Monday, 11 April 2022

AM — Inflation accelerates to its highest since 2019 as war in Ukraine pressures food prices

TL;DR

WHAT WE’RE TRACKING TODAY

Good morning, nice people, and happy Monday to you all. We’re going to start with some quick announcements:

Do you have a promotion or new hire you’d like the rest of the community to know about? Drop us a line at editorial@enterprise.press with the details (and a LinkedIn link, if available) and we’ll have a look at it for our MOVES- column.

Looking for something to distract you in the final hour before iftar? May we suggest:

  • Our podcast on What’s Next in fintech, which dropped in our feed yesterday. Listen here on Apple Podcasts (or use the player at the foot of our website here) or read a summary here instead.
  • Read about Shift EV, the hot startup that’s using proprietary, made-in-Egypt battery tech to turn minivans, pickup trucks, microbuses and tricycles into electric vehicles right here in Cairo (well, October, but you get the point). We had coffee (metaphorically speaking) with CEO Aly Eltayeb last week.

Are you enjoying the good weather? We’re looking at temps in the 26-32°C band from today through the weekend.


SMART POLICY- Travelers arriving to Egyptian airports need to go online to fill in paperwork on their covid status and upload their vaccination records. Travelers will no longer be asked to hand in a paper health declaration form on arrival. Instead, they’ll need to submit the paperwork at least two days ahead of travel through the recently launched Visit Egypt website (which wasn’t loading for us as of dispatch time), and will be sent a QR code by authorities allowing them entry. The move is aimed at reducing waiting lines at airports, and we’re all for it.

Also: Aircraft will no longer get the full pandemic-era deep clean treatment: Planes will no longer be disinfected after every flight as cleaning routines return to normal, according to a domestic press report.

MEANWHILE- What could an IMF program look like? Egypt could be looking for as much as USD 3.5 bn from the International Monetary Fund under a “precautionary and liquidity line” or PLL, BNP Paribas Middle East and North Africa economist Mohamed Abdelmeguid writes in a post for clients that cites House Planning and Budget Committee head Fakhry El-Fiky. The PLL “could be supplemented by an extended fund facility that could take another three to six months to negotiate” with the IMF, the note suggests. BNP Paribas expects inflows from some USD 17 bn in investment pledges from KSA, the UAE and Qatar to start in 2Q and 3Q of this year. Abdelmeguid also sees the CBE going for up to 300 bps in rate hikes in the same period “as Egypt transitions to a year-long period of double digit inflation (starting from March).”

THE WAR ON WHEAT- Could Indian grain help us bridge our supply gap? A delegation is soon heading to India to look into importing Indian wheat, Al Shorouk reports, citing head of the Agriculture Ministry’s quarantine authority Ahmed Al Attar. More than 80% of our imported wheat is usually supplied by Russia and Ukraine — a statistic regular readers will no doubt have memorized by this point.

LEGISLATION WATCH- The Senate has sent a proposal on tackling population growth to President Abdel Fattah El Sisi for review, according to Ahram Gate. The proposal, discussed by the Senate during its plenary session yesterday, would see a new authority — dubbed the National Authority for Population and Family Development — established to lead policy on the issue. The authority would replace the existing National Population Council and would work under direct presidential oversight, (hopefully) lending it fresh impetus to push policy measures as a result.

The Senate is in session again today, reconvening for plenary session in which we could see discussion of a report on the draft Unified Ins. Act and a proposal to restructure the Egyptian Supreme Council of Energy — both of which were on yesterday’s agenda, according to Youm7.

*** SO, WHEN DO WE EAT? You’ll be breaking your fast at 6:20pm CLT this evening in the capital city, and fajr prayers are at 4:03am.


THE BIG STORY ABROAD- The international business press would very much like you to worry about at least three things this morning:

  • A growing number of economists see the US economy tipping into recession sometime in the next 12 months, the Wall Street Journal writes, saying its poll of economists “put the probability of the economy being in recession sometime in the next 12 months at 28%, up from 18% in January and just 13% a year ago.”
  • The global shortage of everything is going to get worse — particularly if the “thing” you want to buy has a chip in it. You can thank the Shanghai covid lockdown, the Financial Times suggests.
  • The war in Ukraine is going to get bigger and nastier in the east, with the prospect of larger-scale artillery and tank duels. The news leads the front pages of everyone from the New York Times to Reuters, the Globe and Mail and Bloomberg.

