKING TODAY

Good morning, wonderful people, and welcome to one of those good-news, bad-news kind of mornings:

FROM THE DEPT. OF GOOD NEWS: New figures from the CBE suggest that more than 60% of Egyptian adults are now participating in the formal financial system — more than double where we stood just a few short years ago.

FROM THE DEPT. OF NOT GOOD NEWS: Importers are reportedly saying they still can’t get goods out of port as the shortage of hard currency lingers even as the central bank moves to lift import restrictions.

There are some near-term catalysts that offer hope the shortage may start to ease in the new year, including the expected approval in December of our IMF facility, continued investment from GCC countries, and the long-awaited opening of the stunning Grand Egyptian Museum, which pundits expect to draw more (bigger-spending) tourists.

(As of this morning, the IMF executive board has released its meeting schedule through 7 December, and we’re not on the list.)

BUT BIG-NAME CEOs AGREE- We need a long-term solution. As we all look ahead to 2023, we’re more convinced than ever that foreign direct investment and exports need to be at the heart of our nation’s economic growth strategy. That’s why we published a five-step recipe that has the power to transform Egypt into a major global export hub and turn us into a magnet for FDI — and then talked it over with 20 top CEOs at an invite-only breakfast. In our CEO poll on FDI and exports that will run through December, we asked each leader two simple questions: If you could pick just one champion industry, what would it be? And why do you think FDI and exports are the way forward?

SPEAKING TODAY: McKinsey & Company Senior Partner Jalil Bensouda, at the head of our news well, below.

Did you miss yesterday’s installment? We spoke with Mohamed El Dababy, general manager of GSK in Egypt.

We’re happy to see frank discussion of how to boost FDI in the Senate: The Senate’s financial and economic affairs committee yesterday discussed a report by the pro-government Mostaqbal Watan party that aims to overhaul how we approach FDI.

The 190-page study cites ten obstacles to growing FDI to Egypt, including red-tape, a lack of incentives, gaps in digital government services, and a lack of transparency and accountability. It also highlights the country’s investment advantages, including the availability of affordable, skilled labor, and robust infrastructure and transport links. There’s also a chapter on how to take the example set on FDI by neighbors including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Turkey. Plenty of that meshes with our five-step recipe to boost FDI and exports.

DATA POINT: Our external debt to GDP ratio remains within a “safe range” at 34.6%, Finance Minister Mohamed Maait said at an Egyptian-Chinese investment forum yesterday, according to Hapi Journal. Our high debt levels have been flagged as a risk in parts of the international business press, as the country’s external position is pressured by surging commodity prices, rising interest rates, a hot greenback, and turmoil in the financial markets.

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Some of the biggest names in Egypt’s climate industry are appearing at our inaugural Enterprise Climate X Forum, which takes place on Tuesday, 6 December at the Grand Egyptian Museum. Are you?

Hydrogen: What is it, what does a “hydrogen economy” look like and how will we know it’s becoming real? Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, CEO of industry association Hydrogen Europe, is flying in to help us unpack it.

Three industry leaders will talk about climate as the biggest (and most important) business opportunity of our generation: Mohamed Mansour is co-founder and CEO of Infinity. Amr Allam is co-CEO of Hassan Allam Holding. Jointly and separately, they’re building and operating GW worth of renewable energy projects, charging stations, desalination, wastewater, and more. They’ll be joined on stage by Sherif El Kholy, partner and head of MENA at private equity giant Actis, who has a passion for investing in green businesses — and for helping conventional businesses put ESG at the core of what they do.

How are we going to pay for it all? Todd Wilcox, CEO and deputy chairman of HSBC Egypt; Tarek El Nahas, group head of international banking at Mashreq; Khaled Hamza, director and head of Egypt at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD); and Nader Abushadi, group treasurer at Dar Group, will help us get our heads around topics including green, sustainability-linked, blended, and concessional finance, as well as how much you need to know about your supply chain.

We’ll also be meeting Shift EV’s Aly El Tayeb and Algebra’s Karim Hussein, the guys who want to be Egypt’s first climate bn’aires. They’ll be talking with USAID Egypt Mission Director Leslie Reed as well as EFG Hermes Head of Strategy Simon Kitchen, who’s flying in from London to talk with us about how business leaders across frontier and emerging markets are getting their heads around climate.

** Have you confirmed your attendance? We’ll be sending you on Sunday, 4 December the QR code you’ll need to gain admission to the Grand Egyptian Museum, along with a Google Maps link and some other pointers.

Tap or click here for the full agenda.

