Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Taaleem starts trading today, ending our IPO drought — and there’s more in the pipeline

TL;DR

WHAT WE’RE TRACKING TODAY

Good morning, friends, and welcome to this fantastic Wednesday. Why are we so chipper this morning? Our IPO drought is ending. If the algorithms allowed us to use exclamation marks, we’d have at least a couple of them in that last sentence.

The innovative higher education platform Taaleem makes its trading debut on the EGX today. Shares in the higher education management company will open at EGP 5.75 under the ticker TALM after the IPO met strong appetite from global institutional investors, local firms and retail investors. It’s the first real IPO on the EGX since December 2019 when Rameda went to market. What makes Taaleem so attractive? You can get the rundown on Taaleem, the transaction and its fundamentals here, but we particularly like (a) its exposure to Upper Egypt, (b) the upcoming launch of a Cairo campus with PHD, (c) its tight focus on life sciences and (d) deep thinking about the needs of the job market reflected in programs ranging from computer science and engineering to business administration. You can check out their investor deck here (pdf).

ADVISORS: Our friends at CI Capital, who are also shareholders in Taaleem, are running the sale and serving as the bookrunner. MHR & Partners in association with White & Case are counsel to CI Capital, while Matouk Bassiouny & Hennawy are domestic counsel to Taaleem. PwC has served as auditor for the transaction, and BDO is the independent financial advisor. Inktank is Taaleem’s IR advisor.

We have a real IPO pipeline for the first time in two years: Leading cosmeceutical and neutraceutical player Macro will start trading on Monday, 19 April, and London-listed consumer healthcare giant IDH is looking to wrap up its local listing on the EGX as early as this month. Both companies are on the road right now. And EGX chief Mohamed Farid says the exchange could see as many as six listings in 2021. Conventional wisdom has held that it would take new paper to bring institutional investors off the sidelines and back into a market in which retail investors have accounted for 60-70% of trading since the global covid market meltdown.

***CATCH UP QUICK with the top stories from yesterday’s edition of EnterprisePM:

WHAT’S HAPPENING TODAY-

Shoukry in Paris, Beirut today: Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry is reportedly heading to Paris this morning before visiting Beirut, where he will discuss efforts to form a new Lebanese government with President Michel Aoun, caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri and House Speaker Nabih Berri, according to Lebanon’s Al Anbaa. Shoukry’s visit is part of a France-led push to see Lebanon appoint an emergency cabinet that will agree to reforms and unlock international assistance needed to stave off an economic collapse.

FROM THE REGION-

Jordan has banned journalists from reporting on King Abdullah’s half-brother, Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, after the latter was accused of plotting to destabilise the country. This came after an audio recording surfaced — apparently from a meeting between the prince and the military chief of staff — that seemed to cast doubt on the government’s claims that Hamzah was conspiring with foreign actors, Bloomberg says. Egypt and a number of other Arab countries have said in recent days that King Abdullah has their full backing.

Of course Bibi is PM again: Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin has nominated PM Benjamin Netanyahu — who is currently on trial for corruption — to form a new government, following our eastern neighbor’s latest inconclusive election.

MARKET WATCH-

European stocks climbed to record highs on Tuesday to finally erase all of the losses they had booked since the pandemic, Bloomberg reports. This comes more than a year after covid-19 spurred a market crash as investors look for a speedy economic recovery amid global vaccine rollouts. Investors returned from the long Easter weekend to push the continent-wide Stoxx 600 index up as much as 1%, surpassing its previous all-time high set in February 2020.

Asian shares rose to three-week highs in early trading this morning. Over in Europe and the US, equity futures are pointing to more of the same from yesterday, with European bourses set to rise later this morning and US stocks to open slightly down.

CIRCLE YOUR CALENDAR-

The business community has until tomorrow to give comment on the Customs Act’s draft executive regulations. Under the proposed regulations, importers would be allowed to pay customs fees in chunks over 6-12 months, depending on how established their business is. The regs would also allow goods to move out of Egypt without submitting waybills on the spot.

Amendments to the VAT act will be in the spotlight when Finance Minister Mohamed Maait meets this week with the House Planning and Budgeting Committee. The committee has a raft of potential amendments to the law to discuss, including applying the 14% tax to the rent and purchase of commercial and administrative properties, imposing VAT on crackers and some sweets, and removing the tax on imports of strategic commodities.

