Thursday, 24 December 2020

Merry Christmas, everyone. See you back here on Sunday.

TL;DR

WHAT WE’RE TRACKING TODAY

Good morning, everyone, and a very Merry Christmas to all those who are observing tomorrow. We made it through another week together — and have a pleasantly quiet issue for you this Christmas Eve morning.

Last orders on the NYSE and Nasdaq will be at 1pm Eastern today while the closing bell on the London Stock Exchange is at 12:30pm London time. Most Western markets are closed tomorrow in observance of Christmas day.

Next week could be a four-day workweek here in Egypt. Banks with January-December fiscal years are typically off on 1 January to close their years, meaning the EGX is off, too. Our hunch is that we may get Thursday, 31 December off instead — look for an announcement next week.

Our next statutory holiday here in Omm El Donia: Thursday, 7 January 2020 in observance of Coptic Christmas. Then 25 January and the long, slow vacationless trudge to 25 April for Sinai Liberation day, which will provide a nice mid-Ramadan break.

** We’re taking our traditional publication holiday next week. We’ll be back on Sunday morning to give you the rundown on today’s Central Bank of Egypt rate decision and will then be off Monday-Thursday.

Christmas may be canceled pretty much everywhere, but that just means you have all the more time for movies, TV shows, and podcasts. The Wall Street Journal has a rundown of the best content to watch and listen to this holiday season as much of the world hunkers down for a second wave of covid-19.

Need more options? The Gray Lady, the Financial Times, NPR, and even Oprah Magazine have end-of-year reading lists with a handful of options to beef up your TBR pile as we slide into the holiday season. For the hardcore biz nerds out there, Fortune has a rundown of the best business documentaries, movies, and TV shows to stream during your time off, while the Financial Times puts the Pixar cartoon Soul and Wonder Woman 1984 on your list of six films to watch this week.

That said, please consider this your annual, statutorily required reminder that Die Hard and Trading Places are the ultimate Christmas movies. No dissent shall be brooked on this point — even the Resident Thirteen Year Old agrees. Want more Trading Places? Planet Money did a whole podcast on the film’s key trade.

Tired of all this looking-back stuff? The NYT has a sneak peak at the books coming out in ‘21.

We forgot about Festivus yesterday. Grievances will (retroactively) be aired today. New to the Festivus for the Rest of Us? This poster has the rundown for the uninitiated.

Cooking more your thing? Can’t stand another turkey recipe this weekend? The NYT Cooking app’s 20 most popular recipes of 2020 is a great starting place.

Need a pick-me-up this morning? Go read The best advice our elders ever gave us in the Wall Street Journal. You can thank us later.

SIGN OF THE TIMES- Private equity types are toasting a 2020 well done. Private equity firms capitalized cheap debt and the global turmoil unleashed by covid-19 capitalizing to push the total value of PE transactions to the highest figure worldwide since the global financial crisis, the Financial Times reports. PE firms announced some 8k transactions (the highest number since records began in 1980) worth some USD 559 bn worldwide (up nearly 20% from last year).

It’s interest rate day: The Central Bank of Egypt meets today for its final monetary policy meeting of the year. All 10 analysts and economists we spoke to earlier this week expect rates to be left on hold. The CBE has cut rates by 400 bps so far this year, leaving the overnight rate at 8.25% and the lending rate at 9.25%.

Trade talks between Egypt and the US that were supposed to take place this month have been delayed to 2021 due to the pandemic, a US embassy spokesman told Enterprise yesterday. Negotiators from both countries were due to sit down to discuss moving toward the Trade and Investment Framework Agreements (TIFA) — which could lead to trade liberalization with the US if Egypt relaxes non-tariff barriers and tackles several other issues. “The United States remains closely engaged with its Egyptian partners on ways to increase bilateral trade and investment flows, and looks forward to resuming TIFA discussions,” the embassy said.

We’re one week out from these deadlines:

  • The deadline for EGX-listed companies to comply with regulations requiring at least one woman to sit on their boards of directors.
  • The deadline for vehicle owners to install a RFID electronic sticker on their cars.