HAPPENING TODAY-

In the House today: The House of Representatives’ manpower committee will hold hearings on the new draft Labor Act today and tomorrow. Representatives from the Egyptian Trade Union Federation and the Federation of Egyptian Industries are expected to attend. The 245-article bill, which was approved by the Senate in February, extends both maternity leave and notice periods, caps working hours, and changes minimum raise increments, among other things. If the House passes the Act, it would replace the current Labor Act of 2003. We have more on the bill’s finer points here.

Senate to pass wildcat building bill today: The Senate is today expected to pass legislation aimed at making it easier for owners of illegal buildings to go legit. Senate Speaker Abdel Wahab Abdel Razek postponed yesterday’s vote by a day to give more members a chance to speak on the bill.

MORNING MUST READ-

Missed this week’s Inside Industry? In our weekly vertical exploring all things industry and manufacturing, we looked at Green Star, the recently announced government program laying out guidelines for companies that will favor low-carbon products for government purchases. The program will be offering a number of incentives to businesses compliant with the new environmental standards.

THE BIG STORY ABROAD

Protests are spreading from Shanghai to other Chinese cities as citizens take to the streets to voice frustration over years of strict covid restrictions including ongoing lockdowns. Demonstrations spread to the capital Beijing and dozens of university campuses across the country, in a show of civil disobedience the likes of which hasn’t been seen in mainland China in decades. China’s Hang Seng stock index dropped some 3.7% on this morning’s open. Reuters, AP, Bloomberg, and the FT have more.

Goodbye, ordinary Twitter. Hello, “The Everything App”: New Twitter boss Elon Musk plans to transform the social media platform into “The Everything App,” with features like longfrom tweets, encrypted direct messages, and payments, as part of his plan for “Twitter 2.0,” according to slides from an internal presentation he shared in a tweet. The slideshow also claimed new user signups are at an “all-time high” since Musk took over the platform late last month, recording 2 mn new users a day last week, up 66% y-o-y.

WORLD CUP UPDATE–

It’s day nine of the World Cup: Teams in Group G and H face off today (all times CLT):

  • Cameroon v Serbia (12pm)
  • South Korea v Ghana (3pm)
  • Brazil v Switzerland (6pm)
  • Portugal v Uruguay (9pm)

ICYMI- Yesterday’s games saw Costa Rica beat Japan 1-0 and Croatia lock in a convincing 4-1 victory against a young, enthusiastic Canadian side that scored its first-ever World Cup goal. The much-anticipated match between Germany and Spain ended in a 1-1 tie. The Germans now need a victory in their next game against Costa Rica to have a chance of advancing to the knockout stage.

Fans riot in Brussels: Violence broke out in several Belgian and Dutch cities after Morocco upset Belgium with a 2-0 victory yesterday, the AP reports. Police in Brussels used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowds.

Never a dull moment between the US and Iran: Iran’s football federation has called for the US national team to get a ten-game ban for “offending the dignity” of the country, after the US federation displayed Iran’s flag on social media without the emblem of the Islamic Republic, the Guardian reports. The US Soccer Federation said it decided to post the image in “support for the women in Iran fighting for basic human rights.” The graphic was soon deleted after a wave of outrage on social media. It’s all ramping up the tension ahead of the two teams’ final Group B match on Tuesday.

MARKET WATCH-

Iraq will ring in the new year with more oil exports: OPEC’s second-biggest oil producer will boost its oil export capacity by 150-250k barrels per day starting next year, the country’s national representative at OPEC Mohammed Saadoon said in an interview with Saudi broadcaster Al Ekhbariya (watch, runtime: 11:15). Next year’s increase is part of Iraq’s longer-term plans to add 1-1.5 mn bpd to its oil exports by 2025, from a current 3.3 mn bpd. The country will fix up its Khor Al Amaya port and marine pipelines to help it increase export capacity, Saadoon said.

Expect a wild week in the oil markets: Geopolitical uncertainty has sent global crude prices on a rollercoaster ahead of a planned price cap on Russian crude and a meeting of the OPEC+ cartel next week, the Wall Street Journal reports. OPEC+ will meet next Monday, 4 December, amid reports that it could look to partially reverse production cuts agreed in October. The next day, the EU will likely move to ban imports of most Russian crude while Western allies are expected to introduce a price cap. Brent futures have swung by 1% or more almost every trading day in November thanks to the uncertainty. Brent is currently trading at around USD 83.74.