Speaking of the war in Ukraine:

  • The Ukrainian economy is set to contract by around 45% this year and the Russian economy by 11.2%, according to a World Bank report (pdf) on the war’s impact on European and Central Asian countries.
  • Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer is heading to Moscow today to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, marking Putin’s first face-to-face meeting with an EU counterpart since the war broke out, Reuters reports.
  • NATO adjusts to a new geopolitical reality: The military alliance is drawing up plans for a permanent military presence along its border to defend from “Russian hostility,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told the UK’s Telegraph.
  • Ukraine has recorded 5.6k cases of alleged war crimes against at least 500 suspects including top Russian officials, its prosecutor general Iryna Venediktova told Sky News.

AND IN FRANCE- Macron + Le Pen to face off in tightly contested presidential run-offs: French President Emmanuel Macron came out on top in yesterday’s first-round presidential vote with a 26.7% share — but the final outcome is anything but assured, as far-right National Rally candidate Marine Le Pen joined him in advancing to the final round with 23% of votes, France24 reports. More than a quarter of people sat out the ballot — a dismal turnout for a country of usually enthusiastic voters. The final vote set to take place on 24 April.

MARKET WATCH-

Economists see the European Central Bank (ECB) pressing ahead with its first interest rate hikes in over a decade starting December, despite the economic fallout resulting from the Russia-Ukraine war, according to a survey conducted by Bloomberg. Markets — and banks including Goldman Sachs and Danske Bank — are pricing in an even earlier quarter-point hike in September, as the ECB is seen battling the threat of a recession, driven by the possibility of an embargo on Russian oil that would stoke further price pressures. Expect more hints on the bank’s plans at its monetary policy meeting this Thursday.

CIRCLE YOUR CALENDAR-

Companies have just ten days to file their first quarterly ESG compliance report: Listed firms and non-bank financial services companies need to submit their first quarterly ESG report by 20 April, the Financial Regulatory Authority (FRA) announced last week. The regulator is making it mandatory for corporates to publicly disclose their performance on key environmental, social and governance metrics each year when they submit their annual financial statements, starting 2023. Reach out to Moustafa Taalab at InkankIR, our parent company, if you need some help.

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

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*** It’s Blackboard day: We have our weekly look at the business of education in Egypt, from pre-K through the highest reaches of higher ed. Blackboard appears every Monday in Enterprise in the place of our traditional industry news roundups.

In today’s issue: Local appetite for foreign degrees never went away —but pandemic-related restrictions made study abroad harder to pursue for Egyptian students. As restrictions are lifted and embassies reopen, there are indicators that the outflow of local students to universities abroad is picking up — and higher education institutes are working hard to lure international students back in a bid to offset pandemic-era losses.

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The Spring Edition of Somabay Endurance Festival takes place from May 26-28, featuring races suitable for all ages and abilities. Join this family-friendly sports event by signing up at www.thetrifactory.com and get ready to #ExperienceEndurance. Book now: www.thetrifactory.com/somabay

ECONOMY

Inflation rises to near three-year high as global food prices spike

Annual urban inflation rose to its highest level in almost three years in March as spillover effects from the conflict in Ukraine continued to hit the Egyptian economy. Figures (pdf) released by statistics agency Capmas yesterday showed that inflation accelerated to 10.5% last month from 8.8% in February, above the central bank’s 7% (±2%) target range and the quickest rate since May 2019, when the figure stood at 14.1%. Monthly inflation hit a 41-month high of 2.2% (benchmarked against 2.6% in October 2018).

Inflation was sharper than many analysts had predicted: Analysts were expecting the headline rate to hit around 10% during the month.

Food prices continued to surge: Food price inflation rose at the fastest rate since October 2018 according to a note from Pharos, rising almost to 19.8% y-o-y from 17.6% in February, driven by large price increases in oil, vegetables, sugar, meat and poultry, and bread and cereals. Food and beverages constitute the biggest component of the basket of goods used to measure prices.

Annual core inflation also rose to 10.1% from 7.2% in February, its highest since June 2019, according to central bank data (pdf). Core inflation strips out volatile items such as food and fuel.

Spiraling prices came as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine upended global commodity markets, accelerating inflation that had already set in before the conflict. Global food prices soared to an all-time high in March as the war disrupted wheat shipments from Russia and Ukraine, which together provide around a quarter of the world’s wheat supply — and more than 80% of Egyptian grain imports.

The Russia-Ukraine war has also driven global risk-off sentiment and triggered outflows from emerging markets. This was compounded by the US Federal Reserve last month hiking interest rates for the first time since 2018.

The EGP depreciation + Ramadan demand also played a role: “We attribute the price hike to amplified food demand ahead of the holy month of Ramadan and depreciation by more than 15% on 21 March,” CI Capital’s Sara Saada wrote in a note. The Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) allowed the currency to depreciate and hiked interest rates by 100 bps last month in a bid to support inflows.

