Egypt facing sharp rise in costs to finance $30 bln. deficit, report

Egypt faces $16 bln in foreign debt servicing in 2022/23, including $2 bln to IMF. However, the interest payments will be equivalent to 45% of state revenue

Higher interest rates, a weak currency and broader investor wariness of emerging markets suggest Egypt could pay steeply to finance a projected $30 billion budget deficit for the financial year starting in July, according to Reuters.

Even before U.S. Federal Reserve rate hikes that started in March and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Egypt had been struggling to sustain appetite for its local and foreign borrowing to plug current account and budget deficits and fend off pressure to let its currency weaken, analysts say, according to a report by Reuters’s Patrick Werr.

As well as the two events sparking a portfolio investment outflow calculated at $20 billion by the country’s prime minister, the Ukraine war delivered a new shock to Egypt’s tourism sector – an important earner of foreign currency – as well as driving up the price of wheat and other key commodities required for the government’s vast food subsidy program.

The price of Egypt’s 2032 dollar-denominated Eurobond is currently about 75 cents on the dollar, falling as investors drawn in after the IMF-monitored reforms of 2016 grow increasingly wary of the government’s finances.

That suggests Egypt will have to pay higher rates if it seeks to issue more bonds, even as it tries to diversify its debt with green, sharia-compliant and yen-denominated samurai bonds.

James Swanston, Middle East and North Africa Economist at Capital Economics, pointed to the “quite significant” increase in the proportion of Egypt’s debt issued in foreign currency in recent years.

Medium- and long-term external debt more than tripled to $121.5 billion over the seven-year period to Oct 1, 2021, according to central bank data.

“The risk is that if, as we expect, the (Egyptian) pound weakens further, it pushes up the debt (to GDP) ratio further, and also that any attempt to roll over debt or issue new debt would be at much higher interest rates given the tightening of global monetary conditions,” Swanston said.

The government, currently seeking a new round of assistance from the International Monetary Fund, presented a draft budget to parliament last week that projects 2022/23 spending of 2.07 trillion Egyptian pounds on revenue of only 1.52 trillion, leaving a deficit of more than 558 billion pounds ($30.5 billion).

A Finance Ministry official did not respond to a request for comment.

Private Participation

A debt servicing bill where domestic and foreign interest payments alone are set to swallow 45.4% of all revenue – up from a projected 44.6% this financial year – leaves little room for spending once government salaries and subsidies are paid for, analysts say.

Egypt is also working on or has announced a series of megaprojects over the last few years, including a $60 billion new administrative capital city, a $23 billion highspeed rail network and a $25 billion nuclear power station.

Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly told a news conference on Sunday such projects were essential to absorb a million people entering the workforce each year.

He said Egypt plans to raise $10 billion by the end of the year and another $30 billion in the subsequent three years by way of “private participation”, including the sale of stakes in state firms on the stock exchange. 

The government has been talking about such moves for years, in 2018 announcing it would offer minority stakes in 23 state-owned companies in a plan to raise up to 80 billion pounds.

Howeover, the program has been repeatedly delayed due to weak markets, legal hurdles and the readiness of each company’s financial documentation, according to government officials.

Meanwhile, foreign debt payments of almost $16 billion in 2022/23 include nearly $2 billion owed to the IMF, mainly for the $12 billion financial package secured in 2016.

“Even when that debt is concessional it adds to balance of payments pressures. The fact that Egypt has to find almost $6 billion to repay the IMF in 2025 is a case in point,” said Farouk Soussa, senior economist at Goldman Sachs.

Taking into account principal repayments, total debt servicing costs will amount to 965.5 billion pounds, according to the draft budget.

The central bank in March allowed the pound to fall by 14% to about 18.40 to the dollar, making it more expensive to buy foreign currency. Street-level black market dealers were buying dollars for 19.40 pounds last week. 

However, Egypt may also be able to turn to its traditional allies in the Gulf for support. In March, Saudi Arabia said it had deposited $5 billion with Egypt’s central bank, and the kingdom is expected to invest further as the Ukraine war adds to the pressure on the Egyptian economy.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to implement the directives of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and His Highness the Crown Prince, deposited five billion dollars with the Central Bank of Egypt,” the report from the state Saudi Press Agency said in late March.

In addition, an Egyptian cabinet statement in late March said Saudi Arabia’s state-owned Public Investment Fund (PIF) would invest additional funds in Egypt.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the end of February has had a global impact on markets.

For Egypt, the economic damage is particularly severe because Ukraine and Russia were its principal wheat suppliers and among its main sources of tourists.

On March 21, Egypt devalued its currency by around 14% after investors withdrew billions of dollars from Egyptian treasury markets.

Already in October, Saudi Arabia said it had deposited $3 billion with Egypt’s central bank and extended the term of another $2.3 bln in previous deposits. The deposit announced on Wednesday would bring the total to $10.3 billion.

As of Sept. 30, the United Arab Emirates had $5.7 billion in long-term deposits and Kuwait $4.0 billion with Egypt’s central bank, according to central bank data.

Egypt has also reached agreement with Qatar on investment deals worth $5 billion, according to a statement by the Egyptian cabinet in March.