Though still up by over 40 percent YTD, Egypt’s benchmark equity index looks ripe for a near-term correction—a thesis we’ve put forth in recent weeks primarily on the back of the country’s wobbly and inadequate external financing state which we estimate should continue to strain borrowing costs, adding stress to the country’s terms of trade while  further crowding out private borrowers before it is resolved.  Adding to our concern are possible negative feedback loops emanating from the country’s financial sector and its repercussions on growth and fiscal performance.  A newly released working paper from the IMF[i], for instance, details “significant links between emerging market banks’ asset quality, credit and macroeconomic aggregates” while specifically pinpointing a reversal in [gross rather than net] bank related and foreign portfolio and bank flows [and not FDI] as the most statistically relevant (i.e. highest R-squared correlation) independent variable considered upon which asset quality (NPL/total loans) depends.  Ensuing growth contraction, weaker terms of trade and depreciating nominal exchange rates ultimately can negatively impact balance of payments (as well as possibly the feedback channel on investment, per the authors, given “new orders for capital equipment [would be] more expensive in an environment of deteriorating private sector balance sheets”).

The IMF’s findings echo a rather ominous assessment of the Egyptian bank sector from Moody’s last November wherein analysts noted in the midst of various downgrades that “although data published by the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) points to lower non-performing loans for the system as of June 2011 . . . these figures benefit from the CBE’s directive allowing different NPL classification rules for retail and tourism loans for three and six months, respectively, after the January 2011 revolution . . . [and we] expect that the full extent of asset-quality issues will begin to emerge in the next few quarters…”  To wit Commercial International Bank (CIB), Egypt’s largest private creditor by assets (third overall) and one of five institutions whose local and foreign-currency deposit ratings were slashed last fall, disclosed in its recent full-year 2011 earnings report that while its NPL ratio stood at 2.8 percent (up slightly from 2.7 in 2010 but in line with historical averages and well under the GCC mean since Egyptian bank loan books are underexposed to the riskier retail sector in comparison to GCC peers) the absolute number rose by over 20 percent y/y.  Taken in tandem with the fact that foreign currency deposits across Egypt rose by 14 percent (an implicit red flag on future asset growth given said deposits must be channeled to foreign currency loans per law) while provisions leapt from LE6mn to 321mn over that same period and one may reason that NPL ratios could indeed be under some strain in future quarters given that net capital flows (as discussed last week) slackened considerably since last July (and are estimated to reach nearly USD6bn FY11/12) while the aforementioned dollar deposit figure grew—suggesting a similar trend for gross flows.  Moreover, per the IMF’s capex hypothesis, investment has been a detracting headwind on GDP since early 2011 as real GDP, which averaged ~4 percent annually in the years pre-revolt now struggles to remain above flat.

Note: Where might the EGX be headed?  Simple Fibonacci analysis would indicate that because the index failed to retrace even past its .5 retracement (vis a vis the three-year, 2010 high versus the December 2011 low) a broader, secular downtrend remains in tact.  Moreover in the short term a weekly close <4300 would indicate that a lower-low from December is likely impending.  We expect, however, that a 10 percent correction from today’s levels (~5080), particularly if combined with positive macro and/or geopolitical developments will be well received by investors and offer an impetus for strategic longs to gain traction). 


[i]  De Bock, Reinout and Demyanets, Alexander.  Bank Asset Quality in Emerging Markets: Determinants and Spillovers.  IMF WP/12/71.

This piece as well as past Maghreb commentaries (as well as weekly sub-Saharan Africa analysis) can be found at: www.alterioresearch.com

From Alterio’s SSA report last week:

Countering relative disinflationary trends across SSA are diverging currency dynamics which can be swayed by both fundamental and technical reasons.  The Central Bank of Kenya’s somewhat surprising decision this week to keep its policy rate unchanged at 18 percent, for instance, is otherwise shilling supportive in both the near and medium-term as it comes despite higher-than-anticipated declines in both headline CPI (16.7 percent y/y in February from an 18.6 annual average over the preceding two months) as well as private sector credit growth (28% y/y in January versus 30.9% in December 2011) and against a backdrop of lower food inflation and impending base effects which should further reduce price pressures despite hitherto sticky core inflation (ex food and fuel) that detracts from the country’s balance of payments.  Technically the shilling has returned to levels not realized since last April at which point it began a fairly hasty plummet of over 20 percent against the dollar (characterized by a nasty feedback loop whereby negative real rates on short term [91/182-day] debt—which ultimately rose over seven-fold over the course of just a few months—initiated ever strident dollar demand as the central bank furiously tried to maintain its import cover ratio) while finally peaking in October.  Given our subdued outlook for inflation as well as the central bank’s hitherto ‘ahead of the curve’ hawkishness over the past year (+1200bp overall since January 2011) other things being equal (they never are) present levels (i.e. 82-84 consolidation) should support a USD/KES bottom and ultimately provide an impetus to the upside past 83.6 and through the 84 level.  That said even if the shilling ultimately retraces some of its near-term rally, macro conditions are such that 2011’s volatility can be comfortably set aside for the appreciable future, a plus for both public and private equity risk sentiment.

