Statement: Egypt’s higher SME lending quota supports economy but jeopardizes banks’ asset quality: Moody’s
Moody’s Investors Service

CAIRO: Last Monday, the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) instructed Egyptian banks to raise their lending to small and midsize enterprises (SMEs) to 20% of their loan books over the next four years, up from 5%-10% currently, according to our estimates. Along with other government-led growth-enhancing reforms, the CBE’s regulation will likely shore up the country’s fragile economic recovery, a credit positive for Egypt (B3 stable).

However, although the CBE has provided tools to partly mitigate the associated funding and credit risks, the rapid growth in SME loans necessary to reach the 20% target will likely weaken loan performance, a credit negative for Egyptian banks. SME lending will support job creation and help lower the country’s high unemployment, which was 12.8% as of September 2015. SMEs employing fewer than 10 workers compose 97% of Egypt’s businesses, according to state-run statistics body CAPMAS, and a World Bank Enterprise Survey showed that a lack of access to credit is one of Egyptian business leaders’ chief complaints.

The central bank measure will support the country’s economic recovery by reviving investment. Although real GDP growth rose to 4.5% in second-quarter 2015 from 2.6% in the first quarter, and growth for the fiscal year that ended June 2015 was 4.2%, second-quarter 2015 growth was primarily supported by a 15.7% fall in imports. Exports fell 4.1% in second-quarter 2015, while investment declined 3.0% (see exhibit), and we expect both to remain depressed. Meanwhile, the tourism sector is suffering from fresh security concerns.

In addition to the minimum lending requirements, the CBE has capped the interest rate that banks can charge for loans to certain SME categories at 5%. However, since the regulator will now allow banks to fund these loans out of their required liquidity reserves, which currently earn nothing, the profitability benefit will be higher for banks particularly once we include the fee income banks will earn from this business. As part of the initiative, the CBE introduced a nationwide definition for SMEs6 and will expand the training it offers to bank employees and individuals in order to raise financial literacy.

The preceding was a press statement by Moody’s and does not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The Cairo Post.

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