CIRCLE YOUR CALENDAR-

PSA- The deadline to apply for the Chicago Booth Executive Program in El Gouna has been pushed one week to next Sunday, 4 December. The two-week program, which kicks off in March 2023, offers executives from Egyptian public and private sector the skills to help them “become a better leader for your organization and support Egypt’s growth in the years ahead.” You can find more information here.

Payment and fintech conference Pafix is being held as part of Cairo ICT 2022 through Wednesday at the Egypt International Exhibition Centre in New Cairo. The conference kicked off yesterday.

The US and Russia will hold nuclear talks in Cairo this week: Washington and Moscow will discuss resuming mutual nuclear inspections during week-long talks from tomorrow until next Tuesday, 6 December, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said, according to CNN.

EGX-listed Pachin will brief shareholders on acquisition offers it has received in its ordinary general assembly on Tuesday, 20 December, according to an EGX disclosure (pdf). Dubai-based National Paints Holdings is offering to purchase 100% of Pachin for EGP 29 per share — far outbidding earlier offers from Universal Building Materials and Chemicals (Sipes) and Saybad Industrial Investment that have since been withdrawn.

Pachin’s board gave the Emirati firm the greenlight to conduct due diligence on 13 November, Al Mal reports, citing an EGX disclosure.

Check out our full calendar on the web for a comprehensive listing of upcoming news events, national holidays and news triggers.

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*** It’s Blackboard day: We have our weekly look at the business of education in Egypt, from pre-K through the highest reaches of higher ed.

In today’s issue: We discuss how the education sector is surviving a tougher economy in part two of our sit-down with Mohamed El Kalla, CEO of CIRA Education.

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CEO POLL

Why McKinsey’s Jalil Bensouda thinks we could “go bigger and faster” than even Morocco on FDI and exports

We recently had breakfast with 20 top CEOs to talk about why exports and FDI are key to our economy going forward. After reading our five-step recipe for turning Egypt into a global export hub and FDI magnet, participating CEOs agreed to answer two questions on the record.

Jalil Bensouda (LinkedIn) is senior partner at McKinsey & Company, the global management consulting firm. Jalil re-opened McKinsey’s Cairo office in early 2021 and has built a team of 90 consultants in Cairo. He was previously based in Casablanca as the firm’s managing partner for Francophone Africa and he is also an experienced industrial entrepreneur. Jalil specializes in large-scale transformation of public and private organizations from strategy to implementation and he has long worked with financial and industrial companies on investment and development strategies. He’s also a Moroccan national — a fact more than a little germane to our discussion, as you’ll see below:

ENTERPRISE- Which industry would you put on a focused short list — and why?

JALIL BENSOUDA- I would say definitely tourism if we take a 12-18 month timeframe, because it can deliver the foreign exchange the country needs right now with little up-front investment. All the infrastructure required already exists. What we need to unlock is flight capacity and global promotion, and that can be tackled in a short timeframe. Longer term, I believe in the power of people, and Egypt has a huge talent pool, so I would naturally gravitate toward other service-based industries, including business process outsourcing and customer relations management (CRM). Global demand is steady and Egypt can play a bigger role to attract large CRM players.

If you take a medium-term perspective, Egypt will need to focus and choose 4-6 key export-oriented industries where it has a clear value proposition and go all-in to attract global and national investors to position itself as a regional manufacturing hub to serve Middle East and East African markets. The current context with global supply chain redeployment represents a great opportunity. In the long term, Egypt is already very well positioned on some big bets like hydrogen, where massive investments were announced at COP27. We will need to take the opportunity to create an integrated ecosystem around those investments to locally capture most of the value added.

E- Why are exports and FDI the way forward?

JB- Because the formula is proven. Your five-point plan is spot on and very relevant for Egypt in the current context to create a new S-curve for growth.

It reminds me of the choices Morocco made in late 2000 with the launch of a National economic development program called “Emergence.” Its aim was to accelerate the growth of export-oriented sectors. Morocco chose five industries: automotive, aeronautics, electronics, offshoring and food, all based on the nation’s global competitive advantage.

Its full focus was then on creating the right environment in terms of infrastructure, business environment, and training of local talent to attract both local and foreign investors. And starting with the prime minister’s office, the two big focuses were on execution and speed to attract flagship investors to start creating the momentum. Renault led the push in automotive with a 400k-unit capacity plant, Bombardier in aeronautics.