That said, though credit growth has subsided Kenya’s MPC remains unsatisfied, we feel, by demand-related pressures on both imports and consumer goods.  As a percentage of output Kenya’s private sector lending still outpaces M2 money supply, a relationship authorities would prefer to invert.  Therefore KES weakness may also be dependent on the pace of further private sector deleveraging.  Looking to Nigeria, on the other hand, one may find a potential USD/NGN bottoming that could signal perceived transitory inflation dynamics are extensively capped to the downside as well given an ongoing secular trend of dollar demand for imports continuously exceeding supply.  Fundamentally the currency has deteriorated for over a year as dollar demand for imports generally exceeded supply while last fall the central bank, failing to meet demand at the official market, lowered the midpoint of its exchange-rate band to 155/dollar from 150.  Concurrently, however, from a technical level the pair also looks problematic; indeed a glance at the weekly chart since Q42010 shows both strong support and resistance at 155, while recent hammer patterns indicate that a move back towards 160 is increasingly likely.

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.

Given that one of our core themes hitherto in 2012 for SSA relates to improved inflation prospects (based on myriad factors including base effects, firming currency dynamics and perhaps most importantly–given its typical CPI weighting–a marked decline in food inflation) and by extension a general tilt away from monetary tightening and towards [comparative] easing, local bonds continue to look particularly appealing given a secular widening in yields across the region since 2010 may be in the process of retracing.  To this end this week’s Alterio report explored both Nigeria and Zambian local debt in terms of perceived impending [real] yield retracement potential:

Real [364-day T-Bill] yields look most attractive in Nigeria (nearly 4x the SSA average) where naira appreciation of over 2 percent since the beginning of the month also continues to outperform other countries in our coverage area given increased USD supply from oil firms (in addition to normal bi-weekly CBN auction flow) and decreased demand stemming in part from the ongoing, oil import subsidy probe.  Furthermore monetary policy, which we now gauge as only slightly ahead of the curve (based on our estimates of neutral real prime rates and 1-year forward price expectations) should remain near term supportive despite a hitherto cumulative 575bp increase in the policy rate in 2011 given the still uncertain pass through effects of January’s fuel subsidy row detailed in our report last week.  That said not only should any price spike be transitory in nature but it should also be comparatively muted given the real yield dynamic which we expect will only entice additional foreign inflows in the coming months.  Underpinning yield retracement is ongoing fiscal discipline as the federal government’s commitment to maintaining a deficit of less than 3 percent in 2012 looks increasingly credible given the Budget Office’s statement this week that the benchmark oil price for the annual budget would remain USD 70/bbl.

Likewise Zambian inflation-adjusted yields (at nearly 2x the regional average) could also retrace in the short term despite the fact that policy rates already sit in line with the curve per our estimates and moreover unlike Nigeria currency dynamics are not nearly as supportive.  The kwacha remains our second worst performing currency over the past twelve months, for instance, despite the expectation of a relatively subdued inflationary environment given the introduction last month of a revised [albeit still food-weighted at >50 percent] consumer basket (indeed CPI eased to 6% y/y in February from 6.4% in January as both food and non-food price pressures moderated) which should keep headline numbers within the central bank’s target band.  To that end this week the USDA’s chief economist projected a sharp decline in global food prices for 2012, though given the opposite outlook for fuel prices as well as an increasing fiscal deficit (along with a comparatively low reserve-to-GDP ratio and our coverage area’s most taxing short-term external debt burden, per our original sin methodology) we fear that inflation could be stickier than thought such that our policy bias is now moderately tighter.  Yet it should be noted that the government’s plans to increase external borrowing this year at the expense of lower local supply should place a defacto ceiling on yields, meaning that despite tighter liquidity conditions of late which saw the most recent T-bill auction’s overall bid-to-cover ratio decline to 0.6 from 1.2 the scope for further yield widening is limited in our view.

