Foreign Holdings of Egypt Debt Rise After Float, Kouchouk Says

  • Deputy finance minister says bank inflows reach $1.5 billion
  • Official and black market exchange rates have also converged

Egypt’s currency flotation has revived foreign interest in the country’s debt, Deputy Finance Minister Ahmed Kouchouk said, highlighting positives in government measures that have eased a crippling dollar shortage -- but raised costs for Egyptians.

Foreign holdings of Egyptian debt have grown by as much as $900 million since the pound was floated on Nov. 3, Kouchouk told reporters in Dubai on Wednesday. Part of that amount reflected fresh inflows, with funds that couldn’t be repatriated making up the remainder, he said.

Egypt’s abandonment of its dollar peg and reduction of fuel subsidies helped seal a $12 billion International Monetary Fund loan seen by Egyptian officials as pivotal to boosting confidence in an economy hampered by a dearth of hard currency. Foreigners had reduced holdings of Egyptian treasury bills to about $50 million as of July, from more than $10 billion before the 2011 ouster of President Hosni Mubarak sparked a period of social and political unrest.

"We are starting to see inflows to government securities and the stock market," Kouchouk said, adding that foreign currency inflows into Egyptian banks have reached $1.5 billion since the flotation. "It’s a very encouraging number" and shows that "people are starting to have trust and confidence in the banking sector,” he said.

Rates Meet

Kouchouk also pointed to the convergence between the official and black market exchange rates since the float as a sign of the uptick in investor confidence. The pound, which traded on the black market at as much as a 100 percent premium to the official rate of 8.88 per dollar before the flotation, was down 1 percent at 15.5 per dollar at 12:44 p.m. in Cairo.

At an auction last Thursday, investor demand for 12-month debt was the highest in more than a year, helping the government reduce yields to 18.90 percent, compared with 20.52 percent in the first sale after the flotation.

The IMF had said the government must act on its currency before it approved the loan, which Egyptian officials have said will help to fund measures to lure investment, cut spending and curb one of the Middle East’s highest budget deficits.

Kouchouk also said a decision would be taken in about a week on when to issue a new Eurobond, after Finance Minister Amr El-Garhy said last week it may be postponed due to “fluctuations in markets.” The roadshow was due to start in the second half of November, El-Garhy said last month.

“We are not after a certain number,” Kouchouk said. “We want to be present and we want to get the best deal for Egypt.”