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

enterprise

COVID WATCH

Seriously, don’t have a NYE party

The government is serious about barring NYE parties: Any hotel, sporting club, restaurant, cabaret, or other venue that hosts New Year’s Eve celebrations against the government’s instructions will face fines and could lose their licenses, Cabinet spokesperson Nader Saad told Ala Mas’ouleety’s Ahmed Moussa yesterday. Saad did not mention parties hosted on private property. Saad reiterated that fines up to EGP 4k for breaking other rules, including failing to wear masks and exceeding capacity limits, are now payable on the spot (watch, runtime: 20:23).

Just so we’re clear, what are the rules for masks again? Anyone taking public transport including the Metro, microbuses or trains, as well as taxis and Ubers must wear a mask. Riding in your personal vehicle? No mask required. Masks must also be worn inside any enclosed space, including banks and government buildings, but authorities aren’t requiring pedestrians to wear a mask while walking in the street.

The Health Ministry reported 911 new covid-19 infections yesterday, up from 788 the day before, and the highest figure since 16 July. The ministry also reported 42 new deaths, bringing the country’s total death toll to 7,203. This is the first time the daily death toll has been above the 40-person mark since 30 July. Egypt has now disclosed a total of 128,512 confirmed cases of covid-19.

We’re doubling in less than two weeks: It took 13 days for total daily cases to double, and 12 for the daily death tally to double.

Where are we seeing the largest number of cases? Cairo, Giza, Alexandria and Qalyubia currently lead the nation in terms of infections, Health Minister Hala Zayed said. Covid-19 related deaths that occur at home are still included in the daily tally, the minister said.

We so far have 364 hospitals outfitted with 35k beds for covid-19 patients, Health Minister Hala Zayed said at yesterday’s cabinet meeting. There are also currently 27 quarantine facilities nationwide devoted exclusively to covid-19 cases. The medical facilities currently have access to a total 2.4k ventilators — 42% of which are currently in use, said Cabinet’s Nader Saad. Another 200 ventilators are expected to soon be distributed.

No holidays for doctors and nursing staff: The Health Ministry has put a freeze on holidays for all medical and nursing staff at ministry-affiliated hospitals and medical centers, according to a notice sent out by the minister’s office.

Egypt will approve a covid-19 vaccine — likely the Sinopharm shot — next week, Zayed said yesterday. Egypt’s priority is to import the Sinopharm vaccine, though the ministry is also looking at jabs from Moderna and Pfizer, Zayed said. The government is working to increase its stock of covid-19 vaccines and is expecting further deliveries of the Sinopharm vaccine soon, while also having applied to receive vaccines through the WHO’s Covax scheme. Distribution of the first doses of the vaccine kicked off earlier this week across the country’s 27 governorates. First in line: healthcare workers, followed by seniors and high-risk individuals, with a particular focus on areas that are seeing an increase in cases. Reuters also had the story.

We should also begin manufacturing the Sinopharm vaccine within the coming months with an eye to becoming a manufacturing and distribution hub for the rest of Africa and the Middle East, the minister said at a presser.

Interim results suggest the Sinopharm jab is 86% effective. Full Chinese approval for use of the vaccine is expected any day now, the Financial TImes reports, and medical professionals are looking forward to the publication of data that will allow them to have confidence in the shot, which was approved for use in the UAE on 9 December after clinical trials in Egypt, the UAE, Peru, Argentina, Morocco and Jordan.

On the new covid-19 variant, the Health Ministry regularly runs tests on the genetic variations of the virus and is monitoring new covid cases for signs of the new strain that has thrown the UK and much of Europe for a loop, as well as screening and testing those returning from the UK, Zayed said.

IN GLOBAL COVID NEWS-

On top of its own mutated strain, the UK now has the new (even more transmissible) covid-19 variant detected in South Africa after at least two cases were identified in travelers who recently returned from South Africa to the UK, the Financial Times reports. The UK and South Africa variants both have an unusually high number of genetic mutations — over 20 — indicating that the virus has changed at a rapid pace.

