What we’re tracking on 21 December 2020
Welcome to the shortest day of the year here in the northern hemisphere, ladies and gentlemen. It’s also the first day of winter — please consider this your annual reminder that covid-19 or not, Egypt has the best winters in the worlds, hands-down. (Though we’ll confess to missing snow on occasion.)
Look to the skies tonight at around 5:30pm CLT — that’s when (unrelated to it being the winter solstice) you’ll have the best chance to see the great conjunction between Saturn and Jupiter. It’s the first time in 800 years the conjunction has happened at night. There are a handful of places around Cairo offering viewing opportunities with telescopes, but you should be able to see it with your naked eye. NASA, Space.com and Ahram Online have more.
THE BIG NEWS OF THE DAY: A new, more transmissible mutant of the coronavirus has countries around the world closing their doors to travelers from the UK. The new strain of the virus is (so far) no more deadly, but is believed to be c. 70% more transmissible — meaning more people could get it in a shorter period of time, potentially challenging hospital capacity. It has so far been detected in the UK, Belgium and the Netherlands and a close cousin has taken root in South Africa.
Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Israel have all closed their airspace to travelers from the UK.
Saudi Arabia in the meantime is taking no chances with the new strain, suspending all international flights, as well as closing off all land and sea borders for a week, subject to renewal, according to the Saudi Press Agency. Egypt and most other countries in the Arab world have yet to follow suit.
Don’t panic. Just wear your damn mask, avoid crowds and wash your hands. Also an antidote: This wonderful Twitter thread on a Canadian Muslim learning how to Christmas.
CIRCLE YOUR CALENDAR-
Egypt could secure EUR 1.1 bn in finance from the European Investment Bank this week, according to Al Mal, which cites unnamed sources saying that the lender and the transport and international cooperation ministries could sign on the dotted line in the coming days. The financing will fund the electrification of the Abu Qir-Alexandria railway, the renovation of the Raml tramline in Alexandria, and an extension to Cairo Metro Line 2.
It’s interest rate week: The Central Bank of Egypt’s Monetary Policy Committee meets to review rates this Thursday for its final sit-down of the year. All 10 analysts and economists we surveyed expect rates to be left unchanged, with some pointing to protecting the carry trade as a key reason the CBE could keep rates on hold.
The expectation comes as yield-hungry investors are piling into riskier frontier market bonds, including Egypt, Ukraine, Senegal and Belarus after the US Fed signaled its intention to keep rates lower for longer, Bloomberg reports. Analysts at HSBC Global and NN Investments tell the business information service they are bullish on frontier markets with a ratings upgrade in the works, or that are benefiting from an IMF program, such as Egypt and Ukraine. With the incoming Biden administration expected to stabilize global trade and vaccine rollouts boding well for an imminent economic recovery, investors are more confident chasing returns of up to 7% in next generation markets as opposed to an average of 4.4% in emerging markets.
Egypt will officially launch its natural gas transition strategy at an exhibition in January, according to a cabinet statement. The event will encourage local and international companies to locally produce natural gas vehicles, and will be attended by major auto companies operating in Egypt. The date of the expo is yet to be announced.
*** 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 today’s issue: Part 2 of our Year in Review looks at how internationalizing higher education became the major policy initiative of 2020. We explore the objectives of the policy, what steps took place this year to bring it about, and what is the likelihood of it improving quality and driving private sector investment and FDI.