More information on the new construction licenses + building code will be made public before next Thursday: The government will hold a presser before 15 April to explain the details of the new system that will hand out construction licenses. The two-month pilot phase will begin 1 May before the system is fully rolled out at the start of the new fiscal year.

The Sovereign Fund of Egypt will issue the conditions booklet for the contract to develop the Mogamma El Tahrir this month, according to CEO Ayman Soliman. The goal is for the Mogamma to be transformed into a multi-purpose building.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is due in town on 12 April to discuss the latest developments on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Lavrov’s planned trip comes after expectations that Russian President Vladimir Putin would visit Egypt sometime in March did not materialize.

Egyptian Iron and Steel’s mining spinoff should be going live on the EGX sometime this week as the parent company prepares to go into liquidation.

Inflation data for March will be out on or around Saturday, 10 April.

“Summer hours” will come into effect for retail stores and restaurants as of 17 April. This means retail shops can close at 11 pm (instead of 10 pm during the winter), while cafes and restaurants can stay open until 1 am (instead of midnight currently). We have more details on the winter vs. summer hours here.

The Central Bank of Egypt will meet to discuss interest rates on Thursday, 29 April.

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

enterprise

*** It’s Hardhat day — your weekly briefing of all things infrastructure in Egypt: Enterprise’s industry vertical focuses each Wednesday on infrastructure, covering everything from energy, water, transportation, urban development and as well as social infrastructure such as health and education.

In today’s issue: After years of suffering from a supply glut, the cement industry could finally be getting a lifeline from the government in the form of an agreement stipulating production cuts from manufacturers. The Trade and Industry Ministry is brokering talks this week between factory owners to discuss the potential agreement or other industry-wide measures. We take a look at how viable these measures actually are for the industry, and other possible ways out of their crisis.

enterprise

ECONOMY

IMF more upbeat on global growth, says covid-end “increasingly visible”

The IMF sees the global economy growing this year at a faster pace than previously expected, saying in its updated World Economic Outlook that it now expects global growth to come in at 6% — 0.5 percentage points higher than the 5.5% growth it had penciled in three months ago — and 4.4% in 2022. An end to the pandemic and the economic crisis is “increasingly visible,” thanks to the global vaccination rollout, an overall adaptation to the ways of pandemic life, and large-scale stimulus measures around the world, said IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath. Tap / click here to read the full report (pdf).

In more ways than one, “uneven” is the overarching theme of the outlook: The report sees major economies — primarily the US and China — leading the pack in terms of economic growth this year. The US is on track to record higher GDP growth in 2021 than it did pre-covid, while China already achieved that milestone in 2020. Advanced economies are mostly expected to rebound to pre-covid growth in 2022 and many developing economies aren’t expected to get to that point before “well into 2023,” said Gopinath.

And the divergence is not just between countries — the IMF sees disparities within individual countries. This includes a greater degree of job losses “in those sectors with larger concentrations of younger or lower-skilled workers as well as in sectors more vulnerable to automation,” particularly as the pandemic spurred the shift to digitalization.

This is likely to lead to “significantly wider gaps in living standards,” Gopinath said. 2020-22 per capita losses in emerging economies will be almost double that of advanced economies, while 95 mn people have been pushed into extreme poverty since the onset of covid, she noted.

The antidote: “Averting divergent outcomes will require, above all, resolving the health crisis everywhere. At the same time, economic policies will need to limit persistent damage, secure the recovery, and prepare for the post-COVID world, while being mindful of available policy space,” Golpinath says.

WHERE IS EGYPT IN ALL OF THIS? The IMF upgraded Egypt’s growth projections for FY2021-2022 by 0.2 percentage points to 5.7%, up from its 5.5% growth forecast in January. Output is expected to accelerate to 5.8% by FY2025-2026.

Other Egypt figures: Egypt’s current account deficit is expected to widen to 4% by the end of the currency fiscal year (from 3.1% in FY2019-2020) before narrowing again to 2.5% in FY2025-2026. The report also sees inflation accelerating to 6.3% in 2021 and 7.4% in 2022, up from 5.7% last year.

PUBLIC FINANCES

Somehow we’ve generated a primary surplus so far this fiscal year

The Madbouly government delivered a primary surplus of EGP 25 bn during the first nine months of FY2020-2021, despite the economic shock of the coronavirus heaping pressure on public finances, Finance Minister Mohamed Maait said yesterday. This came as revenue growth outpaced a rise in spending, with income rising almost 15% during the nine-month period compared to a 11.2% increase in expenditure. Tax income was up 13.5% during the period.