Today, 12 years later, Morocco has become an export powerhouse in sectors that were merely emerging in 2008. This year, its automotive exports will come in at USD 10 bn with 600k vehicles produced — with 70% local integration. Aeronautics and electronics each deliver USD 3 bn worth of export sales. And it is netting USD 2 bn in revenues from offshoring with more than 100k jobs created. Each of those industries has seen a local industrial ecosystem blossom beyond initial flagship projects with big-name multinationals such as Renault, Stellantis, Boeing and Bombardier.

I am convinced that Egypt can go bigger and faster given its starting point in terms of size and competitive advantages, including its geographical position and “green” and competitive energy and labor costs. But doing it will demand a focus on key sectors, fast-paced decision making, a much more nimble and streamlined end-to-end investment journey, and — more importantly — building trust and confidence with the private sector to allow them to invest with clear visibility on the legal and competitive framework. There is a highly competitive market globally to attract foreign industrial investment, and Egypt can clearly play a winning role in this market.

ECONOMY

Some 60% of Egyptian adults have access to the financial system

The CBE’s financial inclusion drive, in numbers: Egypt’s financial inclusion rate — the percentage of citizens above the age of 16 who hold a bank account, mobile wallet or pre-paid card — has grown 131% between 2016 and 2022, according to a Central Bank of Egypt report (pdf) published yesterday. Some 40 mn adults (60.6%) in Egypt were banked by June of this year, up from 17.1 mn in 2016, the report says.

Some 3 mn people entered the financial system in 1H 2022: More than 56% of Egyptian adults — nearly 37 mn people — were banked at the end of 2021, up from almost 53% the year before, according to earlier figures from the CBE.

The CBE is doubling down on its plans to push financial inclusion through 2025 by amending legal and regulatory frameworks, driving growth in fintech and digital financial infrastructure, and ensuring the availability of sustainable finance and a stable economic environment. The report does not go into further detail on these “enablers” of the CBE’s financial inclusion strategy.

REFRESHER– The four-pillar financial inclusion strategy was first launched in 2019 and focuses on consumer empowerment through raising awareness about financial inclusion and consumer rights, diversification in banking and non-banking financial products, supporting the MSME ecosystem, and expanding the use of fintech solutions, according to the report.

IMPORTS

PM, CBE governor say they’re working to drum up FX as imports reportedly slow

Senior government officials say they’re taking seriously a slowdown of the pace at which imports are clearing ports after Central Bank Governor Hassan Abdalla and Prime Minister Moustafa Madbouly discussing the issue yesterday, according to a cabinet statement. The two focused on the impact of the USD shortage on key commodity imports. Their statement stressed that they’re working to boost FX reserves by drumming up FX, including by attracting more FDI, boosting tourism, and through the expat car import scheme.

Imports of everything but food and fuel have slowed to a trickle or stopped altogether in the past two weeks as local banks struggle to find the hard currency to issue letters of credit (L/Cs) to get shipments released from ports, importers and bankers are quoted as saying by Bloomberg Asharq.

Blame the ongoing FX crisis: The continued shortage of FX and the rising USD-EGP exchange rate has slowed — but not completely stopped — the flow of goods into the country, Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce Member Ahmed Shiha is quoted as saying. Unnamed sources go further, with one home appliances importer reportedly telling the news outlet that imports have dried up completely.

The CBE in October said it would “gradually” phase out import restrictions, including rolling back by the end of the year a requirement introduced in February that all imports be financed through L/Cs, rather than the cheaper and simpler process of documentary collection. Shipments worth up to USD 500k are now allowed to rely on documentary collection, up from a previous USD 5k limit, while measures were taken to release some imports for private use from ports in November.

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LAST NIGHT’S TALK SHOWS

Last Night’s Talk Shows: Commodities exchange kicks off

It was a quiet night on talk shows yesterday, with the pundits focusing on yesterday’s launch of the Egyptian Mercantile Exchange (EMX).

The kickoff of our commodities exchange yesterday “surpassed expectations,” EMX Chairman Ibrahim Ashmawy told Ala Mas’ouleety (watch, runtime: 17:22). The 12k tons of Russian wheat offered to traders was nearly twice oversubscribed, Ashmawy said. Some 18 transactions were executed, he added, without providing further details.

The exchange will “limit monopolies or lobbying by traders,” Ashmawy said, adding that farmers and traders could one day potentially sell directly through the EMX. Ashmawy also sat for an interview with Al Hayah Al Youm to mark the launch of the exchange (watch, runtime: 22:43).

Elsewhere in commodities: Our elected representatives at the House of Representatives want some answers on the rice crisis, Kelma Akhira’s Lamis El Hadidi noted, highlighting briefing requests by reps on the shortage (watch, runtime: 8:34) El Hadidi got into a heated debate with Abdel Moneim Khalil, head of internal trade at the Supply Ministry, who said that rice is available and affordable at the ministry’s outlets and supermarkets despite Hadidi’s insistence of a serious supply shortage afoot.

