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Egypt’s president calls for listing of army-owned companies this year

Egypt’s president has called for stakes in army-owned companies to be sold on the stock exchange before the end of the year, as part of efforts to address the economic fallout of the war between Russia and Ukraine.

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi also announced plans for greater private sector participation in state-owned companies in a speech on Tuesday night.

The government had previously said it would sell minority stakes in 23 state companies and list army-owned companies on the stock exchange, but progress has been slow.

Economic pressures arising from the war in Ukraine appear to have provided a new sense of urgency to implement the proposals. The conflict forced the country to devalue its currency by 15 per cent in March and to seek support from the IMF.

“Expediting these measures now and Sisi’s repeated mention of the private sector in his speech and his stress on the need to revamp the stock exchange and make it attractive means these plans are aimed at dealing with the fallout from the war,” said Wael Ziada, managing partner of investment bank Zilla Capital.

Sisi said the partial privatisation of state assets would aim to raise $10bn every year for four years. The military owns dozens of companies in a range of sectors from food production and education to industry and real estate.

Some analysts and business people have previously argued that the military’s widening footprint in the economy had held back some private and foreign investors because of concerns over competition with the most powerful institution in the country.

The Egyptian economy has been severely hit by the war, which has sent commodity prices soaring, forcing the country — the world’s biggest wheat importer — to pay more for its grain and oil imports. The conflict has also cut the flow of tourists from Russia and Ukraine, which are both important markets for the tourism sector.

Inflows into Egypt’s short-term debt market, which the country had relied on in recent years, have also been hit by the war. Offering some of the world’s highest real interest rates, Egypt had attracted significant flows of hot money from international investors to its treasury bills, which helped shore up its foreign currency reserves.

Billions of dollars, however, have been pulled out in the past few months, partly the result of a flight to safety after the war began and also a reflection of concerns about the country’s rising foreign debt, according to analysts.

Sisi said the government would prepare “a clear plan” to reduce public debt as a proportion of gross domestic product and the budget deficit over four years. A deal with the IMF would provide some reassurance to debt investors, but analysts and bankers also noted that rising interest rates in the US had attracted funds away from emerging markets.

“We can no longer count on hot money, but also we should no longer count on it. Seeing the risks as a result of the Ukraine crisis, investors would demand even higher yields,” said Ziada.

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