My latest contribution to Alterio’s weekly market review introduces two new metrics–the “original sin” calculation mentioned in my previous post which plays upon a theme explored by Barry Eichengreen, Ricardo Hausmann and Ugo Panizz back in 2003, namely per Paul Krugman “the long-standing notion that developing economies are especially vulnerable to financial crises because they borrowed in foreign currency” (though as Krugman aptly noted last fall even ‘developed’ countries have succumbed to said sin, one of several conundrums at the core of Europe’s existential crisis).  The second is a derivation of John Taylor’s guideline for central bank interest rate manipulation that we hope will help shed light on the degree to which a given sub-Saharan monetary policy committee may be ‘ahead’ or ‘behind the curve’, so to speak.

The exercise in part validates our present OW position in Nigerian debt given current trend dynamics for foreign reserves that help ease an otherwise [comparatively] high short-to-long term external debt ratio.  Moreover, the fact that Nigeria’s policy rate sits wholly inline with our Taylor Rule inspired target, along with our projection that regional inflation rates have peaked while pass-through effects from Nigeria’s recent, partial fuel subsidy lift are likely to be transitory in nature.  To that end today’s inflation announcement for January, while 12.6% y/y compared with 10.3% in December was less pronounced than initially feared and moreover the naira’s continued strength (a function in part of crude) should act as a tempering headwind in the coming months such that the CBN’s 575bp front run of rates last year may have already effectively priced in even a temporary, H1 rise in inflation.

Manoj Pradhan’s thought provoking FT piece touches on some of the very themes and factors I’m attempting to articulate and quantify per my ongoing “contagion” score model now featured as part of the weekly macro analysis at Alterio Research and in fact expounds on the nature of my analysis hitherto via an ‘original sin’ metric, i.e. “the amount of short-term external debt relative to the total external debt burden as well as the amount of FX reserves held” as well as the consideration of those countries with current account deficits that concurrently run credit growth in excess of nominal GDP growth.  Moreover, as Pradhan aptly points out, local authorities with balance of payments issues do have some mitigating mettle in their arsenal to combat relatively sudden capital inflow shocks–“when an economy is no longer able to roll over its gross liabilities (usually private sector liabilities), it may well use its [gross] assets,” he writes.  Finally, while Pradhan correctly dismisses the notion that emerging markets have decoupled from developed ones (“the shock that triggers a sudden stop [in portfolio flows] is likely to come from developed markets”), frontier market asset managers are quick to point out that frontier equities are least historically correlated–.64 versus .86 (BRIC) and .92 (Emerging Markets) to global stocks, per Silk Invest’s 2012 outlook.  That said the effects of developed-derived shocks remains real as the EU remains a major trading partner with certain African economies in particular.  To this end, in line with its downward revision of global growth the IMF also revised Sub-Saharan Africa’s 2012 growth down by 0.3 percentage points to 5.5% (4.9% in 2011) and 0.2 percentage points in 2013 to 5.3%.  Yet certain countries look comparatively insulated per the Alterio model; Ghana, for instance, features a diversified export basket, improving current account dynamic and benign inflationary environment such that its reserves to output ratio should remain healthy and growth relatively robust in 2012.  We feel this is of particular importance to bond investors, though as future research of ours will highlight there are also ramifications on the cost of capital and thus equity valuations which may be overlooked.

Given the increased attention paid to so-called ‘fat tail’ events stemming hitherto largely from developed market credit excess and threatening to impact liquidity as well as asset correlations and volatility across countries and classes, I’ve decided to attempt to quantify or at least shed light on certain factors which may tend to indicate which economies could be perceived as the most or least vulnerable in a comparative sense to contagion stemming from the weaker trade and portfolio flows associated with periods of contracting global growth (in this sense a country’s ‘openness’ to trade may become a liability).  The “contagion score” model output, which will debut in this week’s Alterio Research report (and whereby proposed contagion propensity is inverse) is thus a function of a given economy’s exposure to trade and commodity prices (expressed as the sum of exports and imports as a percentage of output), its exposure to portfolio flows (shown by either its current account surplus or deficit, the latter of which must be financed either by foreign direct investment or more fickle portfolio flows) and finally the diversity of the makeup of its commodity export basket (and by extension its sources of foreign exchange).

