IMF gives Egyptian economic reforms $2bn ‘stamp of approval’

An Egyptian baker is seen beside a vegetable market in Cairo, Egypt. (Reuters)
Updated 11 November 2017
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IMF gives Egyptian economic reforms $2bn ‘stamp of approval’

LONDON: The International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) agreement to provide $2 billion to Egypt as part of a three-year $12 billion loan agreement is a stamp of approval of economic reforms being pushed through under the terms of the deal, commentators said.
The latest payment, which remains subject to IMF executive board approval, will bring total disbursements under the agreement to $6 billion, Reuters reported.
In a statement released following a recent visit to Egypt the fund said, “Egypt’s economy continues to perform strongly, and reforms that have already been implemented are beginning to pay off in terms of macroeconomic stabilization and the return of confidence.”
“While the reform process has required sacrifices in the short term, seizing the current moment of opportunity to transform Egypt into a dynamic, modern, and fast-growing economy will improve the living standards and increase prosperity for all Egyptians.”
Last year, Egypt floated its currency and reduced energy subsidies as part of an ambitious economic reform program outlined under the terms of the loan.
Since then, the Egyptian pound has approximately halved in value and inflation has soared to record highs in what is widely acknowledged to have been a challenging adjustment period.
During a panel discussion on Egypt at the MENA Britain Trade Expo 2017 in London held Friday, Mohamed Farid Saleh, the executive chairman of the Egyptian Exchange, said resolving the fiscal deficit is “not something that can be achieved with a magic wand” but pointed to short-term gains, including easing in inflation moving forward.
Speaking to Arab News ahead of the session, he said economic performance had proved “resilient,” citing the 4.2 percent growth of the Egyptian economy in the fiscal year ending June 2017, exceeded projections of 3.5 percent.
“The reform measures took place despite difficulties on several fronts and the upcoming benefits and potential gains are evident.”
“The government of Egypt is committed to the reform plan to put Egypt on track when it comes to macro-economic settings and macro-economic balances,” he said.
Karim T. Helal, chairman of ADIB Capital, the investment banking arm of Abu Dhabi Investment Bank in Egypt, said the reforms have been difficult but necessary.
“The immediate-term effect has been very painful for the populace in terms of devaluation and the subsequent inflation,” he said.
“It’s a bitter pill to swallow but we had to do it and we are at least showing signs that things are finally heading the right way.”
He described the IMF’s announcement as a “stamp of approval” for Egypt’s progress under the terms of the agreement.
“The fact that the $2 billion has been released now will indicate to the international investment community that the plan put forward at the outset is actually going according to expectations and that Egypt has indeed delivered what it was supposed to deliver,” he said.
Rana Adawi, managing director of Acumen Asset Management, said that the decision came as no surprise in light of Egypt’s success in implementing the required reforms.
“It’s a vote of confidence from the international community that we are committed to change,” she said.
Despite the disturbance created by the currency devaluation last year, the benefits of the move are starting to be felt as businesses take the opportunity to move into the export market, Adawi said.
“The flotation of the Egyptian pound made the country become very competitive in some sectors,” she said.
“You can see the finances of small businesses in the industrial sector going from loss-making to profit-making as a result of the flotation.”
Speaking during the Egypt panel discussion, Helmy Ghazi, managing director and head of global banking at HSBC, said: “The substance of reforms in Egypt are actually quite impressive and we at HSBC are very confident in the outlook and the economic prospects for Egypt.”


China tariff threat could be a boon for Gulf oil exports

Updated 18 June 2018
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China tariff threat could be a boon for Gulf oil exports

  • Tariffs proposed for crude oil, coal and other energy projects.
  • China is the largest Asian customer for US crude.

LONDON: Gulf oil producers may benefit from China’s threat to impose import tariffs on US crude and other energy products, as key exporters meet to discuss production increases later this week.

China, one of the largest buyers of US crude oil surprised many late last week when it announced plans to tax such imports, as part of retaliatory measures following the decision by US President Donald Trump to impose $50 billion worth of tariffs on a variety of US goods.

The announcement comes as China looks for a different oil supply mix ahead of likely reductions in its imports from Venezuela and Iran.

Carsten Fritsch, a commodities analyst with Commerzbank, said that while China’s reduction of imports of Iranian crude should not be overestimated, the decline of production from Venezuela left the country with no choice but to seek alternative sources of oil.

“The US could could have been an alternative supplier but of course that won’t be the case if a 25 percent import tariff comes into effect,” Fritsch told Arab News.

“Some of the Arabian Gulf countries might have an advantage in plugging the gap, given the similarity of the crude types, and the same shipping lanes that would be used.”

China is currently the largest Asian customer for US crude; imports rose to 3.89 million metric tons in the first quarter of the year, compared with just 443,000 metric tons for the year ago period, according to figures from S&P Global Platts, with the US’s market share rising to 3.5 percent at the end of March.

American crude has proved competitive for China; the US benchmark WTI averaged a $1.83 per barrel discount to oil from the North Sea Forties on a delivered basis into China in May, and a 74 cents per barrel discount to Abu Dhabi’s Murban crude, according to S&P Global Platts calculations.

But China is likely to find it easier to replace US crude imports than US producers will to get new customers, according to Thomson Reuters commentator Clyde Russell.

“It’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which China encourages Saudi Arabia and Russia, the world’s top oil exporters and partners in the agreement to restrict output, to pump more crude,” said Russell yesterday.

“China would then buy the additional Saudi and Russian output, using it to replace cargoes from the US, and even from Iran, assuming the renewed US sanctions against Iran force Beijing to curtail imports.”

The prospect of restrictions on US oil come ahead of a meeting of OPEC and other oil producers in Vienna later this week, with an increase in oil production seen as increasingly likely following the eradication of oversupply and the recovery of prices.

Oil prices were up around 1.5 percent yesterday afternoon, on reports from Bloomberg that producers were considering increasing output by between 300-600,000 barrels per day, compared with a 1.5 million barrel per day initially sought by Russia.

In addition to tariffs on oil, China has also threatened imports on other energy sources, notably coal, in a bid to hurt Trump politically as well as economically.

“Coal miners count among Trump’s most vocal backers, but if China does stop buying US coking coal, it may force producers to accept lower prices from other buyers in order to move cargoes,” said Russell.

“The Chinese have probably calculated that they can take the pain from a trade conflict longer than Trump can, or at least longer than the US. economy, companies and workers will be prepared to tolerate.”