Welfare spending up: Government spending on social programmes rose more than 17% y-o-y to reach EGP 388.5 bn during 9M FY2020-2021. More than EGP 45 bn was spent on commodity subsidies (up 23.8% y-o-y) while Takaful, Karama and pensions cost the government EGP 12.9 bn (up 29%).

The figures come a day after the minister pledged to ramp up spending during the coming fiscal year, fuelled by what he said would be a rise in tax revenues. Maait expects tax receipts to rise by 11-12% during the year, allowing the government to raise salaries next year.

Higher tax takings are sorely needed to compensate for the revenue shortfall suffered under corona: The government has lost out on some EGP 420 bn in revenue over the past two financial years thanks to the coronavirus.

COVID WATCH

Covid cases are rising in Egypt again + we have an agreement to make Sinovac

Covid cases are beginning to tick up again: The Health Ministry reported 778 new covid-19 infections yesterday, up from 767 the day before and 709 on Sunday. The ministry also reported 43 new deaths, bringing the country’s total death toll to 12,253. Egypt has now disclosed a total of 206,510 confirmed cases of covid-19.

State-owned vaccine maker Vacsera will locally manufacture 20-60 mn doses a year of China’s Sinovac vaccine after an agreement was reached with the drugmaker, Health Minister Hala Zayed said in a statement.

When production will start remains an open question: Zayed didn’t give any hints yesterday about when the company will begin manufacturing the vaccine. Health ministry officials had previously said Egypt should start manufacturing the jab within a few months.

Sinovac is Sinopharm’s less popular cousin: The two-dose shot isn’t as effective, demonstrating a 51% efficacy rate in trials in February, compared to 79% for Sinopharm. The silver lining. Sinovac’s data suggests that it could prevent 84% of cases that would have required medical treatment and 100% of “hospitalized, severe, and fatal cases.”

More people getting vaccinated. The ministry started yesterday vaccinating employees of the Suez Canal Authority in Ismailia, according to a statement. This comes in parallel with rolling out doses for the staff of the national carrier Egypt Air as well as tourism workers, which the ministry expects to finish vaccinating before June.

Kiss goodbye to a Ramadan vacation if you’re a nurse. Medical staff at public hospitals won’t be allowed to take vacation during the coming period in preparation for a potential third wave of covid-19, ministry sources told Masrawy.

Another setback for AstraZeneca? There is a “clear” link between the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and very rare brain blood clots, Reuters quoted a senior official for the European Medicines Agency (EMA) as saying in an interview with Italian daily Il Messagero. A number of European governments have temporarily suspended the vaccine this year on concerns that the inoculation was causing blood clotting in a small number of recipients. The EMA will release its official findings today or tomorrow.

Oxford University decided to suspend a clinical trial of the vaccine in 300 children until assessments are completed this week by the EMA and the UK’s medical regulator, the Financial Times reports.

INVESTMENT WATCH

Algebra Ventures doubles down on Egypt with USD 90 mn fund

Algebra launches USD 90 mn tech fund: Algebra Ventures has launched a second tech fund that will invest USD 90 mn into companies based in Egypt and the Middle East and Africa region, the VC outfit announced in a press release (pdf) yesterday. The company is “doubling down” on its home market and will focus its investments primarily on Egypt-based tech firms that are “transforming industries,” it said.

First close coming next quarter? Algebra is targeting a first close in 3Q2021, but doesn’t have a set timeline for when it will begin drawing on the fund, Managing Partner Karim Hussein told us.

Algebra is tight-lipped on potential limited partners. The company’s first USD 54 mn fund received backing from a who’s who of international LPs including Egyptian American Enterprise Fund (EAEF), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the International Finance Corporation, Cisco and family offices.

Egypt + “bottom of the pyramid” businesses in focus: The fund will focus on investing in primarily Egyptian fintech, agritech, logistics and healthcare startups, but will also look at startups in the wider Middle East and Africa region. It plans to increasingly turn its focus to businesses that cater to lower and middle-income segments by bringing “excellent services at a low cost,” and is also looking at businesses that can evolve and have the potential for cross-border expansion to similar markets, particularly emerging markets. “We already have within our portfolio of businesses that are active in Sudan, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya, and other countries, so we’ll continue looking at similar stories,” Hussein told us.