REMEMBER- Rice has been designated as a “strategic commodity” for at least three months under efforts to deter traders who try to exploit the opportunity to hoard rice amid a global shortage of commodities. Producers, sellers and distributors have until Sunday, 4 December to notify the Supply Ministry of what they’ve stockpiled and where they’re keeping it.

Also on the airwaves last night: The Senate has followed the House of Representatives in rubbishing a resolution by the European Parliament condemning Egypt’s human rights record, arguing that the resolution leans on “misconceptions,” Ala Mas’ouleety reported (watch, runtime: 10:17).

EGYPT IN THE NEWS

On a slow day for mentions of Egypt in the international press, a short documentary by the Intercept asks where the human rights debate that grew up around the COP27 climate summit in Sharm El Sheikh could go next, as the world prepares for the 2023 iteration of the climate summit in Dubai (watch, runtime: 9:09).

ALSO ON OUR RADAR

Does PIF want more of EIPICO?

Among the other stories we’re paying attention to this morning:

PHARMA-

EIPICO says it hasn’t been formally told Saudi’s PIF wants to up its stake: EIPICO IR Manager Abdel Raheem Ghareeb tells us that the company has not received any official notice that Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) intends to up its stake in the drugmaker. His remarks came after Al Mal, citing sources it says have knowledge of the transaction, reported that the PIF is looking to acquire an additional stake in the EGX-listed company by subscribing to a capital increase worth nearly EGP 149 mn. The capital increase would put an additional 15% stake up for grabs.

BACKGROUND- PIF acquired a 4.7% stake in EIPICO last month for more than EGP 140 mn via its newly-established Egypt investment arm.

KEEPING IT ALL STRAIGHT- Since setting up the Saudi Egyptian Investment Company in August, the PIF has acquired sizeable stakes in several companies and been linked to a number of others in the domestic press, including the Alexandria Mineral Oil Company, EgyptAlum, and Egyptian Media Production City. The investment drive is part of a USD 22 bn package of financial support offered by Gulf allies to help Egypt’s economy through the economic crisis sparked by the war in Ukraine.

INVESTMENT-

SFE likes Chinese FDI: The Sovereign Fund of Egypt (SFE) wants to attract Chinese investors to projects in the Suez Canal corridor and in key economic sectors including renewable energy, desalination, and petrochemicals, Al Shorouk reports the fund’s CEO Ayman Soliman as telling reporters at an Egyptian-Chinese business event.

The Emigration Ministry next year plans to set up a firm through which Egyptian expats can invest in local projects, Emigration Minister Soha Gendy told Bloomberg Asharq. The ministry plans to list the company on the EGX, allowing expats to buy stakes or invest privately, Gendy said, without specifying the types of projects the company will help fund, or its initial and targeted capital.

REAL ESTATE-

Saudi Arabia’s Sumou eyes an entry to our real estate market: Saudi real estate firm Sumou Holding wants to acquire a 49% stake in the Egyptians for Real Estate Investment Fund from Egyptians for Housing and Development for EGP 29.2 mn, CEO Hashem El Sayed told Enterprise, following a bourse filing on Thursday. Egyptians for Housing and Development currently holds a 75.5% stake in the fund, El Sayed said, and plans to form a strategic partnership with Sumou to help it tap into the local market.

Dubai-based real estate investment platform Stake will launch in the local market next year, with operations slated to begin in El Gouna, the fintech’s co-founder and CEO said at the Forbes Under 30 summit, according to Hapi Journal.

FINANCIAL SERVICES-

Mobile network operator Orange has landed a consumer finance license from the Financial Regulatory Authority. The FRA decision (pdf) does not specify what new financial services or product Orange plans to bring to market.

Egyptian fintech startup MoneyFellows plans to close a USD 10 mn funding round in Q1 2023, CEO and founder Ahmed Wadi reportedly told Al Borsa.

BANKING-

ADIB rolls out prepaid card: Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank (ADIB) will begin offering its new prepaid card, Takka, after getting approval from the Central Bank of Egypt, according to a CBE statement. ADIB will roll out the card, which is Sharia-compliant, through subsidiary Abu Dhabi Islamic Consumer Finance (ADI-CF).

TOURISM-

The Health Ministry will appoint an official to a full-time role leading its efforts to boost health tourism, PM Moustafa Madbouly said, according to a cabinet statement. The official will report directly to the Health Minister, with oversight from the PM.

