What we’re tracking on 7 April 2020
SMART POLICY- Companies have until 30 June to finish paying their income taxes for 2019 under a decree signed yesterday by President Abdel Fattah El Sisi. The measure will allow businesses to pay in three installments. The president also gave the tourism industry a full six-month tax holiday and rolled out other policies to support the civil aviation industry, exporters, and seasonal workers. We have chapter and verse in this morning’s Speed Round, below.
The government is expected to make an announcement today on whether it will extend the 11-hour curfew and suspension of flights, schools and universities, and other measures to curb the spread of covid-19. The measures came into effect on 25 March for a two-week period that expires tomorrow, Al Kahera Alaan’s Lamees El Hadidi reminds us (watch, runtime: 3:47).
Don’t expect a full lockdown just yet: Information Minister Osama Heikal had told Lamees earlier this week that the government would only impose a full lockdown if we reach the point of 1k new covid-19 cases per day.
The EGX30 was up 1.9% at yesterday’s closing bell. Local investors were the sole net buyers in a session that saw moderate turnover of EGP 778 mn, 29% above the trailing 90-day average. The benchmark index is down 32.3% since the start of the year. US stocks surged to a three-week high yesterday on suggestions that “the reported death tolls in some of the world’s coronavirus hot spots showed signs of easing,” Bloomberg noted. Shares in Europe also surged yesterday.
Markets are holding up well so far today, with shares in Japan, China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand all in the green this morning. Futures suggest European markets will open weakly in the green later this morning, as will the S&P, Dow and Nasdaq across the pond.
Three pieces of wisdom from Twitter:
1- Bill Ackman made USD 2.6 bn hedging against corona (details in his note to investors here) in what we figure must be the greatest hedge of all time (he defended it on Twitter after the usual suspects started whining about it). He’s now optimistic that the tide may be turning on covid.
2- The smartest thing we’ve read in weeks on the virology of SARS-CoV-2 comes from another virologist (see, we’re everywhere…) turned venture capitalist.
3- Why follow advice to social distance? Because the experts bloody say so, the UK’s Doncaster Council argues, colorfully invoking an attempt in Oregon to blow up a dead whale with a half ton of TNT back in the 1970s.
COVID-19 IN EGYPT-
Egypt now has 1,322 confirmed cases of covid-19 after the Health Ministry reported 149 new infections yesterday. The ministry also said that another seven people had died from the virus, bringing the death toll to 85. We now have a total of 396 confirmed cases that have since tested negative for the virus after being hospitalized, of whom 259 officials say have fully recovered. Health Minister Hala Zayed noted that 88% of confirmed cases in Egypt are mild cases, 7% are moderate, 3% are extreme cases; 2% cases are people who are in hospital in critical condition.
The government will pay civil servants early this month, with wages disbursed over the course of four days between 19 and 22 April to reduce large crowds at banks and ATMs, according to a cabinet statement.
The CIT Ministry has pushed the deadline to pay January’s landline phone bills to avoid overcrowding at state-owned landline operator Telecom Egypt’s offices, Minister Amr Talaat told Al Hadath Al Youm (watch, runtime 2:01).
Companies in Egypt’s private sector struggling with short-term cash crunches need immediate help to keep the lights on, limit bankruptcies, and prevent layoffs, Regional Director of the World Bank in Egypt, Yemen and Djibouti Marina Wes told Ahram Online. She noted that the private sector and informal workers will be the most vulnerable to the economic fallout from Egypt’s response to covid-19.
Egypt has an 8.6-month reserve of sugar, 4.2 months of rice, and 5.8 months of vegetable oil, Reuters reports. The government is working to increase the country’s strategic commodity reserves to be sufficient for a six-month period to protect against possible food supply shortages.
The Tourism Ministry is allowing hotels outside so-called “tourism governorates” to host guests up to 25% of their capacity and allow up to 50% of their staff members to work, Al Mal reports, citing a ministry memo. The decision does not apply to South Sinai, the Red Sea, Luxor, and Aswan, but it remains unclear whether hotels in these governorates are required to remain vacant. Red Sea hotels were evacuated last month and tourism in the governorate’s hotels was suspended before Marsa Alam facilities were tapped to serve as quarantine centers for Egyptians returning home from the United States.
Construction companies working on contract to the government should be given up to six extra months to finish work, the Federation of Construction and Building Contractors has said, according to a report in Al Mal. The industry is struggling with labour shortages and the 7pm-6am curfew.
Ongoing railway projects are all set to be completed on schedule, including Cairo Metro Lines 3 and 4 and the new administrative capital monorail, head of the National Authority for Tunnels Essam Waly said, according to Al Mal. President Abdel Fattah El Sisi had decided on Saturday to postpone the inauguration of all national projects due this year.
State-owned Misr Spinning and Weaving (Ghazl El Mahalla) began trial production of face masks yesterday on a line with the capacity to crank out up to 40 masks per minute, board member Magdy El Alfy tells Al Mal. The company is aiming to double its output soon.
Mastercard has increased its contactless payment limit for Egypt from EGP 300 to EGP 600 to help customers avoid touching keypads when making purchases, in an initiative rolled out across the MENA region on Monday, Al Masry Al Youm reports, noting the new limits for each country.
A flight passing overhead near deadline time this morning reminded us that there are not just cargo flights in and out of Egypt, but that at least three commercial flights are scheduled for tomorrow. An EgyptAir repatriation flight for Canadian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families takes off on Wednesday for Toronto, while Air Cairo is running two commercial flights for citizens from any country tomorrow morning to Paris. There are presently no flights scheduled to the United States for American nationals.
