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Stock woes have Egyptian brokerages fighting to survive

Already at a two year low, Egypt's Bourse looks set to make further losses tomorrow on the back of Sinai violence and fears of global recession. With trading volume already slashed, brokers are getting nervous

Ahram Online, Saturday 20 Aug 2011
Bourse trader
A moment of introspection? Bourse traders are among those feeling the pressure (Photo: Reuters)
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Investors aren't the only ones worried by an Egyptian stock market that has seen some LE124 billion (US$20.8bn) wiped from its value since January. Traders and the firms that employ them are becoming increasingly concerned for their future as the losses spiral on.
 
Speaking to Ahram's Arabic portal on Saturday, Hamdy Rashad, chairman of Rashad Securities, said sharp declines in share values and a plunge in trading volume was threatening the very survival of many Egyptian brokerages.
 
The exchange's EGX30 main index currently sits at 4,774 points, its lowest level in two and a half years, reflecting a heady mix of domestic uncertainty and worries over the global economy. On 8 August, trading volume dropped to a decade-low of LE226 million ($37.88m), in a stark indication of how unattractive Egyptian stocks have become.
 
Rashad predicted further market turmoil would lead to a raft of closures and lay-offs for companies like his working in securities and portfolio management. 
 
Egypt is home to around 140 brokerages competing for a shrinking pool of trade.
 
Spokesmen at the country's main brokerages were unwilling to comment, but several market analysts with whom Ahram Online spoke agreed with Rashad's predictions.
 
"The majority of brokerage firms are suffering because of a lack of revenues which are not sufficient to cover costs," says Eissa Fathy, vice president of the securities division at the Chamber of Commerce.
 
"The market turnover now is about 15 per cent of total revenues in 2008 but overheads haven't fallen."
 
Capital markets expert Mostafa Badra also believes Rashad was far from exaggerating.
 
"The situation is very hard on brokerages. Most companies have decreased the number of their branches, laid off employees or cut their salaries by 50 or 60 per cent," he tells Ahram Online.
 
"Companies were granting credit without observing proper lending measures, or even securing enough collateral, which cost them millions of pounds after the bourse was reopened in March."
 
Badra points to the weak financial results recently posted by financial firms with brokerage operations as a clear sign of trouble in the sector.
 
In mid-August, Naeem Holding posted net losses of $4.88 million for the first half of 2011. Last week, Beltone Financial announced it had lost LE10.154 million over the same period, versus profits of LE10.852m the year before.
 
Beltone attributed the decline to the "significant slowdown in investment banking activities and drop in market turnover that ensued following the January 25 revolution in Egypt", but said management had implemented a cost-cutting plan which had saved it LE16.056 million.
 
Poor prospects
 
The coming week holds little promise for the stock exchange either. The killing of Egyptian soldiers on the Israeli border has heightened the political risk for investors at the same time as global markets are taking a tumble.
 
“Adversity surrounds the Egyptian market," says Badra. "You have struggling European markets and US markets as well as the unrest on the borders with Israel and violence in Sinai."
 
He expects the coming week to witness even sharper drops in stock values and turnover.
 
Analysts cited by state news agency MENA were a shade less pessimistic, saying the impact of Sinai events on the stock exchange was likely to be limited to a single trading session. But they added the main determinant of Bourse's future would be global stock markets which have fluctuated sharply over the last week, reflecting fears over the US economy.
 
"The events on Sinai will not be the primary cause if the Egyptian stock exchange falls," Mohamed Al-Najjar, head of research firm Marwa Securities, told MENA.
 
Other analysts warned that market fundamentals mean the Bourse stands to make further losses, hobbled by its current liquidity crunch and weak purchasing power, a situation they say has been caused by the gradual flight of foreign investors -- private investment funds, banks, and individuals -- all troubled by Egypt's political uncertainty.
 
Rashad himself made a gloomy prognosis, saying that despite relative stability in a few sectors - the food industry, pharmaceuticals and telecoms -- a pick-up in activity would depend on political stability.
 
Whether it will come fast enough to save Egypt's troubled brokerages is another issue.
 
"Stock brokerages have been making losses for a long time," says Eissa Fathy. "Now they face large-scale turmoil."
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