Domestic and global realities mean inflation is likely to tick up in April.

  • Globally: Oil prices are looking sticky in the USD 100 per-barrel band. And the prospect of deeper disruption of the world’s food supply looms later this year thanks to rising feed, fuel and fertilizer costs.
  • Domestically: Start with the impact of Ramadan. Add Naeem’s view that the full impact of the EGP’s recent dip against the greenback has yet to be felt. And then there’s the coming hike in fuel prices, which CI Capital says could be at or near the 10% cap on escalation in any quarter.

When will it peak? CI Capital is forecasting inflation to peak near 12.5% in April, while Al Ahly Pharos expects price hikes to continue into the summer. Pharos’ head of research, Radwa El Swaify, told us that the headline rate will likely approach 12% in August before decreasing gradually to return within the CBE’s target range by February 2023.

What about interest rates? The CBE will likely keep a close eye on market developments before deciding to raise rates by another 100 bps, El Swaify said, adding that the Fed’s rate hikes would also factor in the CBE’s decision. The CBE will next meet to review interest rates on 19 May.

IN THE MEANTIME- Our real deposit rate is exceptionally attractive even as our real interest rate remains in negative territory despite last months’ rate hike. You can thank the release of 18% certificates of deposit (CDs) at the National Bank of Egypt and Banque Misr means the real deposit rate stands at 7.5%, one of the highest in the world — the certificates have pulled EGP 499 bn of liquidity out of the market since their launch last month, Masrawy reports citing officials at the two banks.

DIPLOMACY

EU + Egypt talk boosting our LNG exports + green hydrogen ahead of COP27

Energy tops the agenda in top EU official’s visit: The EU is looking to up its imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Egypt in the short term — and contribute to building a local green hydrogen production facility in the long term, EU Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans told Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly in a sit-down yesterday, according to a cabinet statement. The war in Ukraine has pushed EU countries to accelerate their transition to clean energy and diversify supply, Timmermans said.

Timmermans made the rounds yesterday: He also met with Foreign Minister and COP27 president Sameh Shoukry, Oil Minister Tarek El Molla, Planning Minister Hala El-Said, and Electricity Minister Mohamed Shaker. These were the highlights:

EU + Egypt to sign MoUs on green hydrogen, ammonia production at COP27: The EU is gearing up to sign MoUs on green hydrogen and ammonia production during the COP27 summit in November, Timmermans told El Molla, according to a cabinet statement. The two sides are set to form working groups to further discussions on energy cooperation and prepare the MoUs ahead of the summit.

Egypt and the EU will develop a “Mediterranean Green Hydrogen Partnership”: Timmermans and Shoukry discussed forming the partnership, which they said would work on “hydrogen trade between Africa, Europe, and the Gulf,” according to a joint statement. We don’t have any details yet on what the partnership might look like, but think “East Mediterranean Gas Forum, but for green hydrogen.” The two also discussed COP27 prep, including how to mobilize more climate finance — with the EU expressing interest in investing further to accelerate our green transition.

Uh, Enterprise? What the [redacted] is green hydrogen? We’ve got your back — check out this Enterprise Explains column from last year.

War in Ukraine no excuse to shirk climate responsibilities: Shoukry and Timmermans agreed that “the current geopolitical situation should not lead to a regression or reduction in the level of ambition for climate action, a failure to prioritize climate, or a reduction in the fiscal space available for developing countries.”

The EU is also working to cooperate with Egypt on solar panel manufacturing, as part of plans to “build energy bridges with Egypt, which is a gateway for both renewable and nonrenewable energy,” Timmermans told El Said.

REMINDER- Our nascent green hydrogen and green ammonia industries have been getting a lot of interest from Europe. Norwegian renewable energy giant Scatec is part of a consortium with Nassef Sawiris-backed ammonia producer Fertiglobe and the Sovereign Fund of Egypt to build Egypt’s first green hydrogen plant in Ain Sokhna. Scatec also plans to build a green ammonium plant in the Suez Canal Economic Zone (SCZone). A number of other European firms have expressed interest or are in talks with the government to establish hydrogen and ammonia projects of their own, while the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) last month signed an MoU with the electricity and oil ministries to assess Egypt’s hydrogen production potential.

OTHER DIPLOMACY NEWS- The day in diplomacy was all about Europe, as President Abdel Fattah El Sisi discussed the war in Ukraine during a phone call with European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen, according to an Ittihadiya statement. The pair exchanged views on how to deal with the energy, food security and supply chain crises triggered by the conflict, the statement read, and agreed to coordinate efforts to tackle the issues going forward.

