Sunday, 11 April 2021

It’s a big week for diplomacy as Cairo makes a big push on Ethiopia, looks set to make up with Ankara

TL;DR

WHAT WE’RE TRACKING TODAY

Good morning, wonderful people, and welcome to the first week of Ramadan. The holy month should start on Tuesday: Expect Dar Al Iftaa to make a formal announcement tomorrow evening, based on its sighting of the moon.

The EGX will move to its customary shortened Ramadan hours, which will see trading begin at 10 am and end at 1:30 pm. Trading of unlisted securities on OTC orders market will take place on Mondays and Wednesdays from 11:30 am to 12 pm, while trading of unlisted securities on the OTC market will take place from 9:30 am to 1:30 pm.

The nation’s banks will open at 9.30am and close at 1.30pm through the holy month, the central bank said in a statement (pdf) yesterday. Staff will need to be in branches 30 minutes before doors open to the public and stick around 30 minutes after.

We’re still waiting for news about whether we’ll be seeing new covid restrictions brought in to prevent a spike in cases during Ramadan. Government sources told local media last week that authorities could move to close public places, ban prayer in the streets and reduce working hours at government facilities if cases continue to rise.

So, when do we eat? Maghreb prayers are at 6:21pm in the capital city on Tuesday. You’ll have until 3:59am to finish sohour that night.

IT’S A BIG WEEK FOR- Foreign affairs. The nation’s diplomats look set to own the news agenda for much of this week. Khargeya and the Defense Ministry are pushing ahead with an aggressive bid to deepen ties with upstream nations as the wrestling match with Ethiopia over GERD reaches a new pitch. We have chapter and verse on that below in the news well and in Last Night’s Talk Shows.

And it seems we’re well on our way to mending ties with Turkey. Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, had a call yesterday in which the two exchanged Ramadan greetings — their first direct contact. Reuters quotes a statement by the Turkish Foreign Ministry as confirming the call, but offers no further details. Officials in Ankara told Turkish media in March to tone down their criticism of Egypt in a bid to dial back tensions that date back to the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013, but the two countries as yet have not resumed official diplomatic communication.

***CATCH UP QUICK on the top stories from Thursday’s edition of EnterprisePM:

  • Inflation ticked up slightly in the run-up to Ramadan, supporting expectations the CBE will leave interest rates on hold later this month.
  • The National Bank of Greece plans to close its branch network in Egypt, and has submitted a formal request to the Central Bank of Egypt.
  • Payment gateway Paymob closes USD 18.5 mn series A + Egypt was the third hottest MENA destination for VC funding in 1Q2021.

WHAT’S HAPPENING TODAY-

Expect the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam to continue making headlines this week, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov due in town tomorrow to discuss the latest developments on the stalled talks. Lavrov’s planned trip comes after expectations that Russian President Vladimir Putin would visit Egypt sometime in March did not materialize. The latest round of ministerial negotiations between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia over the dam last week ended in yet another stalemate.

Budget week continues at the House: The House of Representatives will discuss in a plenary session the House Planning and Budgeting Committee’s customary end-of-year report on the FY2019-2020 state budget, including a review of the closing balances of individual institutions, according to the House’s schedule.

The 2021-2022 state budget is still with the Senate after earning Cabinet sign-off last month, and will then be shipped to the House of Representatives for final approval.

The House will also discuss today a USD 200 mn World Bank loan to fight pollution and the USD 500k grant offered by the African Development Bank to provide emergency assistance to impoverished people struggling due to the pandemic, according to the local press.

Today is also the final day of the Spring Meetings of the IMF and the World Bank Group, which have been held virtually.

CIRCLE YOUR CALENDAR-

Amendments to the VAT Act will be shipped back to the House Planning and Budgeting Committee in a few weeks after public consultations on the amendments wrap up, committee undersecretary Mostafa Salem told us. The Finance Ministry has been sitting down with industry players, including representatives from Coca Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestle for their comments on the amendments, 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.

