Why the dollar went south

Safeya Mounir , Friday 24 May 2019

The US dollar has been depreciating against the Egyptian pound since January, with experts unsure that such moves can continue

USD in Banks

Since the beginning of the year, the US dollar has been taking a plunge, with the buying price at most of Egypt’s banks hovering around LE16.99.

The trend was not anticipated by economic experts, who nevertheless believe that the dollar’s journey southwards will come to a halt by the end of the year.

Foreign currency inflows, whether from treasury bills or bonds, an improved trade balance, and greater tourism revenues, may all be reasons behind the depreciation of the dollar against the pound by 88 piastres since the beginning of 2019, said Sara Saada, a macroeconomic analyst at HC Securities.

The foreign currency inflows might not last for long, however, and the dollar’s depreciation against the pound might not continue at the same pace as over the past few weeks, she added.

The retreat in the value of the dollar depends on the source. If the dollar inflows come from tourism revenues or the improved balance of trade, the dollar’s depreciation is likely to continue, but if it is the result of increased foreign investments in treasury bills and bonds, the decreasing value against the pound will cease, Saada explained.

Mohamed Abu Basha, head of macroeconomic analysis at EFG Hermes, said the dollar would likely stabilise soon, particularly with the slowdown in foreign investments in treasury bills and bonds, the decrease in interest rates, and the rise in exchange-rate risks in the light of the recent appreciation of the pound.

On 15 May, the Commercial International Bank (CIB) was the first in a chain where the dollar was trading lower than the LE17 seen since the floatation of the pound in November 2016.

Radwa Al-Sweify, head of research at Pharos Holding, an investment bank, said the pound’s value had increased against the dollar thanks to increased foreign investments in treasury bills and rising tourism revenues.

Foreign investments in Egyptian treasury bills reached US$16.8 billion in April, up from $14.6 billion in February, and revenues from tourism increased from $7.6 billion in 2017 to $11.4 billion in 2018. This means that “more than $1 billion of monthly foreign inflows helped the pound appreciate against the dollar,” Al-Sweify said.

The increased foreign currency inflows are attributed to the Central Bank of Egypt’s (CBE) success in decreasing the pressure on reserves, scheduling external debt payments, and increasing foreign currency inflows in the form of foreign investments in treasury bills and a rise in tourism revenues.

Foreign currency reserves stood at $44.2 billion at the end of April, enough to cover import demands for many months to come.

The dollar’s depreciation against the pound is unlikely to continue in case the trade war between the US and China heats up or the political wrangling between the US and Iran develops, Al-Sweify said. “Developments on the international stage may affect investments in emerging markets and foreign currency inflows to Egypt,” she added.

The rise in the value of the domestic currency against the dollar is determined by short-term factors related to foreign investments in domestic debt, said Israa Ahmed, a macroeconomic analyst at Shuaa Capital, an investment bank.

This year will see domestic pressures push up the dollar against the pound, she said, such as rising inflation due to lifting subsidies on fuel and the slowdown in foreign investments in domestic debt.

“With the advent of summer, foreign transfers from abroad increase, resulting in a rising supply of foreign currency,” Abu Basha said, adding that he expected the pound’s strength against the dollar to last for a limited time.

Foreigners may not opt to continue pouring investments into Egyptian treasury bills, especially with the decrease in their interest rate, he added.

Abu Basha anticipates that the dollar’s value will increase against the pound by the end of summer when demand for dollars increases due to desires to transfer profits abroad.

A Shuaa Capital report released last week said that the pound’s current exchange rate was below its real value and that there were no structural pressures against it that could lead to a sharp depreciation in its value in the near future.

“The current exchange rate shows a poorer value for the pound, but it is not far from its real value,” the report stated.

Economic analysts expect the CBE’s Monetary Policy Committee, which convenes today, to lower interest rates in the light of reductions in inflation, a move that could slow down the gains of the local currency.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 22 May, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Why the dollar went south


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