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Egypt Hikes Benchmark Lending Rate After Deal with IMF 

Egypt raised interest rates for the first time since August, breaking expectations with a move that might speed up progress on a bigger rescue package with the International Monetary Fund and set the stage for another devaluation.

The Monetary Policy Committee increased its benchmark deposit rate by 200 basis points to 21.25% and the lending rate to 22.25%, according to a statement Thursday. Only Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley predicted a hike in a Bloomberg poll of economists, with the rest seeing no change.

It’s a surprise given a three-month slowdown in inflation and the strain that higher borrowing costs will place on public finances. But the decision is likely an indication that Egypt is creating the conditions for a breakthrough in talks currently underway in Cairo with the IMF on increasing its current $3 billion loan — little of which has been disbursed — as part of a wider package that could exceed $10 billion and include the backing of World Bank.

“The likelihood of a new IMF deal in the coming weeks will result in a hawkish shift in the monetary stance,” said Farouk Soussa, a Goldman economist who forecast a 300 basis-point hike. An increase of that magnitude “will send a positive signal of intent on the authorities’ part and smooth the way for a new IMF deal in the very near future,” he said before the announcement.

As Egypt’s economic crisis grinds on, shortages of hard currency are becoming dire and piling pressure on the pound after three devaluations since early March 2022 slashed its official value in half to around 30.9 per dollar. In the black market, however, the currency is much weaker, trading at between 65 and 70 this week.

Discussions with the IMF are focusing on two delayed reviews of the existing deal reached more than a year ago. The talks cover the reforms that Egypt needs to enact that include tightening monetary and fiscal policies alongside a move toward a flexible exchange rate regime.

In a sign Egypt is making headway toward meeting some of those goals, the cabinet on Wednesday approved a proposal to slash spending on state investments and halt new projects until at least July.

The IMF is waiting for authorities to allow a more flexible exchange rate and make good on other promises before handing over more funds.

“Large increases in the government’s expenses on interest rates, subsidies, social spending and wages limit the scope of adjustments in FX and interest rates, but IMF conditionality requires a tighter monetary and fiscal policy stance as well as a move towards more flexibility in FX,” Morgan Stanley economists including Alina Slyusarchuk said in a report.

Lawrence Baraza

Lawrence Baraza is a dynamic journalist currently overseeing content at Metropol TV Digital. With a keen focus on business news and analytics, Lawrence guides the platform in delivering insightful, data-driven content that empowers its audience to make informed decisions. Lawrence’s commitment to quality and his ability to anticipate market trends make him a key figure in the digital media landscape. His work continues to shape the way business news is consumed, making a significant impact in the field.

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