But, but, but… Yes, the virus in the UK picked up mutations really, really quickly — but some scientists are suggesting that while we should be concerned, we need to learn more before we completely freak out. Science magazine has a very balanced rundown.

Covid outbreaks are likely to remain with us for most of this decade: That’s according to BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin, who said that outbreaks of new strains will become the “new normal” in the 2020s. A decade of lockdowns can be prevented, he said, but it might require that more than 60-70% of the global population is vaccinated. The World Health Organization has estimated that some 60% of people need to have a vaccine if we’re to achieve herd immunity.

The world is going to need to level-up production to make that happen: We might be waiting until 2022 for manufacturers to build capacity to supply the world with the volume of shots necessary to put this thing to bed, Reuters reports.

Abu Dhabi has picked an interesting time to reopen its doors to tourists: As countries around the world panic about the covid-UK strain crossing their borders, the emirate has decided to welcome visitors back into the country, the Culture and Tourism Department said in a press release (pdf). Travellers will be granted entry provided they’re from countries on a green list and provide a negative PCR test.

Who’s on that green list? Australia, China, Saudi Arabia and Greenland are among the 16 standouts right now. Egypt, Canada, the US and the rest of the world are not.

PRIVATIZATION WATCH

Buyers are lining up for Safi

Mansour Group, Pepsico, CocaCola Egypt, Nestlé, and steel conglomerate El Garhy Group are reportedly interested in buying a stake in army-affiliated Safi. The five companies — four of which own household bottled water brands — are currently in talks with the Sovereign Fund of Egypt (SFE) to take minority stakes of as much as 30% as part of the SFE’s plan to open up military-affiliated businesses for private ownership, the local press reports, citing unnamed sources. The purchase of up to 30% of Safi, aka the National Company for Producing and Bottling Water, is expected to wrap up during 1Q2021, as soon as due diligence is complete, the sources said.

Talks with Mansour have “come a long way,” according to the sources. The family-built giant already produces Hayat bottled water, while Nestlé, Pepsico and CocaCola have Nestlé Pure Life, Aquafina, and Dasani water in the Egyptian market.

Do steel and water mix? Safi would be a leftfield investment for steelmaker El Garhy, and it remains unclear what the reasoning is for a potential foray into a market as foreign as water. Enterprise tried to contact the company yesterday but a representative couldn't be reached for comment.

Background: Safi is one of two subsidiaries of the Defense Ministry’s National Service Products Organization (NSPO) slated to open up for private ownership in 2021. The company, along with Wataniya Petroleum, will sell shares to a private investor under an MoU the SFE signed with NSPO last February. The fund could still take minority stakes of 20-30% in both Safi and Wataniya, and offer the rest to private investors. It will then look at other army-owned companies, with the goal of marketing 10 of NSPO’s subsidiaries as an initial phase. The privatization plan will see the companies ultimately listed on the EGX.

In other SFE news-

The SFE can now partner with private sector companies on projects tendered by the Internal Trade Development Authority. The two organizations signed an agreement yesterday that will allow the SFE to invest in ITDA projects to encourage private sector participation, a cabinet statement said, without providing further details.

ECONOMY

Covid: The gift that keeps on giving

The global collapse of the tourism trade continued to weigh on economic growth in 1Q2020-2021: Egypt’s economy grew only 0.7% during the first quarter of FY 2020-2021 and probably would have expanded at a 2.7% clip if it weren’t for the tourism sector, which continued to reel from the effects of the lockdown in the previous quarter, Planning and Economic Development Minister Hala El Said said yesterday.

Logistics, agriculture, education, and healthcare all grew faster year-on-year, the minister noted.

Manufacturing is still recovering and performed worse compared to the first quarter of last fiscal year, according to El Said. Growth in retail and telecommunications was flat.

The economy is expected to close out the fiscal year with 2.8-3.5% growth, Finance Minister Mohamed Maait recently said. Egypt’s economy managed to avoid contraction, and is set to be the only MENA economy to eke out positive growth this calendar year, Fitch Solutions’ recent monthly MENA outlook showed.