TECH-

Telecom Egypt inked a cooperation agreement with SAP partner Cloud4C to set up a cloud data center, according to a cabinet statement.

PLANET FINANCE

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EFG Hermes - https://efghermes.com/

Saudi Aramco subsidiary Luberef plans to go public by selling a c.30% stake on the Tadawul, according to the company’s intention to float (pdf). Jadwa Industrial Investment Company is the selling shareholder, while Saudi Aramco will retain its 70% stake in the company, the ITF reads. Luberef plans to announce the indicative price range for its shares and will carry out the bookbuilding process from 4-9 December, according to its IPO website. The final share price will be announced alongside the final prospectus on 11 December, followed by the retail subscription period from 14-15 December. The company has yet to determine its planned first day of trading.

Advisors: SNB Capital Company is the lead manager on the transaction, and is joined by HSBC Saudi Arabia, Citigroup Saudi Arabia, and Morgan Stanley Saudi Arabia as joint financial advisors, bookrunners, global coordinators, and underwriters. Moelis & Company UK is an independent advisor to Saudi Aramco.

EU wants to double its sin tax on smokes: The EU will propose more intense tobacco taxes in an effort to reduce smoking rates in the bloc, according to a draft European Commision document seen by the Financial Times. The amendments include doubling the EU minimum excise duty on cigarettes to EUR 3.60 from EUR 1.80 per cigarette pack, and introducing duties ranging from 20-40% on vapes.

Up

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THE CLOSING BELL-

The EGX30 rose 1.8% at yesterday’s close on turnover of EGP 1.93 bn (36.2% above the 90-day average). Regional investors were net sellers. The index is up 8.9% YTD.

In the green: AMOC (+9.3%), Ibnsina Pharma (+7.8%) and Alexandria Containers and Cargo Handling (+7.4%).

In the red: Credit Agricole (-1.1%), GB Auto (-0.8%) and Fawry (-0.8%).

It’s red as far as the eye can see in Asia as traders worry that the most significant protests we’ve seen in China in more than a decade could spread. Unrest in the world’s second-largest economy has also helped send oil prices to their lowest level this year. Futures suggest markets in Western Europe, the US, and Canada will open under selling pressure later today, with Paris’ CAC 40 the sole exception.

DIPLOMACY

The handshake that buried the hatchet? Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hinted that he could meet formally with President Abdel Fattah El Sisi as the two countries look to mend a decade-long rift. In comments to a Turkish TV channel, Erdogan said “the process with Egypt has started” and “after minister-level talks, we will get together.” His comments come days after the Egyptian and Turkish presidents shared a handshake when they met for the first time at the World Cup in Qatar. The pair spoke for 30-45 minutes and were “happy” with the meeting, Erdogan revealed yesterday. Reuters and Bloomberg have more.

MEANWHILE- El Sisi will visit India on 26 January next year, where he has been invited as the “chief guest” at celebrations to mark the 74th anniversary of Indian independence, according to an Indian Foreign Ministry statement.

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Part two of our talk with Mohamed El Kalla, CEO of CIRA Education: Egypt’s largest listed private-sector education company, CIRA (Cairo for Investment and Real Estate Development) Education, has a bird’s eye view on Egypt’s education sector; spanning everything from pre-K to university, and from national and middle-income to international schools. That puts CIRA Education CEO Mohamed El Kalla in a great position to discuss sector-wide challenges and developments as the sector’s “defensive” reputation gets put to the test amid a wave of economic headwinds.

ICYMI: Part I of our conversation saw El Kalla walk us through the company’s recent rebranding and its expansions on both a geographical and sectoral level.

In Part II, we talk to El Kalla on how the sector as a whole is withstanding the myriad economic headwinds it currently faces, from rising inflation and the EGP devaluation to the recent ministerial shake-up and regulatory hurdles like the 7% cap on tuition fees. Edited excerpts from our conversation:

CIRA Education has not been immune to the challenges facing the market: The education outfit reported a 30% fall in net income in 3Q 2021-2022 from the same period last year amid an increase in financing costs and debt incurred to finance expansion plans, as well as a 31% y-o-y increase in operating costs such as rising salaries and wages. CIRA’s shares are also down 5.2% YTD, as the benchmark EGX30 index suffered sell-offs and was in the red on a year-to-date basis for the better part of 2022 — though the company’s shares have rallied 12.5% since 1 September, according to market data.