The ticket size for investments will range from anywhere between USD 500k to USD 3 mn, depending on the stage of the startup, Hussein says.

And this could increase in the future: “With the high pace of growth we’re seeing with many of our startups, I’m expecting the ticket size to increase a bit over the coming years,” he said.

The story so far: Algebra has supported some 21 startups over the past four years through its inaugural USD 54 mn fund, with the VC firm’s six most established companies now valued at more than USD 350 mn.

It’s never been a better time to be a tech startup: Egyptian tech startups have been having their day in the sun this past year, with much of the USD 100 mn raised by startups during covid-19 going to fintech and e-commerce ventures. The tech transformation in the Egyptian economy and the government’s financial inclusion drive (including digitalizing the tax filing system and other major government services) coupled with initiatives from the Central Bank of Egypt such as financing commercial banks’ purchase and distribution of PoS machines all bode well for tech-enabled businesses, Hussein told Enterprise. “We see encouraging signs from the digitization of the economy that there will be stronger infrastructure for startups to rely on going forward.”

PRIVATIZATION WATCH

ADQ teams up with Adnoc on Wataniya bid

Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund ADQ is joining forces with Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) in its takeover bid for military owned Wataniya Petroleum, with the aim of making a stronger offer for the company, the local press reports, citing unnamed sources. Adnoc was reportedly in the process of appointing advisors last month, and is competing with other GCC players, including state-owned Emirates National Oil Company (ENOC), Saudi Arabia's Aldrees Petroleum and Transport Services Co, and Qalaa Holdings’ Taqa Arabia.

A sale is expected to go ahead in the second half of 2021 after the Sovereign Fund of Egypt (SFE) — which is managing the sale — last month changed its plans for a 1H2021 transaction.

Background: Wataniya is one of two companies that are kickstarting a privatization program of companies owned by the military’s National Service Products Organization. The SFE had previously said it plans to retain a 10-20% stake in the companies up for sales, with the rest to be sold off to the private sector.

REGULATION WATCH

FRA mulls caps on margin trading

New regs to mitigate margin trading risks: Proposals to rein in margin trading under consideration by the Financial Regulatory Authority (FRA) would introduce caps on how much stock investors can buy with borrowed funds, the regulator said (pdf) yesterday. The new regulations — drafted by the FRA’s advisory committee (pdf) — would curb how much a broker can lend to a single client to buy stock on margin. The measures could also include a cap on how much a single company’s shares can be exposed, FRA Deputy Chairman Islam Azzam said following a meeting between the advisory body, EGX representatives, and clearinghouse MCDR.

In detail: The current proposals would not permit any single investor to purchase on margin more than 1% of a company’s market cap or 2% of shares on freefloat. A single company would also not be permitted to have over 15% of its outstanding shares held on margin, or 25% of its publicly-traded shares, whichever is higher. Some 90% of public companies currently don’t exceed those limits, according to Azzam.

This comes after brokerages voiced concerns about the growth of margin trading on the EGX: The FRA invited several brokerage firms and custodians to meetings last week to discuss imposing a cap on the volume of margin trades permitted amid a surge in the value of EGX shares exposed to potential margin calls and the high concentration of borrowed funds in the hands of only a few investors. The value of shares traded on margin is currently at EGP 6.5 bn but could rise to as much as EGP 75 bn in the coming years, Azzam said yesterday.

WAIT A SECOND — haven’t policymakers been encouraging margin lending? In a word: Yes. The central bank last month earmarked EGP 1 bn to be lent out to brokerages in order to increase margin trading and boost liquidity on the bourse. The FRA is now allowing fund managers to trade using margin and recently agreed to allow non-bank lenders to get involved in margin lending.

SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? Our take is that the regulator is very comfortable with the growth of margin trading, but is taking the notion of risk management seriously. Look at the restrictions as akin to rules in the banking system on issues such as single obligor exposure and capital adequacy.

And remember: This is still a proposal, and while this is being put on the table by the advisory committee, the FRA’s board will have the final say. It remains unclear when the board will meet to decide on the way forward.

Whatever happens, a decision will have to be reached by the end of the year: Brokerages will have to start implementing the new regulations by the start of 2022, Azzam said.

How bad are the concentration risks? A regulatory official we spoke to estimates that out of the EGP 6.5 bn-worth of margins borrowed by equity investors from their brokers, nearly EGP 4.5 bn are given to 1% of clients, 10 of which have taken out margins of EGP 1 bn alone. A large part of those borrowed funds are also invested in a single constituent on the EGX70, which greatly increases both single-company and single-investor concentration risks.

