Egyptian banks tighten dollar limits after currency pressure mounts

A customer exchanges U.S. dollars to Egyptian pounds in a foreign exchange office in central Cairo, Egypt December 27, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

CAIRO, Oct 10 (Reuters) - Egyptian banks have tightened limits on foreign currency withdrawals from local currency accounts as they seek to conserve scarce dollars.

Though no industry-wide rules have been announced, in recent days a number of banks have sent notifications instructing clients with Egyptian pound accounts of new monthly limits on how much foreign currency they can withdraw before travelling or when using debit and credit cards abroad.

Egypt has been struggling with a shortage of dollars exacerbated by the knock-on effects of the war in Ukraine, which has put pressure on the currency and sharply slowed down imports.

From the start of October, HSBC (HSBA.L) reduced the maximum monthly withdrawal for travel purposes to $1,500 from $5,000, and the maximum customers could withdraw abroad to $5,000 from $10,000 a month, two sources at the bank said.

One source at Commercial International Bank (CIB) (COMI.CA) said the lender was allowing customers to withdraw $1,000-$2,000 before they travel, depending on the size of their accounts, down from $10,000 previously.

Because of domestic dollar scarcity, some customers had been depositing money in local currency in order to withdraw it in foreign currency at official rates abroad, said the source.

Neither bank could immediately be reached for official comment on the measures.

First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB.AD) has lowered the limit for most cash withdrawals abroad to 10,000 EGP according to a message sent to customers, from 50,000 EGP before, while Bank Misr has limited withdrawals abroad to $1,500.

The central bank has been letting the currency depreciate gradually after a sharp devaluation in March. Egypt is negotiating new financing from the International Monetary Fund, which has called for a more flexible exchange rate policy.

($1 = 19.6300 Egyptian pounds)

Reporting by Mahmoud Salama Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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