Egypt moves to help foreign investors repatriate funds

CAIRO Sun Mar 17, 2013 6:41am EDT

Vehicles drive by in front of Central Bank of Egypt Headquarters in Cairo December 30, 2012. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Vehicles drive by in front of Central Bank of Egypt Headquarters in Cairo December 30, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's central bank opened a scheme on Sunday allowing foreign investors in the stock and government debt markets access to dollars despite severe shortages of foreign currency.

In a statement posted on its website, the central bank said it had decided to restart and broaden a mechanism helping foreign investors to repatriate their funds that was used in 2000-2003 - also a period of dollar shortages when the Egyptian pound's value fell sharply.

"In addressing the central bank's responsibility for moving the Egyptian economy securely through the exceptional circumstances that the country is going through, it has decided to reenact those mechanisms starting Sunday," the bank said.

Egypt has endured two years of political instability, driving tourists and foreign investors away and draining its foreign reserves. These fell to a critical level of $13.5 billion at the end of February from $36 billion just before the uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

The Egyptian pound has lost more than 8 percent against the dollar since the end of last year and central bank has rationed dollars through auctions to commercial banks to slow the slide in the pound and the reserves.

The "Foreign Investors' Repatriation Mechanism" will be expanded to cover treasury bills and bonds in addition to investments on the Egyptian stock market, the statement said.

Egypt wants to negotiate a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund and has rejected the possibility of short-term IMF financing during its current political uncertainty. The IMF's Director for the Middle East and North Africa Masood Ahmed is due in Cairo for talks with the government on Sunday.

Parliamentary elections were supposed to start on April 22 but a court cancelled President Mohamed Mursi's decree calling them. An appeal against the ruling is being heard on Sunday.

(Reporting by Asma Alsharif; editing by David Stamp and Keiron Henderson)

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