Among the other deadlines and events you need to have your eye on this month:

  • EBRD President Odile Renaud-Basso could visit Egypt later this month, Al Masry Al Youm reported this weekend following a meeting with Egypt’s ambassador to the UK Tarek Adel. This would be her first official visit to Egypt since she was appointed to head the bank in November.
  • More information on the new construction licenses + building code will be made public before by 15 April to explain the details of the new system that will hand out construction licenses.
  • The Sovereign Fund of Egypt will issue the conditions booklet for the contract to develop the Mogamma El Tahrir sometime this month.
  • “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.

MORNING MUST READ-

Remember how the planet was “healing” when life ground to a halt last year? The rebound is going to undo much of that. The economic bounceback from covid-19 could further damage the environment, with much of the planned growth and infrastructure megaprojects planned from the US to China expected to be powered by fossil fuels, Bloomberg reports.

“The reality is that with the global population desperate for a return to economic normality, the first casualty could be the environment,” writes Karl Maier, with new roads and bridges in US President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan, increased chip production in the US, and coal mining in China all expected to contribute to an increased carbon footprint, and “having it both ways isn’t an option.”

enterprise

COVID WATCH

Egypt to produce 80 mn doses of Sinovac covid jab each year

Egypt plans to manufacture 80 mn doses of China’s Sinovac vaccine each year through state-owned Vacsera, Health Minister Hala Zayed said at a press conference on Thursday, according to a statement. Production will take place at two facilities, one capable of cranking out 20 mn doses, and the other producing 60 mn doses a year. The ministry had previously said production capacity would range between 20-60 mn doses.

We’re expecting to receive an additional 900k-1 mn doses of Sinopharm in the coming days, in addition to the 680k doses we’ve received so far, Zayed said. Prime Minister Moustafa Madbouly said last week that another 400k doses would soon arrive on our shores, without specifying which vaccine it would be.

Gov’t to set up new vaccine centers + extend operating hours to clear bottlenecks: Egypt should have 350 operational vaccination centers nationwide by the end of this week, up from the 169 right now, the minister said. The ministry is also extending vaccination centers’ operating times until 10 pm during Ramadan, Zayed added. The ministry had originally targeted having 339 facilities up and running at the beginning of last week.

Some 1.1 mn citizens have so far registered to receive the vaccine through the government’s online portal, Zayed said yesterday. It is unknown how many people have signed up in person at hospitals. The elderly and people with chronic illnesses have been able to sign up since February while registration was opened to the general public in the middle of March. Zayed said last week that nearly 149k individuals had received a jab.

If you haven’t already done so, you can sign up here.

Covid cases continued to creep up over the weekend: The Health Ministry reported 801 new covid-19 infections yesterday, up from 794 on Friday and 789 on Thursday. Egypt has now disclosed a total of 209,677 confirmed cases of covid-19. The ministry also reported 43 new deaths, bringing the country’s total death toll to 12,405.

Cases have been rising over the past five weeks from the most recent low of 581 on 7 March. This has accelerated markedly this month, increasing from 699 on 31 March to 801 yesterday.

The global vaccine divide: The World Health Organization has described the inequitable distribution of coronavirus vaccines between rich and poor nations as a "shocking imbalance," the BBC quoted Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as saying during a news conference on Friday. "On average in high-income countries, almost one in four people have received a covid-19 vaccine. In low-income countries, it's one in more than 500," he said.

Covax is falling far short of expectations, delivering just 38 mn doses to low and middle-income countries so far despite targeting at least 100 mn by the end of March. "We hope to be able to catch up during April and May," Tedros said.

IN OTHER HEALTH NEWS- Alameda Healthcare’s Dar El Fouad has opened a state-of-the-art oncology center at its Nasr City branch, including PET imaging and dedicated chemotherapy and radiation therapy units. The facility is designed to take a whole-patient approach to cancer treatment, with other specialities on site to support patients. Company officials said the facility is designed to international standards. Youm7 has the story.

DEBT WATCH

JPMorgan is looking at Egypt

JPMorgan has confirmed that it is studying whether to include Egypt in its emerging-markets government bond index, Reuters reports. In a statement on Thursday, the Bulge Bracket bank said it is looking at including 14 EGP-denominated bonds worth USD 24 bn into its GBI-EM Global Diversified index, which would give them a weighting of 1.8%.

