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Riot police look on during clashes in Simon Bolivar Square, which leads to Tahrir Square, in Cairo, Jan. 30, 2013. (MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY/REUTERS)
Riot police look on during clashes in Simon Bolivar Square, which leads to Tahrir Square, in Cairo, Jan. 30, 2013. (MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY/REUTERS)

Fitch downgrades Egypt's credit rating Add to ...

Fitch Ratings on Wednesday cut Egypt’s sovereign credit rating one notch to B from B-plus, citing a wider budget deficit and instability caused by the country’s political transition.

The downgrade reflects several factors, including a worsened fiscal position, Fitch said in a statement.

“Egypt’s ‘B’ rating reflects a balance between short-term reserve pressure, political upheaval, a weak and deteriorating fiscal position and capital flight, against our assumption that an IMF program will be in place after the election,” Fitch said.

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Fitch cited shortages of foreign exchange reserves and the subsequent decision by the government to tighten capital controls and introduce currency auctions as a concern.

Violence has swept through Egypt’s cities, killing more than 50 people, while the economy has lurched deeper into crisis. The instability occurs two years after a revolution toppled Hosni Mubarak.

In Mr. Mubarak’s place is an Islamist-led government of President Mohamed Mursi, who is struggling to deliver security, stability, jobs and food in a society that is polarized between those seeking a firmer religious hand in day-to-day life and a large secular society fostered by the 30-year rule of Mr. Mubarak.

The lack of trust between the two sides has left Egypt adrift and boiling. The army’s chief warned on Tuesday that the state was on the brink of collapse if Mr. Mursi’s opponents and supporters did not end street battles on the second anniversary of the revolution.

Mr. Mursi, speaking on Wednesday during a brief visit to Berlin that was made in part to reassure Western investors, said he expected economic growth of 5.5 per cent next year and 750,000 new jobs created annually.

Fitch expects growth of 3.3 per cent, on average, over fiscal year 2013 and 2014. That would be “well below the pace necessary to generate sufficient job opportunities for the 700,000 new entrants to the labour force each year,” Fitch said.

The World Bank recently forecast economic growth of 2.6 per cent this year and 3.8 per cent in 2014, rising to 4.7 per cent in 2015.

Egypt has yet to agree with the International Monetary Fund on a $4.8-billion loan to help shore up the economy. An agreement had been expected in December but was postponed due to the political instability, which triggered a plunge in the Egyptian pound to record lows.

Fitch warned that failure to put in place a deal with the IMF in the second quarter, “particularly if accompanied by capital flight, falling reserves and major currency depreciation, could trigger a downgrade.”

The rating outlook remains negative, indicating the potential for further downgrades in the next 12 to 18 months.

Standard & Poor’s rates Egypt B-minus with a negative outlook. Moody’s Investors Service rates the country B2 but has it on watch for a downgrade, possibly before the end of April.

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