This Selected Issues paper examines whether Egypt’s current account and exchange rate are in broad equilibrium. The paper analyzes areas of fiscal spending that have the biggest saving potential in a cross-country perspective. An assessment of Egypt’s real exchange rate is presented. The paper uses data envelopment analysis to analyze the efficiency in public spending on health, education, and social protection relative to comparable countries. The results suggest significant scope to improve efficiency in all three social areas, and that room for fiscal savings is particularly apparent in social protection and education.

Abstract

This Selected Issues paper examines whether Egypt’s current account and exchange rate are in broad equilibrium. The paper analyzes areas of fiscal spending that have the biggest saving potential in a cross-country perspective. An assessment of Egypt’s real exchange rate is presented. The paper uses data envelopment analysis to analyze the efficiency in public spending on health, education, and social protection relative to comparable countries. The results suggest significant scope to improve efficiency in all three social areas, and that room for fiscal savings is particularly apparent in social protection and education.

II. External Competitiveness and the Real Exchange Rate in Egypt1

Summary

  • Egypt’s current account, in surplus over the last 6 years, has been declining on trend and is projected to turn into a deficit over the medium term.

  • Various approaches to assess the equilibrium levels of the current account and the Egyptian pound suggest that the REER and the current account balance are broadly in line with macroeconomic fundamentals.

A. Introduction

6. The real effective exchange rate (REER) of the Egyptian pound has been highly volatile over the past 10 years. The pound experienced a sustained real effective appreciation during the second half of the 1990s, reflecting the combination of a fixed nominal exchange rate of the pound vis-à-vis the U.S. dollar, the depreciation of the Euro vis-à-vis the U.S. dollar, and a positive inflation differential between Egypt and its main trading partners. As a result, the current account of the balance of payments deteriorated toward the end of the 1990s. After it reached a deficit of 3¾ percent of GDP in 1997/98, foreign exchange controls were tightened, leading to a 22 percent decline in the U.S. dollar value of non-oil merchandise imports between 1997/98 and 2001/02. During the same period central bank reserves declined by US$6 billion and real GDP growth slowed to 3¼ percent. Subsequently, Egypt’s external competitiveness improved substantially as a result of a sharp depreciation of the nominal exchange rate during 2001–03. During this period, inflation in Egypt was only modestly higher than in its main trading partners, and the pass-through of the nominal depreciation into higher consumer prices was remarkably subdued, causing most of the competitiveness gains from the nominal depreciation to be maintained.

7. More recently, Egypt’s balance of payments has been strong. The reinvigoration of the reform momentum since mid-2004 along with the oil-price induced economic upswing in the Middle East have helped the Egyptian economy take advantage of the improved competitiveness resulting from the depreciation of the REER during 2001–03.

8. From early 2005 through mid-2007, the authorities have been managing the exchange rate in a way that ensured stability of the LE/US$ rate, despite a de jure managed float. This approach reflected concerns that greater exchange rate flexibility could lead to a large appreciation—hurting non-hydrocarbon exports and tourism—and that volatility could weaken confidence in the interbank foreign exchange market established in December 2004. However, maintaining a stable nominal LE/US$ exchange rate akin to a peg has complicated the conduct of monetary policy and has carried rising sterilization costs. Since mid-2007, the exchange rate has been managed more flexibly, akin to a managed float regime.

9. This paper investigates the determinants of recent movements in the REER and analyzes whether the REER is in line with macroeconomic fundamentals. The next two sections briefly discuss movements in Egypt’s REER over the past 35 years, and recent trends in the REER and the balance of payments, respectively. Section D tries to answer the question of whether the REER is in line with macroeconomic fundamentals by using four different methodologies: the purchasing power parity approach, the equilibrium real exchange rate approach based on a vector error-correction model, applications of the macroeconomic balance approach, and the external sustainability approach. Section E provides conclusions.

B. A Long-Term Perspective on Egypt’s REER

10. Egypt’s REER has been on a slight downward (depreciation) trend over the past 35 years, with high volatility around the trend (Figure II.1)The volatility of the REER is related to the stability of the pound vis-à-vis the U.S. dollar (Figure II.2) in the face of a positive inflation differential between Egypt and its main trading partners. Sharp real appreciations during the early 1980s and late 1990s eventually caused the current account of the balance of payment to become unsustainable. However, the policy responses to these real appreciations of the official exchange rate during the 1980s and 1990s differed:

Figure II.1.
Figure II.1.

Real Effective Exchange Rate

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2007, 381; 10.5089/9781451811896.002.A002

Sources: IMF, INS; and staff estimates.
Figure II.2.
Figure II.2.

