Egyptians Are in Deeper Fiscal Hole as Economic Program Wraps Up

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(Bloomberg) — New figures spotlight the pain Egyptians are feeling as the government wraps up a three-year program credited with pulling the economy from the throes of a crisis.

About 32.5% of the population was living in poverty in 2018, up from 27.8% in 2015 and almost double the rate in 2000, according to the government’s first comprehensive report on income and poverty since the launch of the International Monetary Fund-backed program.

And while annual household income rose 33% from 2015 to 58,900 pounds ($3,560) in 2018, it dropped about 20% when adjusted for inflation over the same period, according to the state statistics agency, CAPMAS.

Egypt devalued its currency and slashed subsidies at the end of 2016 to clinch the $12 billion IMF loan agreement, which then ushered more rounds of spending cuts. The steps helped end a crippling dollar shortage and repaired strained finances, but the findings underscore the struggle facing President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi as he seeks to keep the lid on social unrest in a country that toppled two presidents since 2011.

“These are the side effects of the fiscal restructuring program that was kicked off in 2016, and hopefully they’re short-term effects,” said Allen Sandeep, director of research at Naeem Holdings, a Cairo-based investment bank.

He predicted a rebound as private investments and consumer demand revive now that inflation has eased from a 35% peak following the pound’s November 2016 devaluation.

Planning Minister Hala El-Saeed said measures to bolster social spending reduced what could have been even higher poverty rates. “There’s been even more of an improvement in the most recent period, which isn’t included in this survey,” she said by phone.

El-Sisi has repeatedly acknowledged the economic distress the plan has caused, while urging Egyptians to be patient as the country rebuilds from decades of mismanagement and the ruinous effects of the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.

While inflation has slowed sharply, the central bank has been cautious about cutting interest rates as it awaits the effects of subsidy cuts.

“The situation is still weak and getting weaker in terms of demand, and that’s got to do with interest rates” being high, Sandeep said. “Private investments won’t really take off until the cost of capital drops.”

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