A decade of absence: This wouldn’t be the first time Egypt has been a part of the index, having been booted off in the wake of the economic turmoil that followed the 25 January Revolution in 2011.

Why now? Improved access to the local bond market and increased liquidity, the bank said last week. The Finance Ministry’s focus on longer-term issuance has also paid off, with the country’s debt profile now meeting the minimum maturity for inclusion in the index.

Say hello to more capital flows: Reinclusion could see up to USD 4.8 bn in inflows enter Egyptian bonds and perhaps a 5% appreciation of the EGP against the greenback, Rand Merchant Bank economist Neville Mandimika said recently.

We’ll be waiting for at least another six months: The bank will be out with an update on whether the bonds have met the grade in the next six months, it said last week. This fits with what Mandimika said last month, telling Reuters that Egypt may be reincluded in the index during the second half of the year.

We previously reported that Egypt’s bonds could be “Euroclearable” sometime between September and November of this year, making it easier for foreign funds to get into and out of Egyptian debt. We have the rundown here if you want more.

SUEZ CANAL

Pay up, then you can take the Ever Given wherever you want

The Suez Canal Authority won’t let the mega container ship that blocked the Suez Canal last month get underway until its owner agrees to pay compensation, SCA chairman Osama Rabie suggested in a televised interview on Thursday (watch, runtime: 22:19). “The vessel will remain here until investigations are complete and compensation is paid … If an agreement is reached on compensation, the boat will move immediately,” he said. The Ever Given has been moored in the Great Bitter Lake since it was dislodged at the end of March while investigators assess the ship and try and ascertain what caused it to veer into the bank of the canal

A nine-figure price tag? Though Rabie stopped short of naming a figure during the interview, he said last week that the authority could be chasing insurers and the ship’s Japanese owner, Shoei Kisen, for as much as USD 1 bn in compensation. This includes the lost revenues, which have been estimated to be around USD 15 mn per day and the cost of repairing the damage done to the canal .

Still no signs of an agreement: One advisor to the authority leading the investigation said at the start of the month that an agreement could be reached in just 3-4 days. Egypt has reportedly been in talks with Shoei Kisen for a week to settle the issue outside of court, but the two sides are yet to reach an agreement. In the event the two sides fail to reach an agreement, the matter will be handed over to Egyptian prosecutors, who will file a case against the company in the local courts.

INVESTMENT WATCH

Domty expands into milk products

EXCLUSIVE- Food manufacturer Domty is launching this week a USD 2 mn milk products production line, marking the company’s first investment to add milk products to its portfolio, Vice Chairman and Managing Director for Planning and Supervision Mohamed Damaty told Enterprise.

It’s all about finding a way to grow, even with the pandemic: The new production line, which will add to Domty’s current portfolio of cheese, juices, and on-the-go bakery products, comes as the company works on expanding its footprint — and found itself needing to adjust its growth plan to fit within covid-19 circumstances.

We had a (virtual) chat with Damaty about the new investments. Edited excerpts from our conversation:

The production line is going to be added to our existing facility where we produce our bakery products. The USD 2 mn investment cost includes the production and processing of the product, and we’ve been working with Tetra Pak for one year on setting up the production line. This will be our third entry with Tetra Pak, on top of our juice and cheese products.

We're starting a full range of milk products, starting with normal UHT milk. Then, we’ll follow that with a new product launch each month, starting with flavored milk, followed by whipping cream and cookies and cream.

The new production line is designed to continue growing the company’s portfolio, after starting out as a cheese manufacturer and then having expanded into the juice and bakery segment. We have a vision of making Domty a real food company and we’re eager to lock down a bigger portion of households’ grocery expenditure. And I think we’ll do that.

We’ve definitely shifted our expansion strategy since covid-19 began. If you had asked me a year or a year and a half ago where we would expand, I would have said our main focus would be on-the-go products, given the success we’ve had in the bakery segment and with the cheese sandwich product we launched. But the situation now — especially with schools and universities either being closed or operating on a hybrid learning basis throughout the past year — required a change in strategy.