Nominal U.S. Dollar/LE Exchange Rate

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2007, 381; 10.5089/9781451811896.002.A002

Sources: IMF, INS.
  • During the 1980s, the authorities responded to the real appreciation of the official exchange rate by letting an increasing share of foreign currency transactions take place at increasingly more depreciated nominal exchange rates.2 As a result, while the official exchange rate of US$1.43 per Egyptian pound became increasingly overvalued during the second half of the 1980s, the transaction-volume-weighted average of the multiple nominal exchange rates of the pound depreciated steadily and so did the REER based on the “weighted average” exchange rate.3 When the official exchange rate was eventually brought in line with the “weighted average” exchange rate in 1991, this had only a limited effect on the economy.

  • Toward the end of the 1990s, extensive foreign exchange controls were put in place to limit pressures on the current account and arrest the decline in central bank reserves (Figure II.3) in the face of the ongoing sustained appreciation of the REER. As a result, the bulk of foreign exchange transactions continued to be effected at the fixed official exchange rate, but this approach was associated with low growth, a decline in central bank reserves, and import compression (Figure II.4). The devaluation of the official exchange rate that took place during 2001-03 coincided with a cyclical improvement in foreign currency availability in the Middle East. The resulting strengthening of the balance of payments allowed a gradual abolition of the exchange controls and a strong recovery of import growth.

Figure II.3.
Figure II.3.

Central Bank Gross International Reserves

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2007, 381; 10.5089/9781451811896.002.A002

Figure II.4.
Figure II.4.

Openness

(Imports plus exports in percent of GDP)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2007, 381; 10.5089/9781451811896.002.A002

11. The REER depreciation trend has been associated with a decline in real GDP per capita relative to trading partners from 1985 onward and with a moderation of key current account inflows from 1980 onward:

  • During 1975-85, Egypt achieved marked gains in real GDP per capita relative to its trading partners (Figure II.5). These gains were associated with the strong increase in certain current account inflows, notably oil exports, Suez Canal fees, foreign aid, tourism, and workers’ remittances (Figure II.6).4 In particular, following the large oil price increases in 1973–74 and the emigration of an increasing number of Egyptians to neighboring oil producing countries, recorded workers’ remittances rose from less than US$0.4 billion in 1975 to US$2.9 billion in 1980. Egypt also became a net oil exporter in 1975 and, on account of large increases in domestic production and international price increases, receipts from oil exports rose from US$0.4 billion in 1975 to US$2.7 billion in 1980. Similarly, the Suez canal, which had been closed in 1967, was reopened in 1975, and payments of dues by transiting ships rose from US$0.1 billion in 1975 to US$0.7 billion in 1980. During the first half of the 1980s, when these current account inflows remained at around 30 percent of GDP, the increase in Egypt’s real per capita GDP relative to trading partners was also associated with expansionary fiscal policies and the implementation of large public sector development projects, which were largely financed by bilateral and multilateral external loans.

  • Between 1985 and the early 1990s, however, Egypt experienced a decline in real per capita GDP relative to its trading partners. As global growth slowed and world oil prices fell, inherent structural rigidities began to exert strains on the economy. The steady decline in current account inflows during 1990–2002 became a drag on growth.

  • The most recent growth spurt that started in 2004/05 has finally begun to improve relative per capita income, which nonetheless remains well below the 1985 level.

Figure II.5.
Figure II.5.

Egypt’s Real GDP per Capita Relative to Trading Partners

(Index, 2000=1)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2007, 381; 10.5089/9781451811896.002.A002

Figure II.6.
Figure II.6.

Current Account Inflows from Oil and Gas, Suez Canal Fees, Tourism, Grants, and Remittances, 1970–2007

(In percent of GDP)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2007, 381; 10.5089/9781451811896.002.A002

12. The sustained appreciation of the REER during the 1990s, which interrupted the trend depreciation of the REER, did not prevent a solid recovery of non-oil merchandise exports. Reflecting Egypt’s earlier inward-oriented development model, non-oil merchandise exports amounted to only 3.5 percent of GDP in 1996. However, stimulated by market-based reforms, and notwithstanding the ongoing REER appreciation, non-oil merchandise exports rose to 5.4 percent of GDP in 2002 (see text table).

Non-Oil Merchandise Exports

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Sources: Central Bank of Egypt and DOTS

C. The REER and the Balance of Payments in Recent Years

13. Most of the improvement in Egypt’s competitiveness caused by the depreciation of the REER during 2001-03 has so far been maintained. Aided by the depreciation of the U.S. dollar, to which the Egyptian pound was once again closely tied until mid-2007, the REER appreciated by less than 20 percent at end-2003, notwithstanding a temporary acceleration of inflation in 2006/07.

