Savings, Markets and Finance - Your money

Some egypt businesses thrive in crush of economic downturn


´╗┐* Some businesses thrive despite economy's problems* Access to credit and foreign currency dries up* But demand is strong in some sectorsBy Shaimaa Fayed and Patrick WerrCAIRO, Aug 11 Egypt's smaller companies have struggled since the uprising that pushed aside Hosni Mubarak in 2011. But in a few corners of the economy, businesses are doing just fine. Against a background of unrest, access to credit and foreign currency has dried up. Government officials have stopped taking decisions and security has all but disappeared from the streets. Factories and workshops have been hit by interruptions in subsidised diesel and gasoline and by regular power outages as the government runs low on the dollars it needs to import petroleum products from abroad. Angry workers routinely shut down plants and block ports. Gross domestic product grew at an annualised rate of just 2.3 percent in the nine months to end-March, well below the 6 percent a year thought necessary to absorb new entrants to the labour force. But for many in the food production, building supply and other businesses, even though the economy may have slowed, people keep demanding services."Last year we had in sales volume terms and in value terms our best-ever year in the Egyptian market, and this year will be even better," said Taher Gargour, managing director of sanitary ware and tile-maker Lecico Egypt."We're selling more at higher prices than we've done in any year, even the best years of the Mubarak economy when overall GDP growth was at its peak."At a time when mainstream contractors were suffering for lack of business, Lecico has been supplying toilets and tiles to small and individual builders who were taking advantage of a breakdown in government zoning rules. Across the country, skylines have turned brick-red as people add illegal floors and build concrete and fired-brick buildings on agricultural and other restricted land.

The building boom has also been driven by Egypt's bulge of young adults at marriage age seeking a place to live."The other story is that given uncertainties about the economy and the strength of the Egyptian pound, people are moving to real estate as a sort of safe haven investment," Gargour said. Lecico's net profit jumped 28 percent year-on-year to 16.3 million Egyptian pounds in the first quarter of 2013, while revenue climbed 15 percent to 331.9 million pounds. FEEDING THE FISH Hussien Mansour, chief executive of Aller Aqua Egypt, a maker of extruded feed pellets for fish farms, says the business environment has become insufferable."Egypt's currency problem makes it harder to import," Mansour said. "The diesel shortage is hurting production. Wages are rising and security on roads has become a problem."

As the government borrows to finance a steadily growing budget deficit, private borrowers are being crowded out. Banks are giving fewer loans, demanding more rigorous guarantees and setting more conditions. They now typically charge 18 percent interest on loans, plus administrative costs and fees, Mansour said. The lack of access to credit means businesses have to prepay with cash, which ties up capital and is painful for companies whose products have an expiry date."The collection time that used to take a week can now take two months. This is affecting very big companies as well as small companies," he said. Yet this hasn't stopped Aller Aqua, an Egyptian-Danish partnership, from taking advantage of the economic downturn to build a new factory in Sixth of October City west of Cairo."Lots of contractors are suffering because the market is bad. Many have suspended operations," Mansour said. Egypt is a world leader in tilapia farming, mostly on the Nile Delta, where fish are typically reared in flooded rice fields. Aller Aqua's 40 permanent staff and 40 temporary workers use imported soy, corn, fish meal and other raw materials to produce 20 percent of the country's extruded fish feed.

The factory will triple the company's capacity, making it the biggest extruded feed maker in Egypt's rapidly growing market, Mansour said. RED TAPE Hammam Elabd, chief executive of Western Mechatronics, a maker of industrial scales, conveyor belts and other factory products, also says credit has been a concern. Before the 2011 uprising, smaller companies were rarely asked to provide letters of guarantee when buying goods on instalment, but now it is standard. And before, the bank would typically demand a down payment of 30 to 40 percent. Now they are asking for 100 percent, Elabd said."The impact has been tremendous. Sales have gone down, expenses have gone up, and financing of the basic things that you buy and sell has been a problem," he said. This has cut into Elabd's sales, but he has found an alternative to the home market."If not for our contracts outside Egypt it would have been worse," said Elabd, who said he had turned in particular to the market in Libya. The foreign sales have helped Elabd skirt the problem of foreign currency for imports that has hurt many other companies. The government tightened access to foreign currency after a run on the pound in December, with priority given to importers of commodities defined as essential, such as basic foods. But even importers of these commodities who were eligible for currency at the official rate have had to buy some of their currency on the black market, said Mansour of Aqua Aller. Even then banks keep demanding new documents