Egypt to press ahead with sale of stakes in state companies — government adviser

Mohamed Metwally, CEO of NI Capital, made the remarks during an interview with Reuters. (Courtesy: NI Capital website)
Updated 18 October 2019

Egypt to press ahead with sale of stakes in state companies — government adviser

  • The government has been talking for years about selling the stakes but has repeatedly postponed the program
  • The government set up NI Capital in late 2015 as a state-owned financial services company to help it navigate financial markets

CAIRO: Egypt is fully committed to its program to sell minority stakes in state companies and is tackling a number of issues that have held it up, a government adviser on the share sales said on Thursday.
The government has been talking for years about selling the stakes but has repeatedly postponed the program, raising doubts among some economists about its commitment to privatization.
“From the meetings I attend on a weekly basis, the government is as keen as I have ever seen them on proceeding with the privatization program,” Mohamed Metwally, CEO of NI Capital, told Reuters.
“There has never been slack on this. It’s just a matter of sometimes you face things that take longer to prepare than expected,” said Metwally in his first interview with the media since taking over as NI Capital’s CEO in July.
The government set up NI Capital in late 2015 as a state-owned financial services company to help it navigate financial markets.
The government announced in 2016 that it was selling company stakes, with some to be sold by the end of that year. Since then it has sold only 4.5% of one company, tobacco monopoly Eastern Company in a transaction in March.
Metwally said the delays had been caused by weak markets, legal hurdles, the readiness of each company’s financial documentation and in the case of some companies a downturn in the business cycle.
Egypt last year released a list of 23 state-controlled companies to be brought to market as an initial batch.
The first sales will be companies already trading on the Egyptian Exchange, most likely Abu Qir Fertilizers and Chemicals Industries and Alexandria Container and Cargo Handling Co., sources familiar with the planned transactions told Reuters.
Metwally, citing reasons of financial compliance, declined to discuss individual companies before they reached the market.
He said stake sales could raise around 40 billion Egyptian pounds, roughly equal to 5% of the stock market’s current capitalization of 750 billion-800 billion pounds.
Among the hurdles bringing companies to market has been a tangle of ownership structures, with different entities requiring different legal processes for selling their assets.
“We had a few transactions that were held up by this process, but now it’s behind us,” Metwally said.
A potential future delay to the Egyptian share sales could be the initial public offering of Saudi Arabia’s state oil company Aramco, which may be announced as early as next week.
“Right now liquidity is being sucked out of the market because of anticipation of the Aramco offering,” Metwally said.
If the Aramco sale raises more than $25 billion, it would make it the world’s biggest IPO.
“Now should it (the Egyptian sales) happen, let’s say, in November, or wait till January or February when the Aramco IPO is out of the way?” he said.
Another stumbling block has been the trade war between China and the United States, which by creating a glut in products sold by some of the companies reduced their prices by 30-40% and temporarily lowered valuations, Metwally said.
He said these issues were all being resolved, paving the way for a possibly rapid roll-out.
“Progress is happening in every single transaction,” he said.
“That might put us in a high-quality problem in the future, in which they’re all ready at the same time, and we’ll just have to schedule them one after the other as part of our capital markets management process.”

Afghan pomegranate growers squeezed as prices drop

Updated 29 min 50 sec ago

Afghan pomegranate growers squeezed as prices drop

  • Renowned for its reputed health benefits, the pomegranate is a point of pride for Afghan farmers
  • In Kandahar province, the prized crimson fruit could grow to the size of small melons

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan: Pomegranate farmers in southern Afghanistan — where growing the juicy fruit is an important alternative to opium poppy production — say they are feeling the squeeze this year, with business blemished by chilly weather, pests and export woes.

The prized crimson fruit, globally renowned for its reputed health benefits, is a point of pride for Afghan farmers, particularly in Kandahar province, where luscious pomegranates the size of small melons dangle from trees.

Every autumn, Afghans start drinking pomegranate juice as the fruit bursts into season. Vendors pile carts high with gravity-defying pomegranate pyramids and offer fresh-squeezed beverages.

Haji Abdul Manan, who has been growing fruit in southern Kandahar for about 30 years, said a springtime cold snap damaged pomegranate flowers, impacting about 40 percent of his crop.

Problems also came from “lice, flies and a fungal disease,” he added, likening a type of greenfly to a natural disaster that had ruined more than 100 of the orb-shaped fruits daily.

“It is the duty of the Afghan government to spray all the gardens in Kandahar and to protect the pomegranates from diseases, but the government is not doing anything,” Manan complained.

Apart from its sweet flavor, fans point to pomegranates’ purported health benefits including high levels of vitamin C and antioxidants that are said to help protect the body.

“Kandahar’s pomegranates are the world’s best for flavor, color, and several times Kandahar’s pomegranates came first in competitions abroad,” Nasrullah Zaheer, the head of Kandahar’s chamber of commerce, told AFP.

In Kandahar, a medium-sized pomegranate goes for the equivalent of about 15 US cents, but by the time the fruit reach Kabul they cost about three times that.

Zaheer and several other farmers claimed Pakistan has this year imposed hefty tariffs on pomegranate imports, which, despite a drop in yield in some parts of Afghanistan, has led to an oversupply in the domestic market and sharp price drops.

But the Pakistan Embassy in Kabul denied such a drastic measure had been taken, saying Pakistan had raised duties only slightly because “Afghan exporters consistently understate the value of pomegranates and fruits.”

Muhammad Hafeez, a fruit and vegetable seller at a market in Islamabad, said the pomegranate supply from Kandahar had not been impacted.

“The supply is in bulk and the quality is good,” Hafeez told AFP.

Abdul Baqi Beena, deputy director of the Kandahar chamber of commerce, said about 40,000 to 50,000 tons of pomegranates were exported annually, including to India, Pakistan, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

For years, Afghanistan and international donors tried to wean farmers from growing opium poppies by encouraging alternatives such as fruit crops.

But those efforts often failed as drug smugglers offered lucrative prices that normally far exceed the income from traditional agriculture.

The US Agency for International Development previously supported the farming of high-value crops, including pomegranates, as an alternative to opium production, but in recent years has shifted its focus to helping build export markets and supporting Afghan farmers that way.

“There is strong regional demand for high-value Afghan products that generate sufficient profit to justify export cost,” Daniel Corle, USAID team lead for development outreach and communications, said in an email.

“These include pomegranates, pine nuts, apricots, spices, gems, marble, and carpets, among others.”