14. The current account has been in surplus over the last 6 years, reaching about 1.5 percent of GDP in FY2006/07 (Figure II.7) after non-oil merchandise exports staged a major recovery following a still-unexplained slump in FY2005/06. Reserves have been rising steadily, reaching a comfortable level of six months of next year’s imports of goods and nonfactor services at the beginning of FY2007.

Figure II.7.
Figure II.7.

Current Account

(In percent of GDP)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2007, 381; 10.5089/9781451811896.002.A002

15. On the other hand, the current account surpluses have been declining on trend and the current account is projected to turn into a deficit over the medium term. The end of the large depreciation of the REER (2001-03) coincided with the beginning of an oil-price induced cyclical upturn in the Middle-East region and a reinvigoration of the reform momentum in Egypt from mid-2004 onward. Cuts in import tariffs (September 2004, February 2007), the establishment of the interbank foreign exchange market (December 2004), dramatically improved availability of foreign exchange from record inflows of remittances, FDI, and, more recently, portfolio inflows, facilitated the sustained strong growth of non-oil imports. As a result, the non-oil merchandise trade deficit widened by about 5.5 percentage points of GDP over the past three years to 17 percent of GDP in FY2006/07. Given that import growth remains very high (the U.S. dollar value of non-oil merchandise imports grew by 45 percent during April-June 2007 y-o-y), and in view of the already-large non-oil trade deficit, the current account balance is likely to continue its declining trend and turn into a deficit over the next two years. Capital inflows are also expected to moderate from the record levels in FY2006/07.

16. One-off factors contributed to the strength of the balance of payments. Over the past two fiscal years, the CBE’s foreign exchange reserves and commercial banks’ net foreign assets (NFA) have increased by a combined total of US$23 billion, due in part to one-off capital account inflows:

  • Non-resident holdings of Treasury Bills, Treasury Bond, and CBE notes increased by US$8.1 billion, at least partly reflecting a portfolio adjustment as Egypt appeared on the “radar screen” of foreign investors.

  • The sale of a GSM license and of the Bank of Alexandria, among other divestitures, contributed to exceptional FDI inflows of US$5.5 billion, half of total FDI inflows in 2006/07.

  • EGPC’s forward sale of oil resulted in inflows of US$1.55 billion.

  • The government’s U.S.-guaranteed eurobond issue mobilized US$1.25 billion.

  • Loans in support of financial sector reforms from the World Bank and the African Development Bank brought in US$1 billion.

D. Estimates of the Equilibrium Real Effective Exchange Rate

17. Estimates of the equilibrium real effective exchange rate (EREER) tend to be quite sensitive to the methodology used and are particularly challenging in developing countries where the data are weaker (Dunaway and others (2006) and Di Bella and others (2007)). The IMF’s Consultative Group on Exchange Rate Issues (CGER) recently revised and extended methodologies for exchange rate assessments to cover not only advanced countries—as in the past—but also emerging market economies (IMF (2006b)). The CGER’s assessments are based on three complementary approaches: the macroeconomic balance (MB) approach, the equilibrium real exchange rate (ERER) approach, and the external sustainability (ES) approach. The CGER has not included an assessment for Egypt in its reports to the IMF’s Executive Board, mostly because sectoral productivity data needed for the CGER’s ERER approach are not available.

18. This paper assesses if Egypt’s REER is in line with macroeconomic fundamentals by using four different methodologies: (i) the purchasing power parity approach (PPP), (ii) the ERER approach based on a vector error-correction model (rather than panel regression techniques as in the CGER), (iii) applications of the MB approach, and (iv) applications of the ES approach similar to those used by the CGER.

Purchasing power parity approach

19. One way to assess the deviation of a country’s real exchange rate from its long-run level is through an international comparison of price levels. According to the theory of purchasing power parity (PPP), prices of an identical consumption basket should be the same in all countries once expressed in a common currency. However, a comparison of consumer prices across countries needs to account for the presence of nontraded goods and differences in consumption baskets. Nontraded goods (whose prices equalize across countries only if all production factors are internationally mobile and production technologies are identical) constitute a sizable share of consumption baskets. Empirically, nontradables prices tend to be higher in countries with higher wages and incomes, as shown in Figure II.8. The data—obtained from the Penn World Tables (PWT)—compare the U.S. dollar prices of each GDP basket relative to the US GDP deflator among a large number of countries. Cross-section regressions of this bilateral real exchange rate (vis-à-vis the U.S.) on real per capita GDP (in 2003, the latest year available) indicate that for every 1 percent increase in a country’s real per capita income, its real exchange rate is stronger by about 0.35 percent.