M&A WATCH

Vicat Egypt launches MTO for Sinai Cement

French cement producer Vicat Egypt has submitted a mandatory tender offer to acquire another 42.1% of subsidiary Sinai Cement Company at EGP 6.74 per share, according to a statement by the EGX. The transaction — worth around EGP 378 mn by our math — would bring Vicat’s stake in the firm to 98.3%, going off the company’s 2021 financials.

Subscription kicked off yesterday: The subscription period kicked off yesterday and will wrap up on 21 April, the Financial Regulatory Authority (FRA) announced (pdf) yesterday.

Who’s selling? A panoply of private sector and state-affiliated organizations, all of them listed in the FRA statement.

Vicat settled an ownership dispute with the gov’t just last month: The French company had filed an arbitration case last year at the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, alleging that the government was trying to force it to sell its majority stake in Sinai Cement. Vicat CEO Guy Sidos and International Cooperation Minister Rania Al Mashat signed an agreement a few weeks ago settling the dispute. Details of the settlement were not disclosed at the time.

Vicat says the two aren’t related: “The settlement of the arbitration dispute only confirmed our right to our majority stake in Sinai Cement,” Vicat Egypt Country Manager Tamer Magdy told Enterprise, emphasizing the company appreciated the government’s efforts to overcome obstacles facing foreign investors in Egypt.

Sinai Cement shares fall: Sinai Cement shares closed down 2.8% yesterday, reaching EGP 6.60 per share.

Advisors: Sarie El Din and Partners, and Soliman, Hashish and Partners acted as Vicat Egypt’s legal advisors, according to the FRA statement.

STARTUP WATCH

Algebra lands USD 15 mn from IFC for new fund

The IFC has committed USD 15 mn to Algebra’s second tech fund: The International Finance Corporation (IFC) has confirmed that it will pour USD 15 mn into Algebra Ventures’ USD 90 mn second tech fund, it said in a statement. The investment was approved by the international lender’s board in December, according to a disclosure.

The new fund will target investments in some 20 African tech startups, with a focus on Egypt, the statement read.

More where that came from? The agreement includes “a separate co-investment envelope of up to USD 15 mn,” according to the IFC disclosure.

Who else is on board? The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is also committing USD 15 mn to the fund. Algebra is raising funds from a who’s who of limited partners thanks to the success of its first USD 54 mn fund, in which the IFC invested USD 10 mn back in 2016.

Ventures II: Announced in April last year, Algebra said the new fund would eventually be worth USD 90 mn and make equity venture capital investments in early-stage tech companies. Algebra partner Omar Khashaba previously told us that the VC’s second fund will focus on Egypt with some allocations for sub-Saharan Africa.

This marks the IFC’s third investment in Egypt in recent months: The lender poured USD 20 mn into private equity firm Ezdehar’s first close of its Mid-Cap Fund II (EMF II), and directly invested USD 5 mn in Algebra-backed social commerce startup Brimore.

The IFC likes the local startup scene: “With its young, tech-savvy population and large market, Egypt's entrepreneurs are perfectly poised to drive change in the country's economy — with the right support,” said IFC Egypt Country Officer Yasmine El-Hini. Catch our recent Morning Routine interview with El Hini here.

CAPITAL MARKETS

THIS IS A FIRST- Shareholders of EGX-listed EK Holding will receive dividends in USD — regardless of whether they hold USD- or EGP-denominated shares. The company last summer offered shareholders the chance to convert holdings of EKH shares denominated in USD into newly created EGP shares.

How much is the divy? The 7-cent per-share dividend (pdf) is payable on Thursday, 21 April to folks who hold EKH shares as of Monday, 18 April.

BACKGROUND- The company previously traded only in USD (and so paid dividends in USD to holders of USD-denominated shares). EK said it made its shares convertible between USD and EGP to attract investors who may have liked the investment company’s turnaround story, but who had been turned off by the logistics of trading a stock that only changed hands in USD. When the 2021 dividend is paid out next week, EKH will have distributed a dividend every year since 2007, with 11 of those divvies now being in cash.

MOVES

Saud Altassan (LinkedIn) has been appointed as the CEO of EFG Hermes, Saudi, according to a press release (pdf) out yesterday. Altassan joins EFG Hermes’ operations in the kingdom from Bank of America, where he served as the head of investment banking for KSA. He was previously CEO of Swicorp and also held M&A positions at Saudi Arabia’s National Commercial Bank (NCB) Capital’s investment banking JV with Goldman Sachs and others.

