Egypt: Draft budget continues slow process of mending public finances, while boosting investment and maintaining social safety net
The draft FY 2019 budget approved by cabinet on 18 March aims to further reduce the budget deficit in order to trim the hefty public debt burden. At the same time, public investment will rise notably, while government spending on basic goods and services will increase to help citizens worst affected by high inflation. The budget will now be reviewed by parliament, a process which could take several months.
The budget sets a fiscal deficit target of 8.4% of GDP for FY 2019. This comes after the government recently revised down its FY 2018 deficit target to between 9.5% and 9.7%—the second such downgrade since January—likely driven in part by higher oil prices and elevated debt servicing costs. The budget sees revenues rising 22.0% year-on-year, outpacing a 15.5% increase in expenditure. Revenue generation will be underpinned by a strengthening economy—the budget banks on 5.8% GDP growth. Public investment is set to rise to EGP 149 billion, up from the EGP 125 billion planned for FY 2018, with a particular focus on Upper Egypt. However, investment spending still makes up a small share of the overall budget and is dwarfed by outlays for social protection and wages, budgeted at EGP 332 billion and EGP 266 billion respectively. The government will also boost spending on basic goods and services to EGP 60 billion, in a bid to make basic staples more affordable and avoid social unrest.
Our panelists currently judge that the government is on course to meet the deficit target for FY 2019. Playing in the government’s favor is that the budget assumes an average oil price of USD 67 per barrel, higher than the FocusEconomics panel of commodities analysts’ forecasts. The fuel subsidy bill could thus be less expensive than the government is currently predicting. In addition, further fuel subsidy cuts are in the pipeline for later this year, while the public coffers could receive a windfall from asset sales, as the government looks to reduce its stakes in several companies. However, downside risks are apparent. The FY 2019 growth forecast appears slightly optimistic compared to our panelists’ projections, while there remains a risk that spending on social programs and wages could grow faster than expected if social pressure mounts.