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Tuesday, 10 March 2020

What we’re tracking on 10 March 2020

The carnage in the markets yesterday was so bad it is already being referred to as “Black Monday” in the global business press. Many markets witnessed their biggest single-day drop since the height of the financial crisis back in 2008 and the EGX was off 7.3% at the close after having been down more than 8% earlier in the day. Oil prices, meanwhile, had their worst day since Saddam decided he’d like to own Kuwait. CNBC has a helpful list of all the firsts and worsts here.

THE GOOD NEWS — Global: Today looks a bit better than yesterday. Heading into dispatch time this morning, Asian markets were mixed (slightly more red than green, but not a disaster), while futures suggest a mixed open in Europe and that the Nasdaq, Dow and S&P will all be in the green at the opening bell. Oil had regained some ground, with Brent up about 6.2% to USD 36.50 / bbl.

THE GOOD NEWS — Egypt: We’re hearing from policymakers, and what they have to say makes sense. We spoke overnight with Finance Minister Mohamed Maait and Vice Minister of Finance Ahmed Kouchouk. Like policymakers around the world, they said the ultimate impact of covid-19 on the economy won’t be clear for some time, but that there are headaches to come. The spread of the virus at home and abroad threatens the tourism sector, manufacturers will struggle with trade and supply chain disruptions, some spare parts could become scarce, importers face supply challenges, and investors are dealing with redemption calls amid the current global selloff.

There’s no need to ask the International Monetary Fund for help, Maait said, although the government maintains an open dialogue with both the IMF and the World Bank. Policymakers will be working with both institutions as necessary as they sort through solutions to the challenges that the fallout from covid-19 will present. Maait also telegraphed that Egypt isn’t scrapping plans to diversify its offerings on the global debt market, saying green bonds, sukuk and EGP-denominated bonds (both local and international) remain on the menu. The question, then, is one of timing.

Some form of stimulus could be on table: The ministry will take emergency measures if needed to mitigate the impact of the outbreak on the Egyptian economy, Maait said, adding that increased public expenditure is an inevitable part of both ensuring public safety and improving public services. The presidency has asked the government to prepare a response plan to ensure the economy stays afloat amid what’s going on now globally, he added.

Don’t sweat the outflows: Industry sources tell us they have seen outflows from Egyptian treasuries to the tune of USD 2-2.5 bn over the past three weeks as investors buy into safe-haven assets in the face of market volatility. Kouchouk stopped short of putting a number on it, but suggested it is natural to see some in the carry trade trim positions amid a global crisis. He emphasized that the relatively light selling we’ve seen so far isn’t capital flight from Egypt, but investors facing redemption calls or trimming positions here to lock in gains and square off losses in other markets. Foreign investors currently hold about USD 24 bn worth of Egyptian treasuries.

The ministry may have to reevaluate its GDP growth and budget targets if the crisis lingers, Maait said. The government currently forecasts GDP to expand at a 6% clip during the current fiscal year and 6.4% in FY2020-2021 and expects to continue running a 2% primary surplus through the next fiscal year

The Finance Ministry may also have to reassess how quickly it can cut public debt, having earlier set an ambitious target of slashing it to 79% of GDP during FY2020-2021. “We cannot assess whether achieving this goal is possible in the current situation,” Maait said.

Lower oil prices are a mixed blessing: They give the government more fiscal space, Maait said, but they will also put pressure on FX flows from both remittances and Suez Canal revenues.

CORONA FACTS OF THE DAY: Global demand for face masks, and the industrial fabric used to make them, is soaring, but health experts don’t recommend wearing a mask unless you are sick and need to be out in public, and warn that they are currently in short supply for the health workers who need them while treating infected patients

IF YOU WATCH NOTHING ELSE TODAY: The very smart Dr. Richard Hatchett talks about the outbreak, saying it’s the scariest outbreak he’s dealt with in a 20-year career. “War is an appropriate analogy,” he says (watch, runtime: 19:52).

Executives will be judged on how they treat staff and customers during the outbreak, the Financial Times warns.

Be grateful you’re not in Italy: The entire country of 60 mn people is basically on lockdown after the government “ordered everyone across the country not to move around other than for work and emergencies, banned all public gatherings and suspended sporting events, including soccer matches,” Reuters notes.

And remember: You can go from infected and relatively “okay” to acute distress very quickly, scientists suggest, noting that there is a “tipping point” before the virus kills.


IN NON-CORONA NEWS: The FY2020-2021 budget is due on the president’s desk within days: Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly met with Finance Minister Mohamed Maait to finalize the next fiscal year budget, which should be presented to President Abdel Fattah El Sisi within days, Madbouly said that the new budget will include an unprecedented increase in government investment in a biid to maintain high growth rates, funnel more funding in health and education, and continue shoring up the social safety net.

It’s also inflation day today: February figures will be out later today. January saw inflation accelerate for the third consecutive month, rising slightly to 7.2% from 7.1% in December. It’s anticipated that supply chain disruptions as a result of covid-19 may drive inflation in some manufactured goods, which some expect will be registered in March and April. We break down these supply chain concerns in today’s Speed Round.

Sudan prime minister, Abdullah Hamdok, dodged an assassination attempt in Khartoum yesterday. Hamdouk, head of the Sudanese transitional government following the ouster of Omar al-Bashir last year, survived an attack on his convoy in the capital city as it approached the city center, Reuters reports.

PSA- What’s next? It rains frogs? The mercury will ease to a daytime high of 24°C today from yesterday’s peak, but it’s a prelude to an ugly weekend: Look for a sand storm on Thursday followed by rain, thunder and lightning later in the day, then more showers over both Friday and Saturday. Our favourite weather app agrees with the national weather service’s forecast, so you’re forewarned.

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