Aspire Capital Holding has appointed Hanaa El Hilaly (LinkedIn) as non-executive chairwoman, according to a disclosure to the EGX (pdf). El Hilaly is a member of the board of trustees of Al Tadamun Microfinance Foundation and a board member in the SMEs Association. She served as the secretary general of the Social Fund for Development (SFD) for over 12 years is a 25-year veteran of the banking industry.

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LAST NIGHT’S TALK SHOWS

Queiroz’s departure dominated the airwaves last night: The departure of Egypt’s national team coach and manager Carlos Queiroz was “very amicable,” Egyptian Football Association (EFA) member Ehab El Komy told Ala Mas’ouleety’s Ahmed Moussa (watch, runtime: 9:33). Queiroz has stepped down from his position by “mutual agreement,” the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) said yesterday.

Hold up… didn’t Queiroz already leave? The coach was reported to have left his post after the Pharaohs' painful loss to Senegal in the World Cup qualifiers last month, but the EFA had left the door open to his making a comeback, depending on the outcome of the team's appeal to FIFA and CAF over the match.

The EFA is set to vote on Queiroz’s replacement tomorrow, El Komy said, adding that former players Hossam Hassan and Ehab Galal are both in the running. Al Hekaya’s Amr Adib also discussed the news with EFA director Waleed El Attar (watch, runtime: 6:45).

EGYPT IN THE NEWS

It’s a quiet morning for news of Egypt in the international press: Bloomberg has yet another take on how food inflation is hitting North African countries during Ramadan. Meanwhile, the Economist takes a look at why single women in Egypt can struggle to rent a flat on their own

PLANET FINANCE

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Why are stocks proving resilient despite the Russian invasion of Ukraine and surging inflation? The Wall Street Journal tries to unpick why stocks are rallying through such a period of uncertainty. After falling into correction territory in a terrible start to the year, the S&P 500 has bounced back 7.6% from its nadir on 8 March and is now down only 6% year-to-date. This is despite rising fears of a US recession, unprecedented commodity price volatility, historic bouts of inflation, covid lockdowns in China, and the biggest European geopolitical crisis since the Cold War.

Among the reasons given by the journal:

  • Historically, rate hikes haven’t been bad for stocks: In the past five tightening cycles, the S&P 500 rallied after the initial post-hike sell-off. “The early stages of Fed tightening should not be seen as a negative for stocks, as equities tended to make new highs after the initial volatility,” JPMorgan’s Marko Kolanovic wrote last week.
  • The economy remains strong: US job numbers are positive, wages are growing, and consumers are spending.
  • Inflation is eating those bond returns: Many investors think people are heading back into stocks because bond yields adjusted for inflation are heavily negative. Yields might have risen this year but inflation is more than keeping pace.
  • Investors are BTD: There’s been a recent pickup in retail trading activity — and retail investors love to buy the dip.

Binance gets greenlight from Abu Dhabi: The world’s largest crypto exchange by volume, Binance, has received in-principle approval to operate in Abu Dhabi Global Market, Emirates news agency WAM reported yesterday, marking its third regulatory approval in the Middle Eastern region after Bahrain and Dubai. While it still needs to complete its application process, the approval allows Binance to act as a broker-dealer in digital assets including cryptocurrencies.

The UAE is slowly but surely turning itself into a global crypto hub: Last month, crypto exchange Bybit announced it will move its global headquarters to Dubai, while Crypto.com said it would set up a “regional base” in the emirate, which also handed a license to FTX Europe, an arm of FTX, the third-largest crypto exchange.

Down

EGX30

10,898

-1.8% (YTD: -8.8%)

Up

USD (CBE)

Buy 18.30

Sell 18.40

Up

USD at CIB

Buy 18.30

Sell 18.40

None

Interest rates CBE

9.25% deposit

10.25% lending

Up

Tadawul

13,395

+0.6% (YTD: +18.7%)

Up

ADX

10,094

+1.0% (YTD: +18.9%)

Up

DFM

3,542

+0.8% (YTD: +10.8%)

Down

S&P 500

4,488

-0.3% (YTD: -5.8%)

Up

FTSE 100

7,670

+1.6% (YTD: +3.9%)

Up

Euro Stoxx 50

3,858

+1.5% (YTD: -10.2%)

Down

Brent crude

USD 101.63

-1.1%

Up

Natural gas (Nymex)

USD 6.34

+0.9%

Down

Gold

USD 1,945

-0.1%

Up

BTC

USD 42,825

+0.2% (as of midnight)

THE CLOSING BELL-

The EGX30 fell 1.8% at yesterday’s close on turnover of EGP 597 mn (38.3% below the 90-day average). Regional investors were net sellers. The index is down 8.8% YTD.