Figure II.8.
Figure II.8.

Cross-section Regression of Price Levels (Relative to the United States) on Per Capita Income

(Both in logs, for 2003)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2007, 381; 10.5089/9781451811896.002.A002

Source: Penn World Tables. Price levels in each country are proxied by their GDP deflator.

20. The strong correlation between absolute price levels and income is usually attributed to the Balassa-Samuelson effect, which relates the long-run real exchange rate to relative productivity differentials. Countries with relatively higher productivity growth in the tradables relative to the nontradables sector (compared to trading partners) tend to experience real appreciation (increase in the relative price of nontradables to tradables). In essence, higher tradables productivity pushes up wages in the tradables sector, which leads to higher wages in the nontradables sector and, consequently, to higher nontradables prices. Since tradables prices are set in international markets, the relative price of nontradables to tradables rises in these circumstances. As the overall (consumer) price level is a weighted average of tradables and nontradables prices, the higher price of nontradable goods leads to an increase in the overall CPI. Assuming that real per capita GDP differentials across countries are a reasonable proxy for relative productivity differentials, the Balassa-Samuelson effect implies a positive correlation between relative income levels and the real exchange rate. It also suggests that as a country’s (relative) income level rises over time; its real exchange rate will appreciate.

21. Analysis of cross-country data based on this approach suggests that the Egyptian pound was undervalued in real terms in relation to its estimated long-run PPP level in 2000 and substantially more so in 2003. The regression line for the cross-section data in 2003 (the line for 2000 is virtually identical) along with the position of Egypt in various years are shown in Figure II.8. The vertical distance between Egypt’s actual position in the graph and the estimated regression line—which provides an estimate of the long-run real exchange level—would indicate the deviation of the actual real exchange rate from its long-run value. The chart indicates that Egypt’s actual real exchange rate was substantially below its estimated long-run PPP level in 2000 and the gap had widened markedly by 2003. The real appreciation since then has reduced the gap, despite an increase in per capita income.

22. The finding of significant undervaluation of the pound in 2000 is puzzling— the economic slowdown and reserve losses at the time and the subsequent sharp depreciation of the REER clearly point in the opposite direction—and raises doubts about the applicability of the purchasing parity approach in the case of Egypt. As tested here, the PPP approach may be hampered in several ways. First, real per capita GDP may be a weak proxy for productivity differentials in the case of Egypt because of the large share of income only loosely related to domestic productive activity. Second, many basic goods have been subject to price controls and explicit or implicit subsidies, causing the prices of many of these items to be artificially low (e.g. basic food stuffs, energy) and inflexible.5 Third, the bilateral real exchange rate vis-à-vis the United States may not proxy well the “true” multilateral (trade weighted) real exchange rate. With respect to the first point, relative productivity in tradables per worker may be overestimated by using real per capita income as proxy, because Egypt receives substantial income that is not related to productivity. In particular, Egypt’s strategic geographical location (Suez canal fees), natural resource endowment (oil and increasingly gas), substantial foreign aid, and its historical treasures (tourism) produce income only loosely related to the productivity of Egyptian labor. In addition, facilitated by the proximity to GCC countries and the absence of cultural and language barriers, many Egyptian workers, both skilled and unskilled, find employment in the region and send remittances back home. During 1970-2007, these “exogenous” current account inflows averaged about 20 percent of GDP per annum (Figure II.6). On this basis, it seems that a comparison of price levels in Egypt with those in other countries leads to implausible conclusions regarding the competitiveness of goods produced in Egypt. As shown below, other approaches to assess the equilibrium REER indicate a very different view that is more consistent with actual macroeconomic developments.

Equilibrium real exchange rate approach

23. Another commonly used approach is the equilibrium real exchange rate (ERER) approach. It consists of (i) estimating a vector error-correction model (VECM) for the REER and its determinants (certain macroeconomic fundamentals), and (ii) using the cointegrating vectors to infer the equilibrium path of the REER.6,7 The results of the VECM confirm the existence of a unique cointegrating relationship between the REER and the specified determinants of Egypt’s equilibrium real exchange rate (Table II.1)

Table II.1.

Results of the VECM

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Source: IMF staff estimates.

