Some Egypt businesses thrive in crush of downturn
By Shaimaa Fayed and Patrick Werr, ReutersCAIRO -- Egypt's smaller companies have struggled since the political uprising, but in a few corners of the economy, businesses are doing just fine.
August 12, 2013, 11:04 am TWN
Against a background of unrest, access to credit and foreign currency has dried up. Government officials have stopped taking decisions and security has all but disappeared from the streets.
Factories and workshops have been hit by interruptions in subsidized diesel and gasoline and by regular power outages as the government runs low on the dollars it needs to import petroleum products from abroad.
Angry workers routinely shut down plants and block ports.
Gross domestic product grew at an annualized rate of just 2.3 percent in the nine months to end-March, well below the 6 percent a year thought necessary to absorb new entrants to the labour force.
But for many in the food production, building supply and other businesses, even though the economy may have slowed, people keep demanding services.
“Last year we had in sales volume terms and in value terms our best-ever year in the Egyptian market, and this year will be even better,” said Taher Gargour, managing director of sanitary ware and tile-maker Lecico Egypt.
“We're selling more at higher prices than we've done in any year, even the best years of the Mubarak economy when overall GDP growth was at its peak.”
At a time when mainstream contractors were suffering for lack of business, Lecico has been supplying toilets and tiles to small and individual builders who were taking advantage of a breakdown in government zoning rules.
Across the country, skylines have turned brick-red as people add illegal floors and build concrete and fired-brick buildings on agricultural and other restricted land.
The building boom has also been driven by Egypt's bulge of young adults at marriage age seeking a place to live.
“The other story is that given uncertainties about the economy and the strength of the Egyptian pound, people are moving to real estate as a sort of safe haven investment,” Gargour said.
Lecico's net profit jumped 28 percent year-on-year to 16.3 million Egyptian pounds in the first quarter of 2013, while revenue climbed 15 percent to 331.9 million pounds.
Feeding the Fish
Hussien Mansour, chief executive of Aller Aqua Egypt, a maker of extruded feed pellets for fish farms, says the business environment has become insufferable.
“Egypt's currency problem makes it harder to import,” Mansour said. “The diesel shortage is hurting production. Wages are rising and security on roads has become a problem.”
As the government borrows to finance a steadily growing budget deficit, private borrowers are being crowded out.