Moody's Investors Service downgraded the ratings for five Egyptian banks while Standard & Poor's lowered its ratings for two banks, in the latest volley of bad news for the economy of a nation mired in violent protests.
Moody's cuts come just two days after it lowered Egypt's sovereign rating, citing the unrest that has gripped the Arab world's most populous nation for more than a week. It warned that the five banks' ratings remain on review for possible additional downgrade. Analysts have grown increasingly concerned of a spillover effect, worried that the chaos will begin to affect other countries in the oil-rich Mideast.
Both international ratings agencies cited the political turmoil in Egypt and its potential impact on the country's economy, raising concerns that included a possible liquidity squeeze and government's ability to support the banking sector.
Moody's said the downgrade of the local currency deposit ratings of the banks was "mainly driven by our reassessment of the country's capacity to support its banking system, following the lowering of the government's ratings."
It said it was concerned that the current political uncertainty, if not resolved, "could negatively impact foreign direct investment flows into the country and disrupt economic activity, thereby weakening the performance of the main economic sectors."
Business has been sharply disrupted in Egypt as the protests have dragged on. Tourists are fleeing in droves, many factories have suspended production and the national carrier EgyptAir is flying only about 25 percent of its scheduled flights.
In addition, banks have been closed since Jan. 28, as has the country's stock exchange which saw its benchmark index fall about 17 percent in the span of two days before the weekend. It remains unclear when the exchange or the banks will reopen.
The five banks affected by Moody's cuts were the National Bank of Egypt, Banque Misr, Banque du Caire, Commercial International Bank and Bank of Alexandria.
Moody's cut NBE, Banque Misr, Commercial International Bank and Bank of Alexandria's local deposit ratings two notches, to Ba1/NP, while Banque du Caire's LDR was lowered one notch to Ba1/NP. The cuts are all to levels well below prime.
Meanwhile, S&P, which had yesterday lowered Egypt's long-term foreign currency sovereign rating to BB from BB-plus, cut the ratings for the National Bank of Egypt and the Commercial International Bank to BB, from BB-plus. It said its cuts reflected the worries about the ongoing political instability and the risk the unrest would affect liquidity in the banking sector.
In addition, there were worries that the weakening of Egypt's creditworthiness could affect the government's ability to provide support, if needed, for government-related entities such as NBE.
"The ratings on NBE ... reflect our opinion of the bank's poor asset quality, very weak capitalization, and risky operating environment," S&P said.
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