*** The Breathe Campaign (image above) has now raised enough money to purchase 30 ventilators: The campaign has so far raised EGP 10 mn since its launch on 31 March, enough to buy 30 ventilators costing EGP 240-430k each.
Want to make a contribution? Hit up the Egyptian Cure Bank, Fawry or the FawryApp or check out the description section of the Youtube page for other options.
Orascom Construction and the Sawiris Foundation for Social Development are funding the repair of 110 ventilators for several public hospitals, according to a statement (pdf). The company has worked with international manufacturers of medical equipment to identify broken ventilators and will reportedly deliver them in the coming days.
FEI to repair 122 ventilators, buy 21 more: The Federation of Egyptian Industries signed an MoU with the Egyptian Cure Bank and the Authority for Unified Procurement to repair 122 ventilators and purchase 21 more for use in public hospitals, according to the local press. The repairs will cost approximately EGP 7.7 mn and 87 will be completed in two weeks and the rest within a month.
Banque du Caire is doling out EGP 40 mn in donations under a Federation of Egyptian Banks’ initiative aimed to collect EGP 150 mn from the country’s banks to help the state confront the covid-19 pandemic, Al Mal reports.
Centamin is donating EGP 10 mn to support Egypt in fighting the covid-19 pandemic, according to a statement. Chairman Josef El Raghy said the mining company is “committed to extending support to our host countries.”
City Edge is also donating EGP 10 mn to the Tahya Misr Fund, Al Masry Al Youm reports.
ON THE GLOBAL FRONT-
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was moved to an ICU unit after his covid-19 symptoms took a turn for the worse yesterday. Johnson was hospitalized on Sunday following 10 days of “persistent symptoms” from his infection. The story is front-page news around the world this morning on the Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and the New York Times.
Europe plans for a post-covid future: European governments are drawing up plans for easing lockdown restrictions for businesses and schools without causing a second wave of covid-19 infections, the Financial Times reports. This is unlikely to happen for several weeks, and will require a massive increase in testing capacity, along with rigorous contact tracing. Experts also fear it may undermine key messages about the importance of continued social distancing.
Austria is the first European country to provide a timetable for restarting the economy, with small shops due to open as early as next week, the Financial Times reports. Higher risk businesses are likely to reopen from 1 May.
America’s Inovio Pharma is starting covid-19 vaccine testing on 40 healthy volunteers in Missouri after it obtained Food and Drug Administration permission for the study on Monday, according to the Associated Press. If successful, it would still take over a year before the vaccine could be widely distributed. Inovio is the second US drugmaker to start potential vaccine testing, after Moderna announced it would begin testing this month.
In other international covid-19 news:
- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is set to declare a state of emergency for Tokyo and six other prefectures today but is not yet imposing any hard lockdowns, AP reports. The government is also launching a JPY 108 tn (USD 1 tn) stimulus package, double what was initially expected.
- The Spanish government is working to introduce universal basic income as soon as possible to support families, Bloomberg reports, quoting the country’s economy minister.
The global economy is already contracting and is falling at a faster rate than during the opening salvo of the 2007-08 financial crisis, according to Bloomberg Economics’ GDP tracker. Global economic output fell 0.5% at an annualized rate in March, down from 0.1% in February and 4.2% in January, the tracker shows.
Meanwhile, JP Morgan is considering suspending dividend payments for the first time in its history if the worst-case recessionary scenario — which would see the US’ economy shrink 25% in 2Q2020 and unemployment rising to 14% — plays out, according to the FT.
Lawyers are bracing themselves for investor claims against unsuccessful margin calls: Equity investors who had lost from questionable margin calls are drawing up claims against bankers who some lawyers allege give very little refinancing flexibility, resulting in hefty losses, says the Financial Times. The magnitude of claims to recoup losses could potentially exceed those filed during the financial crisis, lawyers expect.
Europe can now borrow USD at negative rates after FX swap costs plunge: The cost of swapping EUR and GBP for USD has fallen back to negative territory after having risen to 2011 European crisis era levels earlier in the covid-19 fallout, according to Reuters. This is an unusual turn of events given that a premium for the USD has been prominent in FX swap markets since the financial crisis. Despite the decrease in borrowing costs on swaps, the cost remains high within the US interbank system, a discrepancy showing that “there is still a credit risk or a liquidity shortage in the market,” Monex Europe forex broker Simon Harvey said.
Emaar Properties has cut executive and staff salaries across its Dubai businesses, effective 1 April, for an indefinite period, Bloomberg reports. Senior management will see a 50% reduction, while middle management wages will be down 40% and junior staff down 30%. Chairman Mohamed Alabbar will completely forgo his salary.
Is an end to the oil war within arm’s reach? In what could be the first step to ending a months-long oil war between Russia and Saudi Arabia, Moscow has signaled it could reduce its oil production “substantially” to prop up oil prices ahead of a planned Opec+ meeting today, Reuters reports, citing two Russian sources. Russian President Vladimir Putin had previously said that Opec+ cuts could reach 10 mn bbl/d, but government and industry sources tell the newswire this may not be enough to steady the global oil market given the weak demand hit by the covid-19 outbreak.
Correction (07/04/2020): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Orascom Investment Holding had cut the salaries of employees at its tourism businesses by 50%.