Egyptian businessperson Naguib Sawiris said he plans to completely back away from communications investments to focus more on real estate, financial services, and agricultural industries.
Sawiris said at the Hapi Investment Conference that he plans to sell his cabling investments in Egypt, Italy, and Pakistan, adding, “I do not like communication investing anymore and I aim to sell my investments.”
He added that he has had serious discussions to sell his investments in cabling projects in Egypt, but a deal has not been determined yet, noting that the discussions are with an Egyptian company.
Sawiris said that he does not have many investments in the communications sector, which faces major issues globally and needs international regulations.
“I agreed to sell Mobinil Co in 2011 and then did it in 2012. However, I can buy it again with about only 20% of the amount I sold it for, but I do not want to invest again in the communications sector,” added Sawiris.
Meanwhile, he said that the latest economic measures positively affected the availability of currency in the Egyptian market and bumped the foreign reserves of the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) to very high rates.
“We bravely implemented the reform programme in terms of cutting subsidies and floating the Egyptian pound. We did not care about false accusations of bad IMF policies,” said Sawiris, adding that issuing the Investment Law was a good sign, but the implementation of its regulations should have been better.
“There is a remarkable increase in investment deals. The increasing EGX deals are an indicator,” Sawiris noted, adding that the Egyptian market has a lot of opportunities but lacks professional marketing.
Real estate is the only sector that is currently operating well, said Sawiris, saying many new investors entered the construction field to enjoy the high revenues, noting that logistics and transportation projects have a lot of potential.
“The general view of the market is promising, especially for the next four or five years,” mentioned Sawiris.
The government has to fully implement its announced plans in terms of a one-stop-shop project, he said. The plan is very good, but we have not activated it efficiently yet, said Sawiris, answering a question from Radwa Ibrahim, Hapi’s editorial manager, regarding the remaining difficulties that face investors after the reform measures.
He added that the pre-implementation security approval is one of the main challenges that face investors, clarifying that many investors complain of delayed security approvals or unreasonable rejections.
Sawiris said that investors face another problem, which is the halting of new projects in the North Coast until the new governmental development strategy for the area is announced.
“Construction is the biggest engine of the Egyptian economy right now,” said Sawiris, noting that investors prefer to invest their money where there are less challenges, further noting, “there are many countries which offer the same opportunities as Egypt, but with better investment climates and less problems, so investors will choose investing there rather than Egypt.”
Sawiris said that he is interested in investing in real estate, especially after conducting a study on the Egyptian market’s opportunities in real estate by a foreign consultant, which concluded that Egypt has a lot of demand in its real state sector.
“We need to offer affordable apartments for the middle class. The current prices are not reasonable and unbelievable. We should make a system that offers youth facilitations on payments,” said Sawiris.
Sawiris added that he is looking forward to buying land from the government, but gave no further details.
“I have a dramatic experience in dealing with the Egyptian government in terms of the Nile Sugar Company,” said Sawiris, clarifying that the government asks the company to lower the price for citizens, while the company has already paid farmers a hefty price, which results in losses for the company and disrupts its plans.
Sawiris said that the government should let farmers plant the crops that they want and let the prices be based on demand and supply elements.
He said he wants to sell the Nile Sugar Company as soon as he receives a purchasing offer and does not recommend investing in sugar to any other investors.
In another context, Sawiris said that he hopes that the CBE will change its regulations and allow Egyptian businesspersons to establish banks in the market so that he can enter the banking sector.
“I did not have the chance to meet the CBE Governor Tarek Amer to discuss establishing banks issues, but I am confident we can change the wrong inherited ideas,” added Sawiris.
Sawiris emphasised his successful experience in the banking sector in Luxembourg, with an automated system offering loans to SMEs with low interest rates.
Meanwhile, Sawiris said that he aims to change regulations in the minerals sector, adding that the government should follow the results of the international experiences in extracting minerals.
Sawiris added, “other countries take the taxations and customs and do not determine a huge specific share of the extracted minerals before starting the projects.”
The government offered eight locations to investors, but no one applied because it is not attractive for them to invest in the minerals sector with the current regulations, said Sawiris.
“Sudan has good regulations in the minerals sector, better than Egypt. I will apply for two licenses in Sudan soon,” added Sawiris.
Sawiris said that he quietly sold the company Blue Media, refusing to talk about investments in the media sector when asked by Yasmin Monir, editorial manager at Hapi, about the outlook of media investments.
Sawiris said that he is not interested in investing in any of the companies in the governmental IPO programme, even if they are profitable companies, clarifying that the problems of the governmental companies are management ones and IPOs will not solve those problems.
Further, he added that he is interested in investing in governmental electricity, petroleum, and transportation companies, with the exception of railways.
“I do not want to have partnerships with the Egyptian government nor other governments in the world either. I always like to work by myself,” said Sawiris.
Meanwhile, Sawiris said he is happy with his investments in the cinema sector in terms of filmmaking and organising film festivals, noting the he receives a lot of support from the Ministry of Culture. He does not, however, wish to enter a partnership with it.