Besides mitigating concentration risks, the limits would also help prevent back-to-back margin calls, which are usually bad news for equity prices, Prime Securities Managing Director Shawkat El Maraghy tells us. This can happen if the price of a share heavily traded on margin drops to a level that triggers a margin call and forces a broker to sell down the position, putting even more pressure on the price and triggering another margin call, creating a domino effect, he explains. This was at play earlier this week, when a drop in the EGX was made worse after an initial selloff triggered a series of margin calls that snowballed into more selling.

So, uh … what exactly is margin trading?

The short answer: It’s when a broker loans you money to allow you to buy more stocks.

Want the long answer? Stay tuned for our explainer in this afternoon’s EnterprisePM edition.

SUEZ CANAL

We could be seeing expansion work done on the Suez Canal

The Suez Canal Authority (SCA) is considering an expansion of the Southern section of the waterway where MV Ever Given became lodged late last month, SCA chairman Osama Rabie told Reuters. Acquiring new cranes that could vertically offload cargo from up to 52 metres is also on the authority’s radar, to help mitigate any future incidents in the canal. “Our procedures are sound, we are just aiming to improve the service” Rabie said.

About face? The construction work could move forward despite Rabie’s indication last week that the undertaking would not be economically feasible.

The Ever Given should be out of here within two to three days, Rabie said, following the conclusion of the investigation. The ship is currently anchored in the Great Bitter Lake, and has handed over data from its recorders to the investigation team.

Egypt wants to reach a financial settlement for the blockage out of court and has been in negotiations with the owners of the vessel “for nearly a week,” Rabie told the Associated Press. “Bringing the case before a court would be more harmful to the firm than settling,” he noted. The SCA head said last week that Egypt could look to claim some USD 1 bn in damages from ins. companies, which includes foregone revenues of around USD 15 mn for each day the ship blocked the canal, as well as damages to the waterway from dredging the bank’s embankment to free the ship.

A minor incident in the waterway put eyes on the canal again yesterday after an oil tanker briefly experienced engine failure during its passing, causing a 10 minute delay to traffic, according to an SCA statement. The 62k tonne vessel was escorted by tugboats Tim Hope and Mosaed 3 through the canal and has since addressed the technical malfunction.

enterprise

INFRASTRUCTURE

Rail upgrades get a boost

AfDB has approved a EUR 145 mn loan to finance railway upgrades through the Egypt National Railways Modernization Project (ENRP), according to an AfDB statement. The funds will be used to help enhance rail safety by updating and installing new signalling mechanisms along 950 km of rail connecting Alexandria to Naga Hammadi and Port Said. This comes against the backdrop of a tragic train crash last month that killed at least 19 people and left 185 injured, sparking renewed outcry over the state of the country’s rail network.

IN OTHER RAIL NEWS-

Alstom installs automated railway signalling system: French rail manufacturer Alstom has completed (pdf) the installation of an automated signaling system along a section of the Beni Suef-Assiut railway line.

CABINET WATCH

Cabinet approves draft bill to regulate fintech industry

The draft law that will govern the fintech space received approval from the Madbouly cabinet in its weekly meeting yesterday, cabinet said in a statement. The new law would regulate the use of fintech to deliver non-banking financial services (NBFS) in a bid to promote financial inclusion and expand the number of beneficiaries.

The 30-article bill authorizes the Financial Regulatory Authority (FRA) to license and regulate the NBFS businesses and fintech startups. The regulator will also have supervisory powers over the sector to ensure companies adhere to transparency and governance standards, in addition to protecting consumer rights.

Background: The FRA completed the first draft of the bill in July before its approval in September. The new regulation reportedly covers crowdfunding, robo-advisory, nano-finance and insurtech, and introduces penalties for regulatory breaches including imprisonment or fines of EGP 200k-1 mn.

Also approved during the meeting:

  • Adding USD 22.8 mn to the inclusive economic governance grant signed last September with USAID, which will bring the US's total commitments under the agreement to USD 50.5 mn;
  • New AfDB shares: The African Development Bank's board decision to allocate new shares to Egypt, raising its total shares in the pan-African lender to 10,099;
  • JICA funding for power sector: A JPY 25 bn (EGP 3.58 bn) loan agreement signed with the Japan International Cooperation Agency last February to boost the electricity sector.