As will be seen, Kenya rates comparatively high per our metrics—a credit plus in light of the various fiscal and monetary headwinds it stands to face in the coming year (this week Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta revised real GDP growth down to an expected 5.3 percent in 2012 from the earlier 5.7 projection) including chronically high inflation which, policy rate normalization notwithstanding has perpetuated a marked deterioration in the country’s terms of trade (i.e. export against import value) amplifying a negative net contribution to GDP due to a higher import bill.  To this point, however, we indicated last month the possibility of “a cyclical peak in both rates and inflation” which last week the Central Bank of Kenya’s (CBK) MPC validated, at least for the near term, by keeping its policy rate unchanged at 18 percent while citing a decline in inflation in December (18.9 percent y/y from the previous month’s 19.7) on the back of falling food and fuel prices as well as a contraction in private sector credit demand in November.  Today this thesis was further supported when January’s year-on-year rate slowed to 18.31 percent, though it must be noted that with the smallest Reserves-to-GDP ratio among our SSA coverage, the central bank’s shilling-shoring policy of liquidity sterilization may be tempered enough in the coming months to keep it in a definite wait-and-see policy approach.

Moreover any perceived inflection point in inflation also may be a harbinger of stalling growth.  Hawkish monetary policy certainly played a central role in the shilling’s dramatic year-end turnaround; however as a report this month from HassConsult (which maintains and publishes the country’s sole property price index) demonstrates, higher policy rates concentrated in the final months of the year also influenced a corresponding rise in commercial lending costs, fueling in turn an ensuing glut of delinquent or non-performing loans  that are likely to dramatically impede bank balance sheets (from both an asset and loss reserve standpoint) going forward (Kenya’s mortgage industry grew from Sh19bn in 2006 to Sh61bn in 2010 per a joint CBK/World Bank report) and thereby temper a construction boom labeled last July by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) as one of Kenya’s top performing sectors having grown by over 10 percent y/y.

While the mere fact that western outlets are openly pontificating in advance on the possibility of an African, or more pointedly, a ‘Nigerian spring’ distinguishes the current fuel subsidy row from the MENA wide, spontaneous surge ignited last year by a Tunisian street vendor’s self-immolation, there is a fil conducteur of sorts–namely an “ever simmering, north-south regional and religious bifurcation” per my macro commentary from last week’s Alterio Research report.  It would be a mistake, however, to simply equate various cultural tensions given at a minimum their inherent contextual and historical differences.  And it would be equally erroneous to expect markets to do so.  Nigerian ’21 yields actually narrowed despite mentions of an industry wide shutdown as the subsidy removal is deemed essential to its credit status per S&P and long term positive for the state’s creditors.  Left unanswered, however, is how the government can simultaneously meet its stated goal of reducing its fiscal deficit to less than 3% of GDP–a key tenet per its central bank in stabilizing the exchange rate and interest rates–while under increasing pressure by the aforementioned social divisions to maintain security and also address myriad and ever-mounting grievances.

Excerpted from this week’s Alterio Research report:

Given in particular the success of Namibia’s USD500mn maiden Eurobond last fall which saw an over-subscription of roughly 5.5x—largely a function, per pundits, of its perception as a proxy on SSA commodity wealth with a similar [Fitch] credit rating (BBB-) to South Africa (BBB+) but an approximate 200bp added spread—most observers expect Zambia’s impending offering in 2012 to be similarly received against a supportive macro backdrop defined chiefly by copper’s potential and relative price resiliency (in the face of developed market aggregate demand contraction) as well as accommodative monetary policy unconstrained by overly zealous inflationary pressures.