Written as: log REER - α1 log (relative per capita GDP) - α2 (trade/GDP) - α3 (“exogenous” CA inflows/GDP) - α4 = v Therefore, a negative sign for a coefficient denotes a positive association between the relevant variable and the REER.

t-statistics in parenthesis

24. The equilibrium REER is found to appreciate as Egypt’s relative productivity and key current account inflows strengthen and to depreciate with greater openness. These results are broadly intuitive and in line with studies for other countries. An increase in the productivity of the tradable sector (relative to its trading partners; proxied by relative real per capita GDP)8 would tend to appreciate its real exchange rate (the Belassa-Samuelson effect discussed before). An increase in the “exogenous” current account inflows not related to nonhydrocarbon merchandise exports can also be expected to appreciate the real exchange rate (the traditional “Dutch Disease” effect). Such an increase would similarly induce higher wages and a higher price of nontradables. A more open trade regime is likely to be associated with a more depreciated exchange rate. By increasing the range of available tradable goods, trade liberalization amplifies the effect of price discipline from international competition and reduces the domestic price of tradable goods, thereby lowering the overall price level and the real exchange rate (see Goldfajn and Valdes, 1999).

25. More specifically, the regression results in Table II.1 can be interpreted as follows:

  • A 1 percent improvement in Egypt’s relative productivity, proxied by real per capita GDP in Egypt relative to its trading partners (see Figure II.5), has a more than one-to-one effect on the REER (i.e., a 1.2 percent appreciation effect)—somewhat lower than in studies for countries at a similar stage of development.9

  • A 1 percentage point of GDP increase in openness (proxied by the sum of merchandise imports and exports in percent of GDP, see Figure II.4) is associated with a 3 percent real depreciation of the REER.

  • A 1 percentage point of GDP increase in “exogenous” current account inflows (Suez canal fees, private and official remittances, net exports of oil and gas, and tourism inflows, see Figure II.6) is associated with a 2.1 percent real appreciation of the REER.10

  • The price of oil, the terms of trade, government expenditure, and various measures of Egypt’s net foreign assets were not found to be statistically significant determinants of the equilibrium REER.11

  • The cointegrating coefficient implies that it takes about 2% years to reduce by half any deviation between the actual REER and the equilibrium rate. This is in line with findings for other emerging-market countries (see for example MacDonald and Ricci (2003), Cashin and others (2002), and Zalduendo (2006)).

These findings are consistent with the Balassa-Samuelson hypothesis and also confirm the important role of key current account inflows in assessing the equilibrium REER—as suspected in the discussion of the PPP approach.

26. The path of the equilibrium REER can be derived from the estimation results (Figure II.9). This is done by applying the coefficient estimates of the cointegrating relationship on the determinants of the equilibrium real exchange rate. To eliminate variations that arise from the short-run fluctuations in these determinants, the HP-filtered series of each of these determinants is used to estimate the equilibrium rate.

Figure II.9.
Figure II.9.

The REER and Its Estimated Equilibrium

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2007, 381; 10.5089/9781451811896.002.A002

27. The real effective exchange rate in 2006 appears to be broadly in line with its fundamentals-based equilibrium level. The graphs of the actual and equilibrium REER indicate that, according to this approach, the pound was substantially overvalued between 1998 and 2001. However, the subsequent large correction in the nominal exchange rate caused the real exchange rate to undershoot its equilibrium. By mid-2003, the pound was substantially undervalued. Since then, the gap between the actual and the smoothed equilibrium REER has narrowed steadily: the equilibrium REER depreciated (driven mostly by increasing trade openness) and the actual REER appreciated, partly as a result of the appreciation of the nominal exchange rate vis-à-vis the U.S. dollar.

28. The ERER approach, as applied here, has several potential shortcomings, and some caution in overly relying on this approach is therefore warranted. First, the implicit assumption of a zero average misalignment over the sample period may not hold. Second, the sample period may not have been without structural breaks, making any long-run cointegrating relationship between the REER and key fundamentals questionable. For example, the sample period 1975-2006 contains several episodes during which extensive foreign exchange controls and segmentations of foreign exchange markets were enforced. Such restrictions typically increase the domestic price of tradable goods, thereby raising the overall price level and the real exchange rate.

The macroeconomic balance (MB) approach

29. The centerpiece of the MB approach is the estimation of a country’s current account “norm.” The norm is calculated by estimating an equilibrium relationship between current account balances and a set of macroeconomic fundamentals. The next step involves estimating the adjustment in the REER needed to eliminate the gap between the estimated current account norm and the “underlying” current account balance, often proxied by the medium-term projection of the CA balance.

30. Application of the MB approach suggests that the medium-term current account is close to the relevant norm, both in the high-growth scenario (“adjustment scenario”) and the low-growth scenario (“current policies”) (Table II.2):

Table II.2.