POLITICS

Stalemate

GERD talks end without agreement: Four days of talks between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan in Kinshasa have ended in stalemate after the three countries were unable to agree on how to proceed with negotiations over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Foreign and irrigation ministers were meeting to try and agree a format for a new round of talks. A proposal put forward by Sudan to bring in new international mediators was rejected by Ethiopia, leaving the negotiations in limbo with only a few months before Addis Ababa begins the second filling of the dam.

Egypt and Sudan both blamed Ethiopian “intransigence” for the collapse of the talks in statements last night. Sudan, backed by Egypt, has suggested inviting the US, EU and UN into the negotiating process and joining the African Union as a mediator in the dispute — an idea Ethiopia continued to reject in favor of sticking with the AU-led process. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry also said that Ethiopia turned down Egyptian proposals to allow observers to participate in the talks to resolve outstanding legal and technical issues of contention,

A “tipping point”: Ethiopia’s decision to unilaterally fill the dam would cause “great damage” to Sudan, and the start of the dam’s second filling would be a “tipping point,” Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said in a televised interview last night (watch, runtime 4:22).

Next up: UN Security Council? Shoukry told ExtraNews (watch, runtime: 6:16) that Egypt could turn to the UN Security Council in an attempt to force the issue. Egypt last went to the security council in July last year before Ethiopia went ahead with the first filling of the reservoir. “We will confront it with all we have — first, politically,” he said in a separate interview with Al Arabiya (watch, runtime: 3:39). The minister said earlier this week that the negotiations would be the last chance to reach an agreement before the second filling of the dam, an act that President Abdel Fattah El Sisi has described a “red line.”

A new round of talks in April? Ethiopia said that a new round of AU-sponsored talks will likely take place during the third week of April. Shoukry poured cold water on that idea in an interview on Kelma Akhira (watch, runtime 6:48).

Sudan said it will do what it needs to ensure its water security “under international law,” the Sudanese News Agency reported. The first filling, which collected 4.9 bn cubic metres of water, already caused “grave” damage, with the second aiming to hold 8.4 bn cubic meters, which the country described as “a real threat that cannot be accepted.”

ALSO FROM THE AIRWAVES-

Former irrigation minister Mohamed Nasr Allam told Ala Mas’ouleety that Ethiopia doesn’t intend to accept a binding agreement that would control its water share but only advisory recommendations. Proceeding with the further fillings of the dam will reduce Egypt’s water share yet this will cause “destructive” consequences for Sudan due to possible floods that will follow. Both countries might suffer famine in the long run. Ethiopia knows well, based on its studies, that the dam has a negative impact on downstream countries but it doesn't acknowledge Egypt and Sudan's water share, he claimed (watch, runtime: 3:55 | 3:59).

The same argument was made on Kelma Akhira by Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies advisor Hani Raslan who said that Ethiopia wants to have a unilateral control of the Nile while Egypt and Sudan both want a binding agreement as well as a clear arbitrary mechanism for resolving disputes (watch, runtime 13:28).

EGYPT IN THE NEWS

It’s a mixed bag of nuts in the foreign press this morning: AFP picks up the news that former PM Hazem El Beblawi has been granted immunity in the US from a torture lawsuit. Meanwhile, NYT journalist Mona El Naggar shares video clips from Saturday night’s Golden Parade.

ALSO ON OUR RADAR

Things we’re keeping an eye on this morning:

  • Our friends at Sodic now have a notary public office at its Westown development that will offer the Sodic West community access to automated government services, according to a press release (pdf).
  • Egypt exported its first-ever orange shipment to Japan, after meeting Japanese regulatory import requirements. This comes after Japan's lifting of a 25-year ban on citrus imports from Egypt following talks between Cairo and Tokyo since 2019.
  • State-owned Banque Misr will open its first branch in Saudi Arabia after obtaining the approval of the country’s council of ministers yesterday.
  • Contact Financial subsidiary Contact Credit has rolled out a new customer loyalty program that rewards members with points when purchasing products from Contact's partners, according to a press release (pdf).
  • The National Bank of Egypt has launched a new financing program for food cart vendors designed to extend credit and know-how to small scale vendors that are looking to purchase carts, food prep equipment and raw materials, Hapi Journal reports.