To the first point much like the supply side dynamic for crude whereby prices are likely to be supported going forward by limited spare capacity and inventory cover (irrespective of events stemming from China, Europe or even Iran), global mine output for copper—bluntly described by one analyst as ‘disastrous and getting worse’—was on track in late November to contract annually for the first time since 2002 while physical indicators in China (i.e. wire and cable demand and scrap shortages) now pose upside risks given deep discounts already ascribed to the effects of a credit-induced market crash there.  Such price stickiness would not only be welcome to Zambia, where the potential pace of Copperbelt output expansion over the next several years stand to make it the fifth-largest producer in the world, but somewhat imperative to post-election fiscal ambitions and thus of utmost interest to its creditors who will monitor the continued health of a current account balance now slightly in surplus (the 2012 budget, for example, is characterized by increases in social spending and farming subsidies as overall spending is slated to rise to 26.5 percent of gross domestic output from 21 percent).  To this end President Michael Sata’s decision to double mining royalties but withhold a much-ballyhooed windfall tax was not only prudent but in fact obligatory in our view given the unfortunate reality of infrastructural bottlenecks (i.e. transport and power supply related) and skilled-labor shortages that for the appreciable future will relegate Zambia to being a comparatively inefficient, high cost producer (though admittedly bond proceeds would theoretically begin to erode at least some of these concerns).

As to central bank easing, strategists suggest that Sata’s election in fact signaled a monetary policy paradigm shift towards cheaper funding costs.  Indeed within one week of former President Rupiah Banda’s defeat then-central bank Governor Caleb Fundanga, credited by some with helping to temper inflation into single digits for the first time in three decades, was removed.  Since then a 300bp reduction of the reserve ratio for both local and foreign currency deposits as well as the core liquid assets ratio, coupled with a general reduction of base lending rates (for now Zambia lacks an official benchmark rate per se) augmented liquidity while headline inflation fell sharply over the last three months of the year (7.2 percent y/y in December from 8.1 percent in November and 8.7 percent in October).  Taken together, and alongside a fairly resilient currency (due in part to central bank support) real yields remain attractive going forward as investors embrace a new political and perhaps monetary landscape in the new year.

Buffeted by an “unparalleled infrastructure, flexibility in production volumes and policy machinery”, all of which make it per Barclaysthe key player at the margin of the oil market” Saudi Arabia remains relatively insulated contra developed market-derived contagion–more so than any other GCC economy.  Increasing non-hydrocarbon imports, for instance, are a proxy for improving and resilient domestic demand driven chiefly by expanding private sector credit (9.8% y/y in October, compared with 8.7% in September) within a domestic banking system comparatively unconstrained by the high loan-to-deposit ratios (inversely correlated with liquidity) observed in UAE, Qatar and Oman, or the significant reliance on funding from European banks (and hence external funding base exposure to that sector’s ongoing deleveraging) seen in the UAE and Qatar (on the contrary funding remains largely based on customer deposits in Saudi Arabia at ~70% of total assets in 2011h1 versus 57.9 GCC avg).  To that end we remain intrigued (see our original thesis from last March) by the Saudi banking sector heading in 2012, home to nearly one-third of Global Finance’s recent “Safest Emerging Markets Banks” Top 20 rankings.  This doesn’t necessarily come as a surprise given capital adequacy (CAR) and non-performing loan (NPL) dynamics matched only by Qatar in terms of dual attractiveness while liquid asset ratios—i.e. cash, central bank certificates of deposit, interbank deposits and high-grade fixed income securities—are over 50% for certain Saudi banks (2x those seen by other GCC institutions).  And while one weakness of the sector in our view remains its credit/funding concentration (i.e. a predominantly corporate profile), banks such as Banque Saudi Fransi are targeting a larger retail base and the lower cost deposits and higher interest margins which come with it.

Admittedly the conservative asset growth and high risk aversion within the Saudi banking sector is largely a function of environment; aside from timeless speculation surrounding succession the Kingdom’s macro viability, for instance, remains intrinsically wedded to its swing-production power within OPEC and the ensuing, relative size and stability of its energy receipts which tie neatly in with the comparative,  aforementioned liquidity of its banks’ funding base (the government remains a major and/or majority shareholder of banks such as Samba Financial Group).  Indeed recent oil production cuts (from a peak of 9.9mb/d in August) during oil’s near-convergence earlier this year to the estimated fiscal breakeven oil price are symptomatic of an increasingly pragmatic state that, against an Arab Spring/Euro Malaise backdrop remains keen on fiscal expansion (25% y/y in 2011 and, despite official rhetoric of easing next year most analysts still envision spending momentum to continue with the overall effect being the state’s budget surplus will remain static if not increase slightly in 2012) and thus as ardent as ever in supporting a defacto price floor in crude (though citing non-OECD demand trends in particular, many energy analysts argue a reprise of oil’s post-Lehman price crash would be quite remote anyway) which should help translate into ‘backwardated’ markets for the appreciable future and thus even larger coffers for the Kingdom to tap.

JGW

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