We’re shifting back again into products to be consumed at home, and we’re in talks with Tetra Pak again to add some other products for at-home consumption to our portfolio. There’s been a lot of uncertainty and we believe we’re going to have to live with covid-19 impacting our lives in the same way for at least this year and next. Unfortunately, our on-the-go products had brought us great success, but current circumstances mean we have to shift away from them for a bit. Before covid, we had invested a lot in our three bakery lines, two of which we had fully utilized before the pandemic hit.

Of course, when things go back to normal, we intend to bring back our investments in on-the-go products, which I think are much more profitable in Egypt — and the room for innovation is much bigger. The success we had with our cheese sandwich was a testament to the potential that consumer level holds. It’s a really, really big market so we’ll come back to it when things stabilize and normalize again.

Capex borrowing is attractive now, but the market demand isn’t there yet to justify it: Domty is working with Tetra Pak on a facility for the new production line, which includes them giving us the machinery. Overall, the interest rate environment now is very attractive for capex borrowing, but the market is not attractive. The banking sector in Egypt is doing a really great job, and the Central Bank of Egypt has successfully brought down interest rates over the past two years and continues to give support to the industry and the business environment. But unfortunately, the pandemic just means the market is still not great for new investments.

It’s a popular myth that being an FMCG player means that a slowdown isn’t going to affect your business. It’s true that people don’t stop eating or drinking in an economic crisis, but we’re already playing on very slim margins, so when you have a decline in sales — even if it’s something like 5 or 6% — it has an outsized impact on overall profitability. It’s still by and large a “safe” sector, but the smallest decline in sales can really be felt.

Export markets have also had their own set of challenges: We export around 6% of our total output — mainly cheese to Arab countries, Africa, and Europe, where Egyptian expats are living. Our main export markets are Libya, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Russia. All of these countries have their own challenges right now.

Part of the problem with exports is also that we as Egyptian companies have a problem with marketing our products abroad. All the food companies in Egypt are focused almost entirely on the local market, but the local market dynamics have changed significantly in the last 10-12 years, between the 2011 revolution to the EGP float and now covid-19. So these changing dynamics mean that export markets are a secondary option, which means that companies aren’t really investing in proper marketing or setting up a real sales fleet on the ground like we all do here in Egypt.

Of all the problems that industry faces here in Egypt — some of which have existed for years — I think FMCG’s biggest problem is the idea of imitation. There’s no proper mapping from the government on where to invest, or how. So new entrants to the market just see what’s successful and decide to imitate it, and the end result is that some sectors in FMCG are really crowded, while others are a bit lighter. Four or five years ago, we had two companies that IPOed on the EGX — one of which was Domty — and we had maybe 12 brands of white cheese in the market at the time. After these two successful IPOs, we now have 24 brands of white cheese, just because other companies saw the success of these companies in making it to an IPO.

OTHER INVESTMENT NEWS-

Emaar has its eyes on expanding operations in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, India, and Pakistan, CEO Mohammed Alabbar told Al Arabiya. Emaar’s sales more than doubled y-o-y in the first three months of the year to USD 1.63 bn from USD 680 mn. “The numbers are promising, despite the difficulties still faced by the hotel and retail industries,” Alabbar said. The Emaar boss had previously called Egypt the company’s favorite investment destination and announced plans to double its Egypt operations to constitute 30% of the company’s business.

French outsourcing and consultancy firm Webhelp will invest EGP 200 mn in Egypt over the next three years, the Communications Ministry said yesterday after the Information Technology Industry Development Agency signed an agreement with the firm. The company will use the investment to expand its business center in the country, which it inaugurated in October.

THE NATGAS TRANSITION

Gov’t doubles natgas station target to 1k by the end of 2021

Egypt should have 1k natural gas filling stations set up nationwide by the end of the year under a government-backed program to expand natgas refueling infrastructure as Egypt moves forward with its plan to convert or replace gasoline-fueled cars, Oil Minister Tarek El Molla said, according to Al Mal. The government had previously targeted ending the year with 550 natgas stations, which would have required establishing an additional 325 stations this year, El Molla said previously.

