Egypt’s stock market faces fluctuations over manipulation case

A move to charge prominent investors, including sons of former President Hosni Mubarak, with stock market violations, has rattled the Egyptian Exchange, which was already on edge due to US trade policies and rising interest rates.

al-monitor The Egyptian Exchange bell is seen at the stock exchange in Cairo, Feb. 6, 2018.  Photo by REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh.

Oct 3, 2018

Egypt’s stock market incurred huge losses the last week in September after a Cairo criminal court on Sept. 15 ordered the arrest of nine people, including the two sons of ousted President Hosni Mubarak, on charges involving stock market violations. Also arrested were Yasser el-Mallawany, a board member of the Cairo-based investment bank EFG Hermes, Hassan Heikal, a former board member of the same bank, and Amr el-Qadi, head of investor relations and risk management at Qalaa Holdings, a leading investment company.

They are accused of failing to disclose agreements made to acquire shares in Al-Watany Bank of Egypt through front companies. They allegedly made illegally acquired profits of about 500 million Egyptian pounds (around $33 million) through the purchasing and selling of Al-Watany shares. The nine, who deny the charges, were released on Sept. 20 after each posted bail for 100,000 Egyptian pounds ($5,570). The case was opened in 2012.

On Sept. 16, the day after their arrests, the Egyptian Exchange plunged by 3.6%, with market capitalization losing 25 billion pounds ($1.3 billion). The exchange continued to fall the week of Sept. 17, with the drop in market capitalization eventually totally 69.5 billion pounds ($3.8 billion). According to analysts, the negative effects on the Egyptian stock market by the Al-Watany case is due to the alleged involvement of “big names” in it.

“I expect that these effects will persist until the case is closed,” Ahmed el-Shami, an economist and professor of feasibility studies at Ain Shams University, told Al-Monitor. “If the defendants are convicted, I predict that this will have a very negative repercussion on the local stock market.”

Shami said that putting senior officials from top stock-listed companies behind bars would naturally spark jitters on the stock exchange, as indeed happened. He also said that the losses are being driven by the US-China trade war, which is affecting emerging markets in particular, adding that the raising of interest rates in several countries, including the United States and Turkey, is another cause of turmoil. 

In January, the United States launched a trade war with China by imposing tariffs on 297 product categories, including plastics, chemical, railway equipment, fridges and semiconductors, leading China to impose tariffs of its own on 333 US imports, among them coal, copper, scrap, fuel, buses and medical equipment. The imposition of tariffs is also threatening to affect China's neighbors, which constitute part of its supply chain. The dueling tariffs involving the two largest economies are creating global trade tensions and instability, thus negatively affecting stock markets around the world.

Meanwhile, the US Federal Reserve, citing confidence in the American economy's health, has raised its benchmark rate three times since June this year. The rate currently stands at 2-2.5%. Rising interest rates in the United States has prompted investors to withdraw their money from emerging markets, where they had previously gone in search of returns, and invest it instead back in the United States. In an attempt to stem the Turkish lira's collapse and calm investor fears, Turkey's central bank also raised its interest rate, to 24% on Sept. 13, increasing the possibility of Cairo increasing its rate to remain attractive to investors.

In another legal case, on Sept. 24, the Court of Cassation rejected a request by Mubarak and his sons to drop charges of embezzlement and wasting public funds and close the case. Some analysts have cited a possible political dimension to the September arrest of Mubarak’s sons, which followed several public appearances by them in Cairo, where they were surrounded by crowds of people who welcomed them warmly and took photos with them.

“I think that this kind of welcome has been reported to the authorities in Egypt and has raised concerns about Gamal Mubarak’s political aspirations,” Ammar Ali Hassan, a journalist and political science researcher, told Al-Monitor. He added that a significant number of people in Egypt sympathize with Mubarak and his sons and look nostalgically on what they believe to be better economic and security conditions under Mubarak's tenure.

In what is most likely a rumor by the regime's allies, some are also attributing Gamal's arrest to an alleged deal he made with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned from politics, to contest upcoming presidential elections, scheduled for 2022. Yasser Rezk, an Egyptian journalist and editor in chief of the semi-official Al-Akhbar, one of the three largest papers in Egypt, raised the topic on Sept. 24. In an interview on the privately owned DMC channel, Rezk said, “I am concerned about the possibility that there is a deal between Gamal Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood, but the Egyptian state is strong and will not accept the return to what was before June 30 or January 25.”

Rezk also called for “cutting off the path for representatives of the previous regime and the Muslim Brotherhood to re-enter the political scene.”

Hassan said that it would be impossible for Gamal Mubarak to contest the presidency, because the cases against him would be huge obstacles for him to overcome. “One of these cases [involving Al-Watany] is also related to honor, and the constitution prevents anyone who is accused in an honor-related case to run for election,” Hassan noted.

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