For El Kalla, a drop in earnings or share performance does not mean the sector is losing its “defensive” streak: “That was a hiccup, not a trend,” El Kalla tells us, explaining how besides the rise in costs and debt, several changes at a ministerial level affected enrollment rates and revenues, including the Tansik-style system for private university enrollment, which has since been scrapped.

And “hiccups” can easily be overcome with the right growth strategy: Fixed costs for education players are high regardless of growth and expansion, which means that growth in this case actually helps reduce cost margins, El Kalla explained. “As you continue growing, you’re able to absorb margins as you go,” he said. “The way I like to see it is that 50% of inflation can be absorbed by tuition or price increases, and the other 50% can be absorbed through an economy of scale,” he added.

Besides growth, a diverse offering also helps balance the scales: As enrollment rates at some high-income schools begin to take a hit amid rising inflation, CIRA has actually seen an increase in enrollments as parents look to transfer their children to more affordable middle-income segment schools, El Kalla said. “We are 25% above our admissions target,” and we have managed to stick to the 7% price cap, El Kalla said, adding that this also allowed CIRA to absorb the costs in the cases where tuition was already too high for parents, like at its international schools.

If CIRA had only been operating international schools, it would have been in “big trouble,” El Kalla says. Expat teachers’ salaries can take up more than 60% of revenues of international schools, he added, noting that “if this jumps to 80%, the only solution for them will be to cut on quality, and that’s a vicious cycle no one wants.”

So what does the sector need? First, legislative and regulatory reform, according to El Kalla. The issue with the Education Act as it stands is that it treats public and private schools as one, El Kalla said, adding that a new law needs to take into account the diverse offerings in our education sector. “Any new law needs to be drafted carefully, with the parliament and private sector both in on the dialogue,” especially if we want a stable legislative framework that does not need another overhaul a few years down the line, he added.

This is key with the recent appointment of Reda Hegazy as the new education minister, replacing Tarek Shawki — that we see reform continue in the same direction, and get implemented through a proper institutional process that can achieve continuity, El Kalla said. At this stage, a new draft law is “in progress” but no official dialogue with the private sector has been instigated as of yet, he added.

The second essential area of focus for regulators should be education public-private partnerships (PPPs) + tech education. “The public is in need of something solid on the [PPP] angle, because it can help solve a lot of problems,” El Kalla said. (Read: how a PPP model can help universalize KG education in Egypt.) Technological education is also a crucial piece of the puzzle that can help cover the underserved gap in Egypt’s education system, and this is what CIRA will be looking at next, he added.


Your top education stories for the week:

CALENDAR

NOVEMBER

20 November-18 December (Sunday-Sunday): 2022 Fifa World Cup, Qatar.

27 November (Sunday): Senate in session.

27-28 November (Sunday-Monday): The first edition of the Egypt Media Forum.

27-30 November (Sunday-Wednesday): Cairo ICT and Pafix, Egypt International Exhibition Center, New Cairo.

29 November – 6 December (Tuesday-Tuesday): US and Russia to hold talks on resuming mutual nuclear inspections in Cairo.

DECEMBER

1 December (Thursday): Sphinx International Airport will begin operating international flights.

1 December (Thursday): Contractors to break ground on Egypt-Saudi interconnection project.

2-3 December (Thursday-Saturday): BiznEX kicks off at Mamsha Ahl Misr.

3 December (Saturday): Dior Men’s pre-fall collection show in Giza.

4 December (Sunday): House back in session.

4 December (Sunday): OPEC+ meeting.

5-8 December (Monday-Thursday): QS Reimagine Education Awards and Conference, multiple locations.

5-7 December (Monday-Wednesday): Food Africa 2022 kicks off at Egypt International Exhibitions Center.

6 December (Tuesday): Enterprise Climate X Forum, Grand Egyptian Museum.

7 December (Wednesday): Euromoney Egypt 2022 conference

10 December (Saturday): The TriFactory’s Pyramids Half Marathon.

10-12 December (Saturday-Monday): The 2nd edition of the Nebu Expo for Gold and Jewelry kicks off.

13-14 December (Tuesday-Wednesday): Federal Reserve interest rate meeting.

13-15 December (Tuesday-Thursday): US-Africa Leaders Summit.

15 December (Thursday): European Central Bank monetary policy meeting.

20 December (Tuesday): EGX-listed Pachin will brief shareholders on offers received to acquire the company in an ordinary general assembly.

22 December (Thursday): Central Bank of Egypt’s Monetary Policy Committee meeting.

December: The Sixth of October dry port will begin operations.

