S&P cuts Egypt sovereign rating

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Posted: Nov 24, 2011 6:45 AM
S&P cuts Egypt sovereign rating

Ratings agency Standard & Poor's on Thursday pushed Egypt's sovereign credit ratings deeper into junk status, citing the country's dire political and economic situation and the increased risk of civil strife.

The cut is the latest blow to Egypt, whose economy is reeling from nine months of protests and strikes since the mid-February ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak. Last month, Moody's Investors Service also cut its ratings for Egypt, citing the ongoing political challenges and the weak economy.

S&P said it cut Egypt's long-term foreign and local currency sovereign ratings to B+ from BB-, with a negative outlook.

"The downgrade reflects our opinion that Egypt's weak political and economic profile ... has deteriorated further," the agency said in a statement.

In addition to the current wave of protests against the ruling military council, it cited the erosion of the country's net international reserves and the risk of further unrest stemming from rising expectations.

"These challenges could arise if populist demands for greater political participation are thwarted, or from demands for improved living standards from different sectors of the population no matter who is governing Egypt," the agency said.

The timing of the ratings cut is also troubling for Egypt, coming days before the Nov. 28 parliamentary elections _ the first since Mubarak left office. The fate of the elections is uncertain following the latest protests, in which demonstrators have called for the country's military rulers to step down and transfer power to a national salvation government.

Months of unrest have led analysts to cut forecasts for Egypt's economic growth. A nation that just a few years earlier had boasted growth rates of 7 percent is expected to realize anemic growth of around 1 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Equally troubling has been the drop in international reserves, which fell from $36 billion at the end of December to $22 billion by the end of October. That decline, in part, has been linked to the Central Bank's efforts to prop up the Egyptian pound.

The stock market's benchmark index has shed almost 48 percent since the start of the year, losing around 190 billion pounds ($32 billion) and earning the dubious distinction of being among the worst performing in the world after Greece and Cyprus. On Thursday, the EGX30 index was up about 1.6 percent.

Bond and Treasury bill yields have climbed sharply, reflecting the premium the government must pay to borrow money, and the deficit is expected to climb above earlier forecasts of around 8.6 percent as officials are forced to increase spending to meet incessant popular demands for a boost in the standard of living.

"Following Egypt's popular uprising of January 2011, public expectations regarding the government's ability to promptly deliver improved living standards remain high," S&P said.