PLANET FINANCE

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The Central Bank of China will soon begin issuing a crypto-like digital Yuan designed to be independent of the global financial system, the WSJ reports. The decision to start phasing in a digital currency in mostly cashless China comes amid a global rush to issue central bank backed digital currencies. But some have raised concerns over the currency’s potential to increase Chinese government oversight on domestic transactions and allow more control over the economy through certain features, like programming the currency with an expiration date to spurr consumer spending when necessary. The currency would also allow the country to skirt US-imposed sanctions and challenge the dominance of the USD, with former IMF staffer Josh Lipsky calling the currency “a national security issue [that] threatens the dollar over the long term.”

Sweden will also begin testing its e-krona with commercial banks over the coming year, expanding the use of its central bank digital currency beyond the central bank which has been running a pilot program for the currency for the past year, Reuters reports. While “the technology provides new possibilities,” it remains unclear how it will fare in “processing retail payments in the magnitude and with the safety level required,” Sweden’s central bank, Riksbank, said in a statement.

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The EGX30 rose 0.1% yesterday on turnover of EGP 888 mn (37.2% above the 90-day average). Local investors were net buyers. The index is down 5.4% YTD.

In the green: Ezz Steel (+2.2%), Emaar (+1.8%) and Fawry (+1.1%).

In the red: Pioneers (-3.2%), Qalaa Holding (-3.0%) and Abu Qir Fertilizers (-2.0%).

hardhat

A way out of the Great Cement Crisis? An agreement stipulating production cuts for cement manufacturers and other industry-wide measures will reportedly be announced this week after talks between factory owners brokered by the Trade and Industry Ministry, the local press reports, citing unnamed state officials. The agreement looks set to impose a ceiling on the output of the industry as a whole through changes in certain clauses in factory licenses in a bid to address a drawn-out supply glut. A proposal to move forward with this solution is currently under discussion in the ministry, and is expected to be on the cabinet’s agenda for approval soon, the sources said.

Cement factories may have lost more than EGP 1 bn in recent years due to oversupply, an unnamed industry insider told the press. Estimates made last year forecast the nation’s annual production capacity to come in at around 83 mn tonnes in 2020 while local consumption was expected to fall below the 50 mn-tonne mark.

Resellers counter that curbing production will only cause local prices to soar. Instead, they see exports as the solution. Most producers have already lowered output in a bid to boost local prices, cement distributor and head of the Cairo Chamber of Commerce’s building materials division Ahmed El Zeiny told us. Many are reluctant to export as prices are less appealing on global markets. Authorities should require factories to export at least 5% of total production to funnel out some of the excess supply instead, El Zeiny said.

The catch: Egypt’s traditional cement export markets have collapsed. Pre-2011, we sold plenty of cement to countries including Yemen, Syria and Libya, none of which are in a position to buy much now. Around that time regional competition also heated up, with countries (namely KSA and Algeria) that heavily subsidize domestic fuel consumption exporting at cheaper prices. Egypt started cutting fuel subsidies since 2016. And the cost of freight makes shipping to markets further afield uneconomical.

What’s being done to balance out the market? Countless memos have been presented by industry lobbyists calling on the government to intervene to solve the sector’s issues that have left production costs high and producers operating at reduced capacity. Thus far, the government’s only policy has been to set lower natural gas prices for factories as part of stimulus measures to protect the economy from the fallout of the pandemic.

But cement players and industry watchers have said this has not been enough to make a significant impact and each have different ideas on how to resolve the issue. Aside from suggesting that exports are the best solution to push out surplus production, other previously proposed courses of action included an amendment to the income tax of cement companies, the government setting a floor on prices, or simply wait until inefficient players exit the market.

The cement trade has for years been the victim of the drawn out supply glut that left many producers hemorrhaging liquidity and six players on the cusp of exiting the market. The problem, which began in 2016, was made even worse when the state entered full force on the supply side by inaugurating the 13 mn tonnes/year cement plant in Beni Suef in 2018. Prospects for the sector worsened last year as the government announced a six-month construction ban just as covid-19 hit, forcing producers to slash prices and lay off workers in a bid to stay afloat. Exports fell 12% in 2020 as traditional markets for Egyptian cement — Libya, Syria, and Yemen — faced continued political turbulence.

