Home Economy News Fitch says Egypt must prove reforms are lasting before credit rating action

Fitch says Egypt must prove reforms are lasting before credit rating action


Fitch says Egypt must prove reforms are lasting before credit rating action By Reuters

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Published Mar 15, 2024 10:01AM ET

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People walk past a currency exchange point, displaying an image of the U.S. dollar, in Cairo, Egypt, March 6, 2024. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany/File Photo

By Libby George

LONDON (Reuters) – Egypt’s blockbuster cash infusions, currency devaluation and interest rate hike are not quite enough for Fitch to adjust the country’s credit rating, the agency’s head of Middle East and Africa sovereigns told Reuters.

The North African nation, which has been struggling with a prolonged economic crisis linked to chronic foreign currency shortages, stunned markets in February with a $35 billion land development deal with Emirati sovereign wealth fund ADQ.

It then allowed the Egyptian pound to drop beyond 50 versus the dollar and hiked interest rates by 600 basis points, securing it an expanded $8 billion deal with the International Monetary Fund.

But Toby Iles, head of Middle East and Africa sovereigns for Fitch Ratings, said such developments were “already sort of baked into the rating and its stable outlook”.

The agency downgraded Egypt to B- in November, with a stable outlook.

“To think about positive rating action, a reduction in external vulnerabilities was one thing we identified. And I think we certainly have that in the near term. It’s the question of whether vulnerabilities re-emerge,” Iles said.

Fitch will review Egypt’s rating in May, which Iles said was likely too soon to get a sense of the trajectory of public finances.

Credit ratings are a major factor in determining countries’ borrowing costs. A change to a positive outlook would indicate that the rating agency could lift Egypt’s credit rating over the near- to medium-term.

Iles said devaluing the pound “will have quite a powerful impact on remittances” – the most important source of Egypt’s foreign exchange, which averaged $30 billion a year between 2020 and 2022. This could help offset income losses stemming from a potentially prolonged conflict between Israel and Gaza, he said.

But Iles added that if the exchange rate was not allowed to fluctuate, and if inflation remained elevated, recent gains could quickly erode in the same way they did following a 2016 devalaution.

“Some sign that it’s actually floating, that would clearly be positive, because it means they have this way of absorbing shocks which they have not had before,” Iles said.

He also noted that Egypt’s debt trajectory was becoming “quite severe” with the closely watched interest cost to government revenue approaching 50% and debt to GDP nearing 100%.

Calming inflation, which surpassed 35% in February, could enable a reduction in interest rates that would lower those debt costs, Iles said.

Fitch says Egypt must prove reforms are lasting before credit rating action

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