Egypt’s rising bank deposits offer little help to investment climate
Cairo - There has been an unprecedented rise in deposits in Egyptian banks but the trend is doing little to encourage investments or increase market activity, analysts said.
Deposits at banks rose $53 billion from August 2016 through August 2017 to $169.4 billion, the Central Bank of Egypt said. Economists attribute the rise to the success of Egyptian banks in securing greater market liquidity.
“Saving schemes introduced by the banks succeeded in encouraging members of the public to save their money, not spend it,” said Abdel Raouf al-Idrisi, an economics professor at Egypt’s October 6 University. “These saving schemes absorbed most of the money in the market.”
Egyptian banks have introduced a range of products, including special saving schemes with interest rates of 16-20%. The high rates countered an unprecedented surge in commodity prices after the weakening of the Egyptian pound.
The saving plans attracted billions of dollars. Many of those who had hoarded US dollars, in the hopes of profiting from rising exchange rates, sold dollars to purchase high-interest saving certificates. From November 2016 and November 2017, Egyptians traded in $57 billion to local banks, Deputy Central Bank Governor Gamal Negm said.
The banks introduced the saving schemes to rein in runaway inflation, which was at a three-decade high. They wanted to eradicate a foreign currency parallel market by encouraging Egyptians to sell the foreign currencies and create a greater demand for the Egyptian pound.
“The banks’ saving schemes attracted huge amounts of money, liquidity that would have been in circulation in the market, which could have increased the inflation and weakened the national currency even more,” Idrisi said.
The rise in the deposits was accompanied by an increase in all economic indicators.
Real gross domestic product (GDP) rose by a revised 5% in the fourth quarter of the 2016-17 fiscal year, and averaged a 4.6% increase over the second half of the year, which represented the fastest growth since 2009-10, the Central Bank said.
Commodity exports grew by 10% in the fourth quarter while commodity imports fell by 14%, successfully narrowing Egypt’s trade deficit by 26%, according to the office of the presidency.
The rise in bank deposits reflected a change in Egyptians’ saving culture, economists said. However, this has not been accompanied by an increase in demand by local investors for loans.
“One reason this is happening is that bank interests on loans are very high,” said Ashraf al-Arabi, a member of the Egyptian Parliament’s Economic Committee. “Instead of investing their money, people are buying saving certificates to benefit from high interest rates and few people are ready to pay the high borrowing interest.”
The interest rate on some loans was 20%, which is scaring investors away, he said. The banks do offer loans with lower interest rates to small-project developers and tourism investors but big projects that can move the economy forward and contribute to job creation tend to require borrowing at higher interest rates.
“One can easily claim that the deposits have turned into a load on the banks, with few investors approaching these banks for loans at the current interest rates,” said economist and tax consultant Khaled al-Shafie. “The banks need to reduce the interest rates for borrowing a bit if they want to incentivise investments and encourage individuals and institutions to borrow.”