Last week’s Alterio report initiated Maghreb as well as SSA-focused analysis:

Our initial report on Mashrek Maghreb macro conditions comes at an increasingly sensitive time for the region’s economies as roughly one year following a seismic ‘Arab Spring’ lead shift within the culture’s broader civic paradigm the need for political and economic synergy remains as critical as ever to achieving lasting, viable stability and growth given a stark dichotomy between the need to address high unemployment, social inequality, tax reform and subsidies versus the need to maintain fiscal discipline as well as secure financing against a dim backdrop of ever-deteriorating EU demand (EU imports of Moroccan goods grew 7.8 percent in 2011, for instance, down from 19.8 percent growth in 2010), largely uncompetitive export baskets and food/fuel dominated (i.e. price taking) import ones.  As we touch upon in this initial commentary, however, there exists within the region—and moreover the broader Middle East at large—a convoluted catch-22 whereby, as described in a recent research note (see citation) the “need for regional economic linkages across the Arab world” sits in direct contrast with “political incentives of Arab elites [that] are not fully aligned with opening regional markets” and by extension helps nurture a fragmented economic model which seems to particularly effect [in terms of total share of merchandise exports as % of GDP] resource-poor, labor abundant countries such as Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt.[i]

The resulting chill on private investment further exacerbates the aforementioned EU macro squeeze and places a greater premium on [and cost to] external financing.  The latter element refers to an ongoing [region wide] balance of payments dilemma which will demand continued attention from investors in the coming year given trending declines since 2009 in respective capital accounts (admittedly most acute in Egypt where FDI fell by over 50 percent in 2011 to just over $USD2bn and portfolio flows saw a similarly marked collapse) and weakening trade balances intensified by subsidized, sticky domestic demand (most notably the oil import bill which at ~9 and 7 percent  of GDP in Morocco and Tunisia, respectively, is uncomfortably high), a strong correlation to Eurozone growth (more than 88 and 80 percent of Moroccan and Tunisian exports, respectively, go to the EU) and in Egypt’s case a projected gradual depreciation of the EGP (though we do expect the CBE to exert a generally tightening monetary bias over the course of the year while also promoting repatriation of foreign assets and generally tightening liquidity in the domestic banking system to retain deposits) given a dangerously low import cover that has fallen from 6.2 months to 3.7 months since last summer and threatens to further chill capital flows given omnipresent domestic political uncertainty, highlighted most recently by the High Administrative Court’s declaration that the voting system used to elect a new parliament last winter was unconstitutional—a decision that in turn could derail not only a new constitution, but May’s planned elections and an ultimate transition from military-to-civilian rule by year’s end (not to mention potentially jeopardize roughly $4.2bn aggregate in aid requested from the IMF and World Bank)

To this end Egypt’s funding predicament gives us the most pause given the ramifications on the state’s cost of borrowing (evidenced by recent 3-year debt auction yield widening), even though [considering in part how important its export market is for a number of countries] the country scores comparatively higher per both our Contagion Score and Original Sin metrics and also saw a healthy rise in both remittances and Suez Canal receipts during the latest quarterly report which is reserve positive.  In light of said ambiguity we plan to continue to monitor official donor’s medium-and long-term lending figures as a proxy to gauge any secular turnaround in creditor sentiment.  We also remain cautious about equity valuations at current levels; despite a near 46 percent rebound in 2012, we fear the state’s crowding out of private sector borrowing and the ramifications on growth leave future cash flows vulnerable.

[i]  “The economics of the Arab Spring”, OxCarre Research Paper 79, Department of Economics, Oxford University, December 2011.