Your top infrastructure stories for the week:

  • Siemens gets to work on Egypt-Sudan electricity connection: Siemens has been awarded a contract to more than treble the transmission capacity of the Egypt-Sudan electricity linkage to 300 MW from 80 MW.
  • Alexandria's electricity network to get a boost: Schneider Electric was awarded a contract to set up a new electricity control center that will serve downtown Alexandria.
  • Arab Contractors was awarded a EUR 93.5 mn contract for the development of Absha-Abu Ghulam road project in Chad.
  • The window for people to legalize informal buildings has finally been shut: Egypt received some 2.9 mn requests to settle building code violations between July and March.

CALENDAR

April: The government’s fuel pricing committee is scheduled to meet for its quarterly review of prices

5-11 April: The Spring Meetings of the IMF and the World Bank Group will take place virtually.

7 April (Wednesday): British-Egyptian Business Association (BEBA) webinar on digital banking and fintech.

7 April (Wednesday): Uber Ignite virtual panel on Data Privacy and Security.

8 April (Thursday): The Information Technology Industry Development Agency (ITIDA) will host a matchmaking virtual event, dubbed “Hangout with VCs.”

8-10 April (Thursday-Saturday): The TriFactory’s Endurance Festival at Somabay.

12 April (Sunday): Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit Egypt for GERD talks (watch: runtime: 1:28).

13 April (Monday): First day of Ramadan (TBC).

25 April (Sunday): Sinai Liberation Day.

29 April (Thursday): National holiday in observance of Sinai Liberation Day (TBC),

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

1 May (Saturday): Labor Day (national holiday).

2 May (Sunday): Coptic Easter Sunday.

3 May (Monday): Sham El Nessim.

13-15 May (Thursday-Saturday): Eid El Fitr (TBC).

25-28 May (Tuesday-Friday): The World Economic Forum annual meeting, Singapore.

1 June (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).

7-9 June (Monday-Wednesday): Egypt Petroleum Show, Egypt International Exhibition Center, New Cairo, Egypt.

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

17-20 June (Thursday-Sunday) : The International Exhibition of Materials and Technologies for Finishing and Construction (Turnkey Expo), Cairo International Conference Center.

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

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

30 June (Wednesday): 30 June Revolution Day.

30 June- 15 July: National Book Fair.

1 July: (Thursday): National holiday in observance of 30 June Revolution.

1 July (Thursday): Large taxpayers that have not yet signed on on to the e-invoicing platform will suffer a host of penalties, including removal from large taxpayer classification, losing access to government services and business, and losing subsidies.

19 July (Monday): Arafat Day (national holiday).

20-23 July (Tuesday-Friday): Eid Al Adha (national holiday)

23 July (Friday): Revolution Day (national holiday).

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

9 August (Monday): Islamic New Year.

12 August (Thursday): National holiday in observance of the Islamic New Year.

12-15 September (Sunday-Wednesday): Sahara Expo: the 33rd International Agricultural Exhibition for Africa and the Middle East.

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

30 September-2 October (Thursday-Saturday): Egypt Projects 2021 expo, Egypt International Exhibition Center, Cairo, Egypt.

1 October (Friday): Expo 2020 Dubai opens.

6 October (Wednesday): Armed Forces Day.

7 October (Thursday): National holiday in observance of Armed Forces Day.

12-14 October (Tuesday – Thursday) Mediterranean Offshore Conference, Alexandria, Egypt

18 October (Monday): Prophet’s Birthday.

21 October (Thursday): National holiday in observance of the Prophet’s Birthday.

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

1-3 November (Monday-Wednesday): Egypt Energy exhibition on power and renewable energy, Egypt International Exhibition Center, Cairo, Egypt

1-12 November (Monday-Friday): 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), Glasgow, United Kingdom.

29 November – 2 December (Monday-Thursday): Egypt Defense Expo

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

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

27 June – 3 July 2022 (Monday-Sunday): World University Squash Championships, New Giza.

Note to readers: Some national holidays may appear twice above. Since 2020, Egypt has observed most mid-week holidays on Thursdays regardless of the day on which they fall and may also move those days to Sundays. We distinguish below between the actual holiday and its observance.

Enterprise is a daily publication of Enterprise Ventures LLC, an Egyptian limited liability company (commercial register 83594), and a subsidiary of Inktank Communications. Summaries are intended for guidance only and are provided on an as-is basis; kindly refer to the source article in its original language prior to undertaking any action. Neither Enterprise Ventures nor its staff assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy of the information contained in this publication, whether in the form of summaries or analysis. © 2021 Enterprise Ventures LLC.