Comparing Medium-term CA Projections with the Relevant Norms

(According to the Macroeconomic Balance Approach)

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  • The baseline adjustment scenario assumes continued strong growth driven by high investments, a narrowing of the oil trade balance from 2.5 percent of GDP in 2006/07 to 0.5 percent of GDP in 2011/12, and a reduction in the overall central government fiscal deficit from 7¾ percent of GDP in 2006/07 to 3 percent in 2011/12, in line with the authorities’ plans. Under those circumstances, Egypt’s CA norm in 2011/12 is estimated at -1.7 percent of GDP, using CGER’s estimation (see Box II.1 Box This is close to the staffs CA projections for 2011/12 (-2.2 percent of GDP).

  • In the low-growth scenario, the planned reduction in the fiscal deficit to 3 percent of GDP by 2011/12 and other envisaged structural reforms do not materialize, resulting in much lower investment levels. Accordingly, the staff projects a CA of -0.8 percent of GDP. The CA norm in the low-growth scenario, using CGER’s estimation, is about -2.3 percent of GDP.

Using an elasticity of the current account balance with respect to the real exchange rate of 0.15 (Box II.2) and taking into account a correction factor needed to ensure multilateral consistency,12 the gap between the current account norm and the projected current account would suggest that the pound is overvalued by some 3 percent in the adjustment scenario. In the low-growth scenario, the pound would be undervalued by about 8 percent. In both cases, the degree of over- or undervaluation is within conventional error margins.

MB Approach: Estimation Results for a Current Account Panel Regression

The results of CGER’s pooled regression of the equilibrium current account (ECA) on key macroeconomic fundamentals for 54 industrial and emerging market economies, including Egypt, over the period 1973-2004 imply the following:

CGER Estimation Results

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Note: Dependent variable is the equilibrium current account (ECA).Source: IMF (2006b)
  • A 1 percentage-point increase in the government budget balance (relative to trading partners) improves the ECA by 0.19 percentage points.

  • A 1 percentage-point increase in the population growth rate relative to trading partners deteriorates the ECA by 1.22 percent of GDP.

  • A 1 percentage-point increase in the oil balance improves the ECA by 0.23 percentage points.

  • A 1 percentage-point increase in real GDP growth of an emerging market economy like Egypt (compared to the trading-partner average) reduces the ECA by 0.21 percent of GDP.

  • The coefficient of 0.02 on relative income implies that, ceteris paribus, a country whose income is half the U.S. level will have on average a current account balance that is 1 percentage point of GDP smaller than that of the United States.

The external sustainability (ES) approach

31. The ES approach involves estimating the adjustment in the REER needed to stabilize Egypt’s NFA to GDP ratio at a certain benchmark level. The ES approach complements the MB and ERER methodologies by focusing on the relation between the sustainability of a country’s external stock position and its flow current account position, trade balance, and real exchange rate. It consists of three steps: The first step involves determining the current account balance to GDP ratio that would stabilize the NFA position at a given “benchmark” value.13 The second step compares this NFA-stabilizing current account balance (ES-norm) with the level of a country’s underlying current account balance. And finally, the third step consists of assessing the adjustment in the real effective exchange rate that is needed to close the gap between the underlying current account balance and the ES-norm.

The Elasticity of the Current Account to Changes in the REER

The econometric estimates reported in IMF (2006a) suggest that, for a country with an initial trade balance and an export-to-GDP ratio of 40 percent, a 10 percent permanent nominal exchange rate depreciation would improve the trade balance by 1½ to 2 percent of GDP over the medium term depending on the class of exporter, with most of the adjustment occurring within the first 3 to 5 years.

A simple regression for the 13-year period 1993/94-2006/07 suggests that for every 10 percent appreciation of the REER, the current account worsens by 0.8 percent of GDP (see graph of the actual and fitted path of the current account to GDP ratio). Neither real income, nor (lagged) oil prices were found to be significant determinants of Egypt’s current account balance for this short sample.

However, the actual medium-term elasticity of the CA to the REER may be higher and closer to 0.15, the level reported in IMF (2006a), because the current account improvements over the last decade partly reflect exogenous events (the start of LNG exports and the establishment of qualified industrial zones whose output has duty-free access to the US market) and exchange controls in place during most of the sample period, which may cause an underestimation of the elasticity. In fact, the recent narrowing of Egypt’s current account surplus from 4.3 percent of GDP in 2003/04 to 1.4 percent of GDP in 2006/07 has been associated with a real appreciation of the pound of 17 ½ percent, suggesting an arc elasticity of 0.17.

uA02bx02fig01

Actual and Fitted Values of the Current Account

(In percent of GDP)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2007, 381; 10.5089/9781451811896.002.A002

32. Depending on the choice of the benchmark, a different assessment of over- or undervaluation will result (Table II.3).

Table II.3.