In the green: Egypt Kuwait Holding-EGP (+0.2%), Credit Agricole Egypt (+0.1%) and e-Finance (+0.1%).

In the red: Fawry (-7.1%), Ibnsina Pharma (-5.8%) and Madinet Nasr Housing (-5.8%).

It’s a bit ugly out there this morning: Stocks across Asia are under pressure this morning, with the Shanghai and Hong Kong benchmarks in particularly negative territory as worries mount about what the lockdown of Shanghai and other cities could mean for the global economy. Futures suggest major European indexes will be in the red at the opening bell, with France’s CAC 40a alone in bucking the trend. The Dow, S&P and Nasdaq are all likely to open in the red later today.

AROUND THE WORLD

Lebanon lands IMF funding: The IMF has decided to offer Lebanon a USD 3 bn, 46-month extended fund facility (EFF) following a visit with Lebanese authorities, the lender said in a statement yesterday. The EFF aims to help Lebanon “rebuild the economy, restore financial sustainability, strengthen governance and transparency, and increase social and reconstruction spending.” The country has been facing runaway inflation and a currency crisis after defaulting on over USD 30 bn worth of debt last year.

Naturally enough, the facility comes with strings attached: Lebanese authorities will need to undertake a series of reforms, including measures to reduce public debt and ensure a “more equal and transparent distribution of the tax burden,” the IMF wrote. Authorities have agreed to enact “several critical reforms” — including finalizing a debt restructuring strategy — ahead of an IMF board meeting, where the lender will grant final approval on the aid package if its conditions are met.

Also worth knowing this morning: Iran wants some sanctions lifted as a sign of goodwill from the US after negotiations to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement stalled, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said yesterday. (Reuters)

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With easing covid restrictions and logistical hurdles, are students going back to studying abroad? Egyptian students were faced with significant logistical challenges since the outset of the pandemic, leading many to rethink their plans to pursue higher education at institutions in the UK and US, where covid-19 restrictions were strictly implemented. The appetite for a foreign degree hasn’t diminished by any means, our sources tell us. But there are signs that the outflow of Egyptian students to universities abroad is picking up pace, thanks to both easing covid restrictions (including embassies reopening) and the universities themselves working hard to lure back international students, which are a key source of income.

Visas were a commonly cited hurdle for students… While the US Embassy in Cairo has been accepting and processing visa applications for students and emergency medical requirements throughout the pandemic, two sources speaking to Enterprise say their appointments were postponed in 2020 and 2021 due to a backlog of applications. This was also the case in other countries, such as the UAE, where the US State Department said the pandemic led to “profound reductions in the department’s visa processing capacity.”

…But this appears to be clearing up: One of our sources, whose US visa appointment was delayed more than once due to the pandemic, was able to complete her visa application process last November and pursue her master’s degree at NYU in the spring 2022 semester. The US Embassy also began allowing visa renewals for anybody whose visa has expired within the past 48 months (four years), with an option to request an interview waiver, as of February.

For the past two years, many universities have allowed students a great degree of flexibility to accommodate these logistical issues, giving international students — including degree seekers from Egypt — to remain in their home country for the first semester of their program. These students attended classes and completed their coursework online until covid-19 related restrictions were eased and allowed them to travel to their country of study.

And some students are opting for markets outside the US + UK: European universities have also grown increasingly popular, thanks to the lower tuition fees they offer, El Alsson Executive Director Karim Rogers tells Enterprise. Universities in countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium, and Spain are typically cheaper for Egyptian students than their counterparts in the US and UK, which are the top markets for overseas students, Rogers says. And even beyond the Western sphere, some Egyptian students have had their eyes on higher education degrees in Asian countries due to lower expenses, Noor El Mahallawi, founder of the IG Club, a platform that helps students travel for studies in universities abroad, told Enterprise. The IG Club has seen a significant uptick over the past year in the flow of applications it has seen for studies in Malaysia in particular, Mahallawi told us.

Higher education institutions in mainstream markets are now actively trying to lure back students from the MENA region — not least for the financial returns: International students account for the bulk of universities’ bottom lines, thanks to the higher tuition rates they pay. Long-losses for universities with a wide international student base have been estimated at between GBP 11 bn or over a quarter of income in one year, with the most losses coming from a drop in International students’ enrollments, a 2020 report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said. Some universities have relaxed their admissions requirements because they’re “thirsty” for the return of international students, Rogers tells us. UK universities “are doing everything they can to bring back international students. It’s as easy as getting an acceptance immediately if you pay full tuition fees,” he said. Eduhive CEO Karim Mostafa agrees, saying that universities have been flexible with their admissions, because “if they lose international students, they lose the market”.