December: Egyptian Automotive Summit.

December: Egypt to expand Sudan electricity link capacity to 300 MW.

December: Chinese President Xi Jinping visit to Saudi Arabia

JANUARY 2023

January: EGX-listed companies and non-bank lenders will submit ESG reports for the first time.

January: Fuel pricing committee meets to decide quarterly fuel prices.

January: Infinity + Africa Finance Corporation to close acquisition of Lekela Power.

1 January (Sunday): Use of Nafeza becomes compulsory for air freight.

1 January (Sunday): Residential electricity bills are set to rise as per the government’s six-year roadmap (pdf) to restructure electricity prices by 2025.

7 January (Saturday): Coptic Christmas.

24 January-6 February: The 54th Cairo International Book Fair, Egypt International Exhibition Center

25 January (Wednesday): 25 January revolution anniversary / Police Day.

26 January (Thursday): President El Sisi will visit India as “chief guest” at celebrations to mark the 74th anniversary of Indian independence.

26 January (Thursday): National holiday in observance of 25 January revolution anniversary / Police Day.

30 January-1 February (Monday-Wednesday): CI Capital’s Annual MENA Investor Conference 2023, Cairo, Egypt.

FEBRUARY 2023

11 February (Saturday): Second semester of 2022-2023 academic year begins for public universities.

13-15 February (Monday-Wednesday): The Egypt Petroleum Show (Egyps), Egypt International Exhibition Center, Cairo.

23-27 February (Thursday-Monday): Annual Business Women of Egypt’s Women for Success conference.

MARCH 2023

March: 4Q2022 earnings season.

23 March (Wednesday): First day of Ramadan (TBC). Maghreb will be at 6:08pm CLT.

APRIL 2023

1 April (Saturday): Deadline for banks to establish sustainability unit.

17 April (Monday): Sham El Nessim.

22 April (Saturday): Eid El Fitr (TBC).

25 April (Tuesday): Sinai Liberation Day.

27 April (Thursday): National holiday in observance of Sinai Liberation Day (TBC).

Late April – 15 May: 1Q2023 earnings season.

MAY 2023

1 May (Monday): Labor Day.

4 May (Thursday) National holiday in observance of Labor Day (TBC).

22-26 May (Monday-Friday): Egypt will host the African Development Bank (AfDB) annual meetings in Sharm El Sheikh.

JUNE 2023

19-21 June (Monday-Wednesday) Egypt Infrastructure and Water Expo debuts at the Egypt International Exhibition Center.

28 June-2 July (Wednesday-Sunday): Eid El Adha (TBC).

30 June (Friday): June 30 Revolution Day.

JULY 2023

18 July (Tuesday): Islamic New Year.

20 July (Thursday): National holiday in observance of Islamic New Year (TBC).

23 July (Sunday): Revolution Day.

27 July (Thursday): National holiday in observance of Revolution Day.

Late July-14 August: 2Q2023 earnings season.

SEPTEMBER 2023

26 September (Tuesday): Prophet Muhammad’s birthday (TBC).

28 September (Thursday): National holiday in observance of Prophet Muhammad’s birthday (TBC).

OCTOBER 2023

6 October (Friday): Armed Forces Day.

Late October-14 November: 3Q2023 earnings season.

EVENTS WITH NO SET DATE

2H 2022: The inauguration of the Grand Egyptian Museum.

2H 2022: IEF-IGU Ministerial Gas Forum, Egypt. Date + location TBA.

2H 2022: The government will have vaccinated 70% of the population.

3Q 2022: Ayady’s consumer financing arm, The Egyptian Company for Consumer Finance Services, to release its first financing product.

3Q 2022: Swvl to close acquisition of Urbvan Mobility.

End of December/early January: SFE’s pre-IPO fund to kick off roadshow.

4Q 2022: Electricity Ministry to tender six solar projects in Aswan Governorate.

4Q 2022: Raya Holding subsidiary Aman and Qalaa Holdings’ Taqa Arabia to launch their fintech company.

4Q 2022: Saudi Arabia’s Jamjoom Pharma to inaugurate its EGP 1 bn pharma factory in El Obour.

End of 2022: Decent Life first phase scheduled for completion.

End of 2022: e-Aswaaq’s tourism platform will complete the roll out of its ticketing and online booking portal across Egypt.

2023: Egypt will host the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank’s Annual Meeting of the Board of Governors in 2023.

1Q 2023: Adnoc Distribution’s acquisition of 50% of TotalEnergies Egypt to close.

1Q 2023: Internal trade database to launch.

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