Taqa Arabia’s Master Gas and two state-owned players are working to expand the country’s network of natgas stations: Taqa, Natural Gas Vehicles Company (Cargas) and Gastec should have access to at least EGP 5.3 bn in subsidized funds available through banks to back the construction of as many as 287k stations.

We could also start seeing portable refueling stations roaming around cities, with one of those already up and running, and nearly 10 more planned for the coming period, the minister added. Natural gas refueling facilities will also be added to a number of gasoline and diesel fuel stations, he said.

OTHER NATGAS NEWS- Some 30 shipments of liquefied natural gas were reportedly exported from Egypt's Damietta and Idku liquefaction plants in 1Q2021, with more in the pipeline during April, unnamed industry sources said. Previous press reports had indicated 25 LNG shipments were exported through the Idku terminal alone in the first three months of 2021, suggesting the remaining five shipments were shipped out of the Damietta plant. Shipments began making their way out of the Damietta liquefaction terminal in February after it was brought back online following an eight-year hiatus.

STARTUP WATCH

Gov’t to support 1 mn aspiring entrepreneurs through state-backed learning program

A “1 mn entrepreneurs” initiative will make educational material for aspiring entrepreneurs available online as part of the state-backed Rowad 2030 entrepreneurship program, and is now accepting applicants, the Planning Ministry said in a statement. The three stage program aims to equip would-be entrepreneurs with the tools they need to turn an idea into a successful startup. You can sign up for the state-sponsored initiative here.

DIPLOMACY

Egypt deepens military, intel ties with upstream countries amid deepening rift with Ethiopia

Egypt and Sudan turned down a proposal by Ethiopia to exchange data from the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam ahead of the second filling this summer. The Ethiopian Foreign Ministry invited the two countries to nominate operators to share data in an initiative it said could help to build confidence and improve communication, a move that was swiftly rejected by Cairo and Khartoum which both reiterated their demands for a legally binding agreement. The Egyptian Irrigation Ministry described the offer as a “blatant attempt” to draw Egypt’s approval on the second filling of the dam, and Sudan said that, while data exchange is “necessary,” it would not agree to the proposal without a proper agreement on the filling and operation of the dam.

Egypt ramps up military cooperation with African neighbors amid GERD tensions: Egypt and Uganda signed a military intelligence sharing agreement Monday as tensions in the region heightened over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), Reuters reports, citing a statement by the Uganda People’s Defence Forces. Uganda — which controls the source of the White Nile, Lake Victoria — has in the past opposed Egypt’s attempts to influence hydropower projects in the Nile, but the new agreement should see the two countries sharing intelligence on a regular basis.

And another with Burundi: Egypt signed an agreement with Burundi at the weekend that will see the two countries’ armed forces conduct joint exercises and work together on training, the Egyptian Armed Forces said in a statement. The agreement is part of earlier moves to boost ties with Horn of Africa and Nile Basin countries in a bid to gain their support in the GERD dispute.

Why does this matter? The agreement — which came following the failure of negotiations between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia last week to reach an agreement on the filing and operation of the dam — is part of Egypt’s significant push over the past several month to bolster its ties with African countries and get the regional and international community’s backing on its position on GERD. In addition to pursuing diplomatic channels, Cairo has also been flexing its military muscles of late, including with a recent joint air drill with Khartoum.

The GERD and Libya topped the agenda at a meeting held yesterday between President Abdel Fattah El Sisi and his Tunisian counterpart Kais Saied, according to an Ittihadiya statement. The Tunisian president vowed in a joint press conference to give his country’s support for Egypt’s position in the dispute. “We are looking for just fair solutions, but Egypt’s national security is ours, and Egypt’s position… will be ours,” he said (watch, runtime 17:32:). Saied’s three-day visit to Egypt, which will wrap up today, marks the first since he assumed his position in 2019.