DEBT WATCH

Sukuk boomlet continues

EGX-listed private education outfit CIRA is planning a EGP 600 mn sukuk issuance to fund its expansion plans in school-level and higher education, as well as pay off some of its loans, the company’s board said in a regulatory filing (pdf) approving the issuance. The sukuk will be backed by four K-12 schools and carry a tenor of 84 months. The offering will be open to private institutional and high-net-worth investors. CIRA has set 27 December 2020 as a target closing date (pdf).

Background: This would be the third issuance of corporate sukuk in Egypt, following Talaat Moustafa Group’s EGP 2 bn offering in April and Sarwa Capital’s EGP 2.5 bn sale in November. Amer Group is also said to be in the market for Sharia compliant debt.

Advisors: EFG Hermes Investment Banking is sole financial advisor, lead arranger and bookrunner for the transaction, while EFG Hermes Sukuk Co. will be the issuer for the EGP-denominated sukuk. Ahli United Bank, Suez Canal Bank and Banque du Caire are underwriters. Prime Capital as independent financial advisor. Zulficar & Partners is providing counsel, and Meris will provide the credit rating.

M&A WATCH

Is B Investments partially exiting Total Egypt?

Is B Investments close to offloading part of its Total Egypt stake? B Investments denied it has reached an agreement to sell 20% of its stake in Total Egypt after local press reports yesterday claimed it had agreed to sell the shares for EGP 146.4 mn. Sources told Al Mal that the company would reduce its 7.97% stake to 6.38% without naming the buyer. In an EGX filing (pdf) B Investments denied the claims and said it was still working to finalize an agreement.

B Investments earlier this year said it was looking to offload a fifth of its holdings in Total Egypt, which operates more than 230 service stations in the country and holds key agreements in fossil fuel exploration, production and trading activities. The French group’s Egypt arm is also a player in the aviation fuels market, and operates Bonjour-branded convenience stores in Egypt.

In other M&A news-

Act Financial-led group has more appetite for Sodic: A group of investors including Act Financial, Hassan Allam Properties, Concrete Plus Engineering and Construction has increased its combined stake in Sodic to 14%, according to a regulatory filing (pdf) yesterday. The group has been raising its holdings in Sodic since July. Concrete Plus now holds a 5% stake, Act Financial a 4.3%, and Hassan Allam Properties 3.9% (or 4.4% if we count a 0.5% stake held by its CEO), and group-affiliated Tarek Mohamed Mahmoud Youssef 0.2%. Olayan Investment holds a 13.84% stake.

SHIPPING

LNG carriers get break on Suez transit

LNG carriers traveling between the US and SouthEast Asia will continue to receive 30-75% off their Suez Canal transit fees for an additional six months after the Suez Canal Authority extended its incentive scheme through 1 June 2021, Al Mal reports.

Who gets what? Natural gas carriers running from Gulf and Indian ports will see regular fees slashed by the same margins. Gulf carriers will pay 35% less, while ports located between India and Singapore will get a 55% break and carriers out of Singapore and other Far East ports will get a 75% break.

LNG joins oil and LPG: The authority earlier this week extended a similar scheme for liquefied petroleum gas ships and slashed fees for oil tankers as it anticipates a slowdown in international trade caused by the latest flare-up of covid.

The SCA has the right idea: Global manufacturers are struggling with postponed shipments due to the pandemic, experiencing major bottlenecks and disruptions in trade flows leading to losses in product supply, writes Reuters.

CABINET WATCH

Tourism companies, airlines, hotels get another tax + debt breather

SMART POLICY- Airlines, hotels, and other tourism establishments are getting another breather on debt, taxes, and utility payments after the Madbouly Cabinet approved yesterday extending a payment holiday introduced in April. According to the decision, these businesses will be entirely exempt from paying real estate taxes for the period between 1 January 2021 and 30 April 2021. The government will also allow these businesses to restructure utility debts (including water, gas, electricity, and docking fees for boat hotels) over a 36-month period. The debt, tax, and utilities payment holiday was originally set to expire in October before being extended until the end of 2020 as the pandemic continued to batter the tourism industry.