Benchmarks for 2005 NFA and Overvaluation 1/

(According to the External Sustainability Approach)

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In the adjustment scenario the CA is projected at -2.2 percent of GDP in 2010/11.

In the low growth scenario (“current policies”) the CA is projected at -0.8 percent of GDP in 2010/11.

  • The database used by the IMF’s Research Department (see Lane and Milesi-Ferretti (2006) for the data through 2004) estimates Egypt’s NFA in 2005 at -9.3 percent of GDP. Under the high growth scenario, Egypt could run a current account deficit of 0.8 percent of GDP without causing the NFA to GDP ratio to fall. In the adjustment scenario, the CA is projected at -2.2 percent of GDP in 2010/11. Using an elasticity of the current account balance with respect to the real exchange rate of 0.15, and taking into account a correction factor needed to ensure multilateral consistency (see footnote 12), the gap between the NFA-stabilizing current account deficit and the projected medium-term CA could be closed by 7 percent depreciation of the REER. In the low-growth scenario, the CA is projected at -0.8 percent of GDP in 2010/11, nearly equal to the NFA-stabilizing CA balance.

  • The CBE’s data on Egypt’s International Investment Position (IIP) indicate that Egypt’s gross foreign liabilities exceed its gross foreign assets by US$16 billion at end-December 2005 (14.9 percent of GDP). Therefore, compared to the IMF data, the CBE data suggest that Egypt could afford to run a somewhat larger current account deficit and still stabilize the NFA position, albeit at a lower level. The implied overvaluation of the REER in the high growth scenario, at 5 percent, is therefore somewhat smaller, and is zero under the low-growth scenario.

  • The REER is, however, significantly overvalued if the net present value (NPV) of the contracted exports of natural gas are included in NFA. It could be argued that, in order to include intergenerational equity considerations also, Egypt’s true NFA position includes the NPV of non-renewable energy reserves. The IIP data already includes the foreign investment liabilities incurred to develop the LNG sector. If the NPV of prospective gas export revenues is also included, the current NFA amounts to +10.3 percent of GDP.14 To stabilize NFA at this level, Egypt would need to run current account surpluses of around 1 percent of GDP. To achieve this, the REER would need to depreciate by 17 percent in the high-growth scenario and by 8 percent in the low-growth scenario.

33. Stabilizing NFA (however defined) at the 2005 level may in any case not be optimal for Egypt. As a fast-growing developing country with high population growth, and a need to expand its capital stock, Egypt could arguably sustain a CA deficit that is somewhat larger than 0.8 percent of GDP, stabilizing its NFA position at a lower level. For instance, under the staffs projection of a current account deficit under a high-growth scenario of 2.2 percent of GDP in FY2011/12 and beyond, the NFA to GDP level would fall over the medium term and stabilize in the long run at about -24 percent of GDP. Reasoning along these lines, the pound would currently be close to its equilibrium level again.

E. Conclusions

34. Egypt’s REER is broadly in line with fundamentals. The four approaches to assess the current valuation of the Egyptian pound against its estimated equilibrium level suggest that the real effective exchange rate of the pound is broadly in line with macroeconomic fundamentals:

  • A comparison of price levels in Egypt with those in other countries (absolute PPP) leads to implausible conclusions regarding the equilibrium exchange rate. Price controls and subsidies on the one hand, and large somewhat exogenous current account inflows, which represent income that is at best loosely related to the productivity of workers in Egypt, bias the comparison with other countries. Furthermore, the required cross-country data are available only through 2003, making any assessment on this basis potentially outdated.

  • Applying the equilibrium real exchange rate approach yields more meaningful results. Using coefficient estimates of a cointegrating relationship between the REER and key determinants of Egypt’s equilibrium real exchange rate (Egypt’s productivity relative to trading partners, openness, and exogenous current account inflows), the path of the equilibrium REER indicates that the pound was overvalued during 1998-2001 but that the REER undershot its equilibrium level in 2003-04. However, by 2006, the gap between the REER and its estimated long-term equilibrium level had virtually closed.

  • The macroeconomic balance and the external sustainability approaches suggest that the REER is broadly in line with macroeconomic fundamentals.

Appendix 1. Stationarity Tests

Prior to applying the vector error-correction estimations, tests were carried out for the presence of unit roots in the macroeconomic series being examined. Augmented Dickey-Fuller unit root tests for stationarity were calculated and are reported in Table II.4. The lag structure was determined using the Schwarz criterion. The main data series were found to be (i) nonstationary in levels (have unit roots) and (ii) stationary in first differences.

Table II.4.

Augmented Dickey Fuller Unit Root Tests 1/

(1975-2006; annual data)

article image

* and *** denote rejection at, respectively, 10 and 1 percent level. Lags were chosen using the Schwarz criterion.