The United States says Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan need to wrap up GERD: US national security adviser Jake Sullivan brought up the talks, as well as the Tigray conflict, in a phone call with Ethiopia’s deputy PM Demeke Mekonnen, the White House said in a statement. The US recently created a special envoy for the Horn of Africa tasked with, among other things, overseeing the resolution of the GERD dispute.

MOVES

Egypt for Poultry (Egypco) has appointed Hisham Shawky (bio) as chairman, while Hisham Ahmed Abdel Latif (bio) was named managing director, according to an EGX disclosure (pdf).

enterprise

ENTERPRISE+: LAST NIGHT’S TALK SHOWS

The impasse with Ethiopia was still the hot topic of the talk shows last night. Egypt and Sudan’s refusal of Ethiopia’s proposal to share data on the dam — more on this in Diplo, above — were covered and analyzed by most talk shows. Irrigation Minister Mohamed Abdel Atti told El Hekaya’s Amr Adib that the exchange of information is a step towards applying an agreement that doesn’t yet exist (watch, runtime: 1:35 I 3:09 I 1:01 I 4:03 I 4:59).

Is Egypt ready for the second filling? The government has been building the country’s ability to absorb any water shocks by investing over the past five years in various projects including rain water harvesting dams, treatment plants, water rationing, canal lining, modern irrigation system, Abdel Atti explained. This makes Egypt prepared to handle two scenarios after filling the dam, high and medium floods, yet the real issue will be when a severe drought happens. But Egypt won’t allow a water crisis to happen, he stressed.

Is war an option? War is a hard decision that no one should resort to unless it’s the last option and there many steps should precede it such as negotiations and resorting to the global community, the minister said. There might be an international intervention by African and other friendly countries to find a solution.

Ethiopia’s offer rejected as “malicious” and “procrastination”: Irrigation Ministry Spokesperson Mohamed Ghanem described the Ethiopian offer in a phone interviews with Kelma Akhira’s Lamees El Hadidi and Ala Mas’ouleety’s Ahmed Moussa and as a sign of “procrastination” and an attempt to get political and technical cover for the second filling without a binding agreement (watch, runtime: 4:10 I 5:24). He said that Egypt doesn't mind sitting down for another round of talks with Ethiopia so long as it is seriously committed to resolving the dispute, and reiterated that Cairo rejects any unilateral action by Ethiopia. Deputy Chairman of the Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies Mohamed Ibrahim told Lamees that negotiations are moving in a "vicious circle," and claimed that Ethiopia’s latest offer is “malicious” and aims to test the Egypt-Sudan alliance (watch, runtime 5:25).

Tunisian President Kais Saied’s three-day visit to Egypt, including his meeting with President Abdel Fattah El Sisi and his tour of historic Cairo, received coverage on Ala Mas’ouleety (watch, runtime 2:54), El Hekaya (watch, runtime 1:32) and Al Hayah Al Youm (watch, runtime: 10:56 I 0:44)

The discovery of the 3k-year-old lost "lost golden city” near Luxor was also all over the talk shows: Ala Mas’ouleety (watch, runtime: 7:40), Kelma Akhira (watch, runtime: 2:18), Al Hayah Al Youm (watch, runtime: 4:42), Hadeeth Al Kahira (watch, runtime: 5:02). We have more in this morning’s On Your Way Out, below.

EGYPT IN THE NEWS

Dominating the conversation on Egypt in the foreign press this morning: The historic archaeology reveal outside Luxor last week that saw Egypt’s very own Indiana Jones unveil a 3k year-old city dating back to the golden era of ancient Egyptian civilization. Everyone from the Associated Press and the National Geographic to Bloomberg and the New York Times is taking note. We have more on the finding in this morning’s On Your Way Out, below.

The Suez Canal saga is still on everyone’s mind: The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg both noted SCA head Osama Rabie’s comments on the Ever Given last week (see this morning’s Suez Canal story for more), while Reuters is debunking a QAnon conspiracy theory that the Clinton Foundation was behind the jam that roiled global trade. The Irish Times, meanwhile, has a history lesson on how the canal revolutionized shipping from East to West.