Hotels will also have until 31 December, 2021 to turn around their business before being put into administration, the statement said without providing further details.

All Egyptian companies will soon pay equal fees when applying for licenses to work on projects abroad, according to legislative amendments approved yesterday in cabinet’s weekly meeting. Authorities had previously collected lower fees from companies registered as contractors and looking to authenticate their prior experience and financial standing. Now, companies and contractors alike will pay a fee equivalent to 0.5% of annual revenues, which will be capped at EGP 100k, cabinet said.

Also approved during the weekly cabinet meeting:

  • A request from the General Authority for Investment to postpone a planned 15% increase in usufruct fees paid by investors in freezones;
  • Permission to display Egyptian antiquities in expos in the US, London and Paris between November 2021 and January 2025; and
  • Presidential pardons for several convicted individuals set to take effect on 25 January, on occasion of the January Revolution and Police Day.

enterprise

MOVES

Maged Mostafa El Kordy was appointed chairman of the Assiut Oil Refining Company, according to a decision from Oil Minister Tarek El Molla, Masrawy reports. El Molla has also tapped Ahmed Eid Mowafy as general manager of the Central Administration for Mining and Quarrying.

THURSDAY KUDOS

The Financial Regulatory Authority (FRA) has joined the Network of Central Banks and Supervisors for Greening the Financial System (NGFS). The NGFS was launched by eight central banks and supervisors at the 2017 One Planet summit in Paris to build support for green investments and protect the financial system against climate risk. The US Federal Reserve finally signed on last week after being one of the last holdouts, next to India.

ENTERPRISE+: LAST NIGHT’S TALK SHOWS

The Suspendered One is back on the airwaves on Al Qahera Wal Nas, making an appearance on Hadith Al Qahera. Journalist Ibrahim Eissa — who was last on the airwaves in 2017 before being taken off air for criticizing government officials — had a sit-down with Finance Minister Mohamed Maait yesterday. Maait broke down for viewers what economic reforms actually entail and the benefits they are designed to reap (watch, runtime: 2:08) and discussed at length how Egypt’s reform program was a difficult pill to swallow but has improved the economy and daily life for citizens (watch, runtime: 8:03). The full interview is available here (runtime: 1:08:55).

Eissa hosts the show on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings, with Khairy Ramadan and others doing duty the rest of the week.

Also on the airwaves last night: Potato farmers are up in arms over low market prices, but the problem is largely caused by the pandemic, Agriculture Ministry spokesperson Mohamed El Kersh said. (Ramy Radwan on Masaa DMC | watch, runtime: 6:08)

EGYPT IN THE NEWS

More human rights coverage: Reporters Without Borders is calling for the release of recently detained Al Shaab Newspaper editor Amer Abdel Moneim and blogger Shady Abou Zeid, while Egypt gets passing mention in this Financial Times piece on democracy in Africa.

ALSO ON OUR RADAR

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has extended a USD 12 mn loan to Al Dau al Haram for Hotels Operations to develop the Hyatt Regency hotel that will overlook the Giza Pyramids, it said in a statement (pdf) yesterday. The 249-room hotel will be fitted with energy-efficient tech and a tourism training program will be carried out for women and young people which will be funded by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs.

Other things we’re keeping an eye on this morning:

  • Egypt has imposed an import ban on ceramics and porcelain for three months to protect local producers through the latest wave of covid-19, the Trade Ministry said yesterday.
  • Send in the lawyers: Four domestic firms are pitching their services as counsel for Egypt’s international bonds issuances next year, government sources said. They include Matouk Bassiouny & Hennawy, Baker McKenzie, Ragy Soliman & Partners (Adsero), and Sharkawy & Sarhan.
  • Eni has made a new oil discovery in the Western Desert that will add 10k barrels of oil a day to its production from the Meleiha concession.
  • Egypt aims to export 45 shipments of liquified natural gas through the Idku liquefaction plant in 2021 after having seen exports tank this year due to the collapse in gas prices.
  • Elsewedy Electric subsidy Rowad Modern Engineering will work with Power China to implement the first phase of the CapitalMed Medical City project in Badr City