The good news for these universities: The demand was always there. The pandemic didn’t have a significant effect on demand on higher education abroad, Mostafa told Enterprise. “The structure of universities that seek to attract students with such [high] price points is based primarily on international students,” he said, adding that universities were very receptive through online learning to be able to recruit students.

Case in point: Students haven’t slowed down their applications for universities abroad: BCCIS, which EduHive manages, didn’t see a drop in the number of students working on applications to study abroad, Mostafa told us. The same trend holds up at CAC, with Head of School Jared Harris telling us that students are currently still applying at the same pace for universities outside of Egypt. The only difference, Harris says, is that some students opted to stay in Egypt after having applied abroad because in-person education was suspended.

Scholarship applications are also undented: Chevening, which is sponsored by the British government, didn’t see a change in the number of applications from Egypt, Program Manager Nevine Sharaf told Enterprise. The scholarship program’s most recent round saw somewhere between 2.8k-3k applications from Egypt, which is on par with the annual average, she said. And the program didn’t slow down the number of scholarships it handed out, either: Around 40 scholarships are offered annually for Egypt. “Last year we had the same allocation, despite my expectations of reductions. So far, no changes were made, which is very good news,” she adds.

Altogether, the mindset of traveling abroad being an attractive option is a mainstay for MENA students, says Sami Al Ahmad, the CEO of emonovo, formerly known as Marj3, an online platform that helps students reach universities, secure scholarships and attend open online courses. “The mindset of traveling abroad was always there and always will be,” because the quality of education abroad is typically better, and can sometimes be cheaper in comparison with universities in the region, he said.

But Egypt is on a mission to bring universities abroad home: Internationalization has been a core government policy in education over the past two years. This policy includes making it easier for foreign universities to set up shop here through the International Branch Campuses Act (pdf). This has led to some institutions setting up their own campus here (like the German International University), or partnering with an Egyptian company that can build an educational hub, like the Knowledge Hub, which hosts Britain’s Coventry University campus. “Still, Egypt needs time until it becomes a destination. People seeking a foreign degree might opt for international campus universities in Egypt, but those who want the overall experience would still head abroad,” Al Ahmad said.


Your top education stories for the week:

  • Cairo-based edtech startup Sprints has closed a USD 1.2 mn Series A round led by the Alexandria Business Angels Network.
  • State-backed Rowad 2030 is now accepting applicants between the ages of 22-40 for its masters program in entrepreneurship and innovation in collaboration with the University of Cambridge and Cairo University.
  • (xxNF) Greek public universities are considering launching academic programs in Egypt. The Greek Education Ministry has set up contacts within Greek communities to begin steps towards the launch.

CALENDAR

OUR CALENDAR NOW APPEARS in two sections:

  • Events with specific dates or months are right here up top
  • Events happening in a quarter or other range of time with no specific date / month appear at the bottom of the calendar.

APRIL

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

April: Ghazl El Mahalla shares will begin trading on the EGX.

April: A delegation from a major Belgian shipping company will arrive for talks on building an international shipping supply center in Egypt.

14 April (Thursday): European Central Bank monetary policy meeting.

18-24 April (Monday-Sunday): World Bank-IMF Spring Meetings, Washington D.C.

20 April (Wednesday): Deadline for listed companies and NBFIs to submit quarterly ESG reports.

Mid-April: Trading on the Egyptian Commodity Exchange to start.

21 April (Thursday): EGX-listed Taaleem will hold an extraordinary general assembly to discuss the mechanism to build and own nonprofit and private universities.

24 April (Sunday): Coptic Easter Sunday (holiday for Coptic Christians).

25 April (Monday): Sham El Nessim.

25 April (Monday): Sinai Liberation Day.

28 April (Thursday): National Holiday in observance of Sham El Nessim.

30 April (Saturday): Deadline for submitting corporate tax returns for companies whose financial year ends 31 December.

30 April (Saturday): Fixed customs exchange rate lifted.

Late April through 15 May: 1Q2022 earnings season

MAY

May: Investment in Logistics Conference, Cairo, Egypt.

1 May (Sunday): Labor Day.

1 May (Sunday): Suez Canal Authority raises tolls for different vessels.

3-4 May (Tuesday-Wednesday): Federal Reserve interest rate meeting.