A clash that pits Egypt and Sudan against Ethiopia could jeopardize the stability of Northeast Africa at large, writes Amr Adly for Bloomberg Opinion, with the impasse threatening to develop into an extended regional cold war. Tensions over GERD have risen in recent weeks, with President Abdel Fattah El Sisi warning Ethiopia that Egypt would consider “all options'' to protect its water share, while MPs signalled a military conflict was not out of the question.

Also making headlines:

  • The East Mediterranean Gas Forum is prompting Ankara to to mend its relationship with Cairo for a seat at the table, and a piece of the region’s natgas reserves (EUobserver)
  • Egypt-born architect Hani Rashid underscores the importance of societies retaining their distinctive cultural identity and translating that through architecture and design. (Arab News)

ALSO ON OUR RADAR

Economy-class passengers planning international flights on EgyptAir can now keep adjacent seats vacant by booking them at a discounted rate as low as EGP 400 when boarding from Cairo International Airport, the national flag carrier said on Friday. The new service, which is available at check-in counters only, comes as part of plans to boost international travel following the pandemic-induced slump, allowing travellers to increase their personal space just four hours before the scheduled take-off time, provided that the adjacent seat is empty, according to Masrawy.

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

PLANET FINANCE

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Alibaba just got slapped with China’s largest antitrust penalty, with Chinese regulators imposing a USD 2.8 bn fine on the e-commerce group. The State Administration for Market Regulation imposed the fine — equivalent to 4% of Alibaba’s annual sales — after ruling it had abused its position to “punish” sellers that also sold on other platforms following a four-month investigation, the Wall Street Journal reports. The company will also have to submit a compliance report over the next three years. The probe followed comments by Alibaba founder Jack Ma criticizing Chinese regulatory restrictions — comments which ultimately also resulted in regulators halting Alibaba affiliate Ant Group’s USD 37 bn planned IPO days before it was set to go to market last year.

Crypto miner Riot Blockchain will acquire North America’s largest BTC hosting facility, Whinstone, in an almost USD 651 mn stock and cash transaction that would see the former standing as one of the largest listed mining centers in the world, according to a statement (pdf). The acquisition follows bitcoin prices clearing record highs of 60k last month.

US back to a "great economy" soon? Stocks climbed on Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell's reassurance that the US central bank has the tools to curb inflationary pressures, Bloomberg reports, with Powell vowing to get the US' economy back on track during an IMF panel (watch, runtime: 53:14) over the weekend. The Federal Reserve is likely to keep interest rates stable till at least the end of 2023, according to the Fed’s latest forecast, as the US positively cushions the economic fallout from the pandemic. “We would be monitoring inflation expectations very carefully. If we see them moving persistently and materially above levels we’re comfortable with, then we’d react to that,” Powell said.

Up

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8.25% deposit

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USD 1,744.80

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The EGX30 rose 0.7% on Thursday on turnover of EGP 692 mn (50.6% below the 90-day average). Foreign investors were net sellers. The index is down 5.0% YTD.

In the green: SODIC (+3.3%), CI Capital (+2.7%) and Telecom Egypt (+2.5%).

In the red: GB Auto (-1.1%), Credit Agricole (-0.4%) and Orascom Development (-0.4%).

ON YOUR WAY OUT

A lost city from Egypt's "Golden Age" was unearthed near Luxor, almost three millennia after it was built for King Tutankhamun's grandfather, the Antiquities Ministry said in a statement over the weekend. The city — dating back to the reign of Amenhotep III — was first uncovered in September 2020 by a team led by archaeologist Zahi Hawass, who said the discovery would tell us for the first time about the life of ancient Egyptians during the golden era. The discovery is being billed as the largest ancient city ever found in Egypt — and possibly the most important find after the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb.

CALENDAR

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

April: EBRD president Odile Renaud-Basso expected to visit Egypt.

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

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

13 April (Tuesday): 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.

30 September-8 October (Thursday-Friday): The 54th session of the Cairo International Fair, Cairo International Conference 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.

May 2022: Investment in Logistics Conference, Cairo, Egypt.

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.

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