PLANET FINANCE

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Bloomberg’s take on risk in MENA for investors: Investors in regional markets have their work cut out for them in 2021 as bond issuances, budget deficits and geopolitical complexities heighten risks over the coming 12 months, Bloomberg reports. With the pandemic still raging and oil prices slumping again, public finances in the region are expected to come under further pressure and the trajectory of the economic recovery uncertain. Add a new White House incumbent with a new foreign policy to the mix, and 2021 may turn out to be just as turbulent as 2020.

Egyptian stocks are looking increasingly appealing: Although Gulf equities are still considered a little pricey compared to other emerging markets, Egypt and Dubai are singled out as having more attractive valuations than their GCC counterparts based on their solid fiscal positions, Dubai-based head of equity strategy at Tellimer, Hasnain Malik tells Bloomberg.

Also from the EM-verse:

  • Good news/bad news on the debt front: The number of emerging- and frontier-countries with distressed debt has more than halved to only six from as many as 19 in March, but many are still struggling with growing debt piles and their fiscal positions remain uncertain, according to Bloomberg.
  • Ditto on remittances: Higher than expected remittances have helped cushion the blow of the pandemic in many EMs, but inflows remain under the threat of job losses in host countries, even as vaccines begin to be rolled out, writes’ Reuters Tom Arnold. Remittances into Egypt from migrant workers rebounded in the third quarter of 2020 after a 10% dip in 2Q2020.
  • But they still might be in better shape than the developed world: Surging infection rates in advanced economies and rising inflows into EM make the outlook for the asset class better than the developed world, JPMorgan’s managing director and head of Asia equity research James Sullivan tells Bloomberg (watch, runtime: 4:49).

Italy is 2021’s bond market darling: Bond traders plan to go all-in on long-dated Italian debt next year as investors search for investment-grade debt that actually pays a return, Bloomberg reported. In a world of negative interest rates, Italian bonds are one of the few investment-grade assets that investors don’t have to pay to hold, making them attractive despite the country’s uncertain economic, financial and political future.

Up

EGX30

10,678

+0.2% (YTD: -23.5%)

None

USD (CBE)

Buy 15.64

Sell 15.74

Up

USD at CIB

Buy 15.64

Sell 15.74

None

Interest rates CBE

8.25% deposit

9.25% lending

Up

Tadawul

8,721

+0.5% (YTD: +3.9%)

Up

ADX

5,142

+0.6% (YTD: +1.3%)

Up

DFM

2,512

+1.2% (YTD: -9.2%)

Up

S&P 500

3,690

+0.1% (YTD: +14.2%)

Up

FTSE 100

6,496

+0.7% (YTD: -13.9%)

Up

Brent crude

USD 51.14

+2.1%

Down

Natural gas (Nymex)

USD 2.61

-6.2%

Up

Gold

USD 1,867.90

+0.4%

Down

BTC

USD 23,280.71

-0.7%

The EGX30 rose 0.2% yesterday on turnover of EGP 1.1 bn (19.2% above the 90-day average). Regional investors were net sellers. The index is down 23.5% YTD.

In the green: Ezz Steel (+4.4%), Egyptian Iron & Steel (+2.9%) and Beltone Financial Holding (+2.6%).

In the red: Egypt Kuwait Holding (-1.3%), TMG Holding (-1.2%) and Ibnsina Pharma (-1.2%).

Asian markets are all in the green this morning with the exception of Shanghai, which is down slightly. Futures suggest that short trading days on Wall Street and in London will open in the green.

AROUND THE WORLD

Agent Orange has decided he isn’t happy about paying for military assistance to Egypt: US Donald Trump complained about the “wasteful” use of money in the latest covid-19 stimulus bill, which also includes bns of USD in regular government spending — including Egypt’s USD 1.3 bn in military aid. The BBC reports that Trump balked at the cost, saying that Egypt will “go out and buy almost exclusively Russian military equipment,” and urged lawmakers to use the foreign aid money to increase direct stimulus checks from USD 600 to USD 2k.

