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Emerging Markets No Long World's Hottest Investor Destination

Emerging Markets No Long World's Hottest Investor Destination
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Thursday, 24 October 2019 08:45 AM

Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi emerged largely unscathed from a bout of anti-government protests a month ago.

Investors? Less so.

Egyptian stocks are the world’s fourth-worst performers since the demonstrations across several cities, which prompted the government to arrest nearly 2,000 people and restrict social media. And local-currency bonds have underperformed emerging-market peers this month, slowing their world-beating advance over the course of 2019.

The change of tone underscores how quickly frontier markets such as Egypt, which was more or less shunned by global traders until it began a series of reforms backed by the International Monetary Fund three years ago, can turn for the worse.

“It has reminded investors just how narrow the exit window can be in adverse conditions,” said Paul Greer, a London-based money manager at Fidelity International, which owns Egyptian Treasury bills but has reduced its exposure in recent weeks.

Egypt retains a strong appeal. It’s still the fastest-growing Arab economy and its inflation rate has dropped to 4.8% from almost 18% a year ago. That’s helped boost its inflation-adjusted yields to around 10% -- especially enticing at a time when major central banks are easing monetary policy and $13 trillion of bonds have negative rates.

Thanks to those yields and a strengthening pound, Egypt’s local bonds have gained 39% in dollar terms in 2019. That’s more than seven times the average return across emerging markets, according to Bloomberg Barclays indexes.

But whereas investors previously focused mainly on Egypt’s impressive macroeconomic numbers, they now have to add to the mix politics and widespread discontent that rapid growth is failing to reduce poverty. Street protests have triggered the downfall of two Egyptian presidents this decade -- Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and his successor, Mohamed Mursi, two years later.

The big pool of foreign investors holding the nation’s securities also leaves the market more vulnerable if there’s a sudden rush for the exit. External ownership of local debt stood at about $19.5 billion late last month, according to Finance Minister Mohamed Maait, up from $13 billion in January. Citigroup Inc. estimates there have been around $800 million of outflows since the demonstrations.

Investor Favorite

Egypt became a favorite among emerging-market traders after it turned to the IMF in 2016 for a $12 billion loan to ease a crippling shortage of dollars. It devalued its currency and reduced some of its extensive subsidy programs.

This year, the finance ministry’s held talks with JPMorgan Chase & Co. to try to get Egypt included in the Wall Street bank’s indexes for developing-nation local-currency bonds. That would help attract even more portfolio investment. Egypt also hopes to conclude a deal by January with Euroclear, which settles transactions in the securities of dozens of countries.

With inflation slowing, the central bank will likely continue an easing cycle that has included 450 basis points of rate cuts this year. The Monetary Policy Committee will probably reduce its key rate by another 100 basis points to 12.25% at its next meeting on Nov. 14, according to Mohamed Abu Basha, head of research at Cairo-based investment bank EFG Hermes.

That would still mean a “comfortable cushion for investors,” he said.

Fidelity’s Greer, whose debt fund has outperformed almost all its competitors in 2019, remains positive about Egyptian assets for the rest of the year. But, he said, if there’s more political turbulence the pound and local bonds “would be hit.”

‘Nothing Significant’

Officials have played down the prospect of that. Last month’s unrest was “nothing significant” and won’t change the direction of monetary policy, central bank Governor Tarek Amer said in an interview in Washington.

The “risk-reward has become more balanced,” said Esther Law, a London-based senior investment manager at Amundi Asset Management. “We will need to monitor inflation closely in case of some risk of a weaker currency from portfolio outflows.”

© Copyright 2021 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.


InvestingAnalysis
Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi emerged largely unscathed from a bout of anti-government protests a month ago. Investors? Less so.
emerging, markets, investors
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2019-45-24
Thursday, 24 October 2019 08:45 AM
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