World Economy

Algeria Plans to Privatize Banks

Algeria’s six government-run banks account for most of the sector’s assets.Algeria’s six government-run banks account for most of the sector’s assets.

Algeria plans to allow its dominant state banks to list on the local stock exchange to help develop its financial markets and diversify sources of funding after the oil price slide, a senior financial official said.

The plan will open the door for foreign investors to acquire controlling stakes in banks, reversing a rule requiring Algerian firms to keep a majority shareholding in any partnership with foreigners, the official told Reuters.

Algeria’s six government-run banks account for most of the sector’s assets. French companies such as Societe Generale and BNP Paribas have the strongest presence among foreign-owned banks already working in the country.

OPEC member Algeria’s economy has been largely based on a state-run and centralized system since its independence from France in 1962 and it remains reliant on an energy sector that still provides 60% of its budget.

But the oil price drop since 2014 has put Algeria under financial pressure, forcing the government to trim spending and search for alternative financing sources.

“The era of $100 a barrel is over. We have no choice but to change our policy,” the official said, asking not to be named because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

“Reforms will move slowly, but there will be no step backwards.”

With more than $130 billion in foreign exchange reserves and little foreign debt, Algeria is in better shape than other oil producers such as Venezuela. However, it has been forced to push up taxes and increase subsidized gasoline and diesel prices, scaling back a vast welfare system that has in the past helped ease social tensions.

  Past Failure

Algeria is now far safer following the end of a war it fought with armed terrorists in the 1990s that killed 200,000 people.

Its government has been keen to promote the expansion of its agriculture, health, manufacturing and tourist sectors but cumbersome bureaucracy has put off investors.

It is also not the first attempt at selling off the banks. The government scrapped previous plans for a bank privatization in 2007, just two days before the deadline for the submission of bids, citing an international banking crisis at the time. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have since repeatedly urged Algeria to reform the underdeveloped banking sector and modernize its stock exchange to help attract investment.