It seems the UK and the EU have finally agreed a tentative outline for a Brexit trade agreement, with the text of the agreement still being drafted, Bloomberg reports, citing officials with knowledge of the matter. The agreement still requires higher-up approvals and could still fall through at the last moment, the officials say.

MY MORNING ROUTINE

James Lafferty, CEO of Fine Hygienic Holding: My Morning / WFH Routine looks each week at how a successful member of the community starts their day — and then throws in a couple of random business questions just for fun. Speaking to us this week is James Lafferty (LinkedIn), the CEO of Fine Hygienic Holding. Edited excerpts from our conversation:

My story with Fine Hygienic Holding actually started when I was in the fitness world. In the early 80s, I started a company for corporate wellness services along with three doctors — we were basically teaching executives how to lose weight. A client once suggested to me that I become a brand manager — which is what I became with Procter & Gamble. After a few years, I left for Morocco, where I spent five years, followed by Poland and the Levant. I was the first general manager for the Levant, which meant I opened countries like Jordan, Palestine, and Syria for P&G. After several years of moving around some more, I took early retirement and joined Fine’s board.

Fine recruited me because I was the guy who launched Pampers in Jordan against Fine. Almost 20 years later, they found me and I was happy to join because I’ve always loved the Levant — especially Jordan — so I jumped at it the moment they asked if I was interested. After a couple of years on the board, they asked me to step in as CEO in 2018, and that’s what I’ve been doing since.

From the minute I landed in the region, I’ve felt at home with the people, the culture, and the food. When I left the US in 1990, I thought my favorite cuisine was Italian. But you don’t know what you don’t know — after tasting some delicious Lebanese food at a restaurant in Morocco, I said “My favorite cuisine has always been Lebanese; I just had never tasted it.”

Outside of my day job, I keep a very active life — I’m still coaching olympic athletes, I write columns occasionally, and I just ran a 12k this morning. I stay active even though I’m getting old, but I always tell people that if you can’t get in shape in your 30s, you’re screwed, because it only gets worse.

I’m up early. I usually sleep only four or five hours a night. I don’t know why, but I feel fine. I don’t drink any coffee or caffeine, either. Every morning, I go to the gym or run, so it’s seven days a week of exercise, then I start the workday. I’ve been working from home around 90% of the time, and we only allow 20% capacity at the office anyway to reduce the risk of covid-19 transmission. I’ve already had six employees pass away from covid and that’s six too many. I have an office in my apartment with my computers hooked up to the company server. My productivity is quite strong; the only drawback of working from home for me is just not knowing when to switch off.

I don’t have a set time in the day for it, but I read Enterprise and other news roundups for our key markets on a daily basis. I obviously need to stay on top of the major happenings in the countries we operate in. I also get a daily report on the pulp market, which is an important part of manufacturing diapers and other paper products.

Egypt is one of our major markets and we fully intend to keep investing there. We’ve invested more than the USD 35 mn we had planned in 2020, and we’re doing more next year. A lot of these investments go towards new machines and maintaining the ones we have. One thing people maybe aren’t aware of in the paper industry is the degree of complexity in the technology we use — and how expensive it all is.

Right now, I’m reading Barack Obama’s memoir, A Promised Land. I’m not much of a TV show or podcast kind of person — sometimes I’ll listen to a podcast episode if it comes recommended, but I don’t follow any particular programs.

This year taught me a lot that people show their mettle when they’re under pressure, or staring down the barrel of a gun. I learned this lesson early on from my brother, and it has really resonated with me this year.

When life goes back to normal, the first thing I’m going to do is travel to see my family. I have five kids and three grandkids. I have a grandkid I haven’t met yet, and I haven’t seen one of my kids in 16 months.