4 May (Wednesday): 3 February (Thursday): Deadline to send in applications for Cultural Property Agreement Implementation projects to the US Embassy in Cairo.

5 May (Thursday): National Holiday in observance of Labor Day.

2 May (Monday): Eid El Fitr (TBC).

15 May (Sunday): Last day for EGX-listed companies to file 1Q2022 earnings

19 May (Thursday): Central Bank of Egypt’s Monetary Policy Committee meeting.

JUNE

5-7 June (Sunday-Tuesday): Africa Health ExCon, Al Manara International Conference Center, Egypt International Exhibitions Center, and the St. Regis Almasa Hotel, New Administrative Capital.

9 June (Thursday): European Central Bank monetary policy meeting.

14-15 June (Tuesday-Wednesday): Federal Reserve interest rate meeting.

15-18 June (Wednesday-Saturday): St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), St. Petersburg.

16 June (Thursday): End of 2021-2022 academic year for public schools.

23 June (Thursday): Central Bank of Egypt’s Monetary Policy Committee meeting.

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

30 June (Thursday): June 30 Revolution Day, national holiday.

30 June (Thursday): Deadline for bids for National Democratic Party HQ redevelopment contract.

JULY

July: A law governing ins. for seasonal contractors will come into effect.

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

Early July: Polish President to visit Egypt.

1 July (Friday): FY 2022-2023 begins.

8 July (Friday): Arafat Day.

9-13 July (Saturday-Wednesday): Eid Al Adha, national holiday.

21 July (Thursday): European Central Bank monetary policy meeting.

26-27 July (Tuesday-Wednesday): Federal Reserve interest rate meeting.

30 July (Saturday): Islamic New Year.

Late July – 14 August: 2Q2022 earnings season.

AUGUST

August: Work to extend the capacity of the Egypt-Sudan electricity interconnection to 600 MW to be completed.

18 August (Thursday): Central Bank of Egypt’s Monetary Policy Committee meeting.

SEPTEMBER

September: Egypt will display its first naval exhibition with the title Naval Power.

September: Central Bank of Egypt’s Innovation and Financial Technology Center to launch incubator for 25 fintech startups.

8 September (Thursday): European Central Bank monetary policy meeting.

18 September (Sunday): Deadline for brokerage firms, asset managers and financial advisors to register with the Egyptian Securities Federation.

20-21 September (Tuesday-Wednesday): Federal Reserve interest rate meeting.

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

OCTOBER

October: World Bank and IMF annual meetings in Washington, DC

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

6 October (Thursday): Armed Forces Day, national holiday.

8 October (Saturday): Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, national holiday.

18-20 October(Tuesday-Thursday): Mediterranean Offshore Conference, Alexandria, Egypt.

27 October (Thursday): European Central Bank monetary policy meeting.

Late October – 14 November: 3Q2022 earnings season.

NOVEMBER

November: Cairo Water Week 2022.

1-2 November (Tuesday-Wednesday): Federal Reserve interest rate meeting.

3 November (Thursday): Central Bank of Egypt’s Monetary Policy Committee meeting.

4-6 November: The Autotech auto exhibition kicks off at the Cairo International Exhibition and Convention Center.

7-18 November (Monday-Friday): Egypt will host COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh.

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

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

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

DECEMBER

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

JANUARY 2023

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

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

EVENTS WITH NO SET DATE

1H2022: Target date for IDH to close its acquisition of 50% of Islamabad Diagnostic Center.

1H2022: e-Finance’s digital healthcare service platform, eHealth, will launch its services.

1H2022: The government will respond to private companies’ bids to build desalination plants.

1H2022: Egypt’s second corporate green bond issuance expected to be announced.

14 March-30 June: The “Escape to Egypt” exhibition at the Coptic Museum, in celebration of its 112th anniversary.

2Q2022: The Sovereign Fund of Egypt will invest in two companies in the financial inclusion and non-banking financial services sectors.

End of 2Q2022: The Financial Regulatory Authority’s new Ins. Act should be approved.

End of 2Q2022: Door for bidding for the contract to redevelop the site of the former National Democratic Party HQ to close.

End of 1H2022: Emirati industrial company M Glory Holding and the Military Production Ministry will begin the mass production of dual fuel pickup trucks that can run on natural gas.

2H2022: The inauguration of the Grand Egyptian Museum.

2H2022: IEF-IGU Ministerial Gas Forum, Egypt. Date + location TBA.

2H2022: The government will have vaccinated 70% of the population.

3Q2022: Ayady’s consumer financing arm, The Egyptian Company for Consumer Finance Services, to release first financing product.

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

**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 above between the actual holiday and its observance.

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