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1

Prepared by Geert Almekinders (PDR).

2

From the early 1980s until May 1987, the interbank foreign exchange market was organized in two official pools, the central bank pool and the commercial bank pool, each handling different foreign exchange transactions. The official exchange rates in the two markets were set at US$1.43 and US$0.74 per pound, respectively, and did not reflect market forces. In addition, a nonbank free market was officially tolerated. In May 1987, a new bank foreign exchange market was introduced. The rate was initially set at 0.462 U.S. dollars per pound, well below the pool rates, and subsequently allowed to slide, reaching US$0.33 at the end of 1990. The central bank pool rate was devalued a number of times to reach US$0.50 on July 1, 1990. The old commercial bank pool ceased to exist in March 1989. To simplify the exchange rate system and ensure a more competitive exchange rate, the multiple exchange rate system was replaced by a temporary dual exchange rate system consisting of a primary market and a secondary (free) market in February 1991. These markets were subsequently unified in October 1991; see Handy (1998), p. 34.

3

Until the liberalization of the exchange system in February 1991, the transaction-volume-weighted average of the multiple exchange rates vis-à-vis the U.S. dollar is used to calculate the “weighted average” U.S. dollar exchange rate used in the calculation of the effective exchange rate in this paper.

4

These flows are heavily determined by conditions in the external environment and henceforth referred to as “exogenous,” as opposed to, say, manufacturing exports more influenced by domestic factors.

5

The limited variability of consumer prices, possibly reflecting price controls and subsidies, also emerged from Rabanal (2005) who found a pass-through from exchange rate movements to the CPI that was statistically insignificant and much lower than typically found in other countries.

6

An important advantage over single-equation methods (such as the Engle-Granger method) is that this approach accounts for simultaneity and autocorrelation of the endogenous variables.

7

As in other applications of VECM models, the first step is to test for the presence of unit roots in the macroeconomic series being examined. Augmented Dickey-Fuller unit root tests for stationarity are calculated and reported in Appendix I. The main data series are found to be (i) nonstationary in levels (have unit roots) and (ii) stationary in first differences.

8

It is quite common to proxy productivity differentials with developments in relative per capita GDP. However, the issue raised in paragraph 22 (that variations in per capita GDP in Egypt may also reflect variations in income not related to domestic productive activity) may also influence the present estimation results.

9

Koranchelian (2005) and Zalduendo (2006) find coefficients of 1.4 for Algeria and 1.9 for Venezuela.

10

Given that the openness variable refers to total merchandise trade and the “exogenous” current account inflows variable refers, for the most part, to inflows on the services account of the balance of payments and transfers, multicollinearity of the two variables does not seem to be an issue.

11

The “exogenous” current account inflows variable may largely capture the effect of international oil prices. Higher oil prices have a direct impact on this variable (through higher net oil exports) as well as an indirect one (higher oil prices raise GCC countries’ demand for immigrant workers from Egypt, thereby boosting remittances, and make it more costly for East-West trade to circumnavigate South Africa, thereby raising Suez Canal traffic and fees).

12

Once exchange rate adjustments are calculated for all 54 countries included in the CGER’s panel, a final correction is made to these adjustments to ensure that they are mutually consistent. This multilateral consistency is required by the fact that there can only be n-1 independent exchange rates among n currencies (See IMF (2006b).

13

It is common to take last year’s value of the NFA/GDP ratio as the benchmark.

14

Egypt’s proven reserves of natural gas amounted to 72.3 trillion cubic feet (tcf) in 2006/07. The government has indicated that one third of reserves are available for exports. Indeed, gas production has been increasing rapidly in recent years, allowing for gas exports through the pipeline to Jordan and from the LNG plants in Damietta and Idku to rise from virtually zero in 2004 to US$3 billion in calendar year 2006. Given the level of proven reserves and assuming that one third of these reserves will be exported, the current level of exports (about 0.7 tcf per annum) could be sustained for about 33 years. Using conservative assumptions on contracted export prices, the costs of operating the gas plants, and the discount rate, the NPV of the contracted stream of gas export revenues is about US$27 billion. Specifically, at an assumed price of US$148 per thousand cubic meters—which, in combination with the reported gas export volumes, explains the gross export revenues reported in the balance of payments over the past two years—gross export receipts will amount to about US$3.1 billion per annum. The plants operation costs are put at US$500 million per annum, and the discount rate is put at 8.8 percent, in line with interest rates on the recently internationally issued 5-year government bonds denominated in Egyptian pounds.

Arab Republic of Egypt: Selected Issues
Author: International Monetary Fund