CALENDAR

24 December (Thursday): The CBE’s Monetary Policy Committee will meet to review interest rates.

25 December (Friday): Western Christmas.

31 December (Thursday): Egypt-UK post-Brexit trade agreement to take effect.

31 December (Thursday): Deadline for car owners to comply with traffic regulations to install a RFID electronic sticker on their cars.

31 December (Thursday): Deadline for EGX-listed companies to comply with regulations requiring at least one member of their boards of directors be a woman.

1Q2021: The Annual Egypt Automotive Summit will be held.

January 2021: Expo to promote auto natgas transition strategy.

January 2021: US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is set to visit Egypt.

1 January 2021 (Friday): New Year’s Day, national holiday.

7 January 2021 (Thursday): Coptic Christmas, national holiday.

13-31 January (Wednesday-Sunday): Egypt will host the 2021 Men’s Handball World Championship at the Giza Pyramids.

Mid-January: Local expo to display natural gas-powered and dual-engine vehicles for Egypt’s car replacement program.

17 January 2021 (Sunday): A court will hold a postponed hearing to look into an appeal by Syria’s Anataradous against an arbitration ruling in favor of Amer Group and Amer Syria in case 445 of 2019.

25 January 2021 (Monday): 25 January revolution anniversary / Police Day.

25-29 January 2021 (Monday-Friday): The World Economic Forum’s “Davos Dialogues” will take place virtually.

26-28 January (Tuesday-Thursday): Future Investment Initiative, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

28 January 2021 (Thursday): National holiday in observance of 25 January revolution anniversary / Police Day.

4 February 2021 (Thursday): The CBE’s Monetary Policy Committee will meet to review interest rates.

6-18 February 2021 (Saturday-Thursday): Mid-year school break.

20 February 2021 (Saturday): The CBE’s Monetary Policy Committee will meet to review interest rates.

18 March 2021 (Thursday): The CBE’s Monetary Policy Committee will meet to review interest rates.

12 April 2021 (Monday): First day of Ramadan (TBC).

25 April 2021 (Sunday): Sinai Liberation Day.

29 April 2021 (Thursday): National holiday in observance of Sinai Liberation Day.

29 April 2021 (Thursday): The CBE’s Monetary Policy Committee will meet to review interest rates.

3 May 2021 (Monday): Sham El Nessim.

6 May 2021 (Thursday): National holiday in observance of Sham El Nessim.

12-15 May 2021 (Wednesday-Saturday): Eid El Fitr (TBC).

18-21 May 2021 (Tuesday-Friday): The World Economic Forum’s annual meeting will be held under the theme of “The Great Reset” in Lucerne-Bürgenstock, Switzerland

31 May-2 June 2021 (Monday-Wednesday): Egypt Petroleum Show, Egypt International Exhibition Center, Nasr City, Cairo.

30 May-15 June 2021 (Wednesday-Thursday): Cairo International Book Fair.

1 June 2021 (Tuesday): The IMF will conduct a second review of targets set under the USD 5.2 bn standby loan approved in June 2020 (proposed date).

17 June 2021 (Thursday): The CBE’s Monetary Policy Committee will meet to review interest rates.

24 June 2021 (Thursday): End of the 2020-2021 academic year.

26-29 June 2021 (Saturday-Tuesday): The Big 5 Construct Egypt, Cairo International Convention Center

30 June- 15 July 2021: National Book Fair.

2H2021: Egypt’s Commodities Exchange (Egycomex) will begin trading.

30 July-3 August 2021 (Thursday-Monday): Eid Al Adha, national holiday (TBC).

5 August 2021 (Thursday): The CBE’s Monetary Policy Committee will meet to review interest rates.

16 September 2021 (Thursday): The CBE’s Monetary Policy Committee will meet to review interest rates.

1 October 2021-31: March 2022 (Friday-Thursday): Postponed Expo 2020 Dubai.

28 October 2021 (Thursday): The CBE’s Monetary Policy Committee will meet to review interest rates.

13-17 December 2021: United Nations Convention against Corruption, Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

16 December 2021 (Thursday): The CBE’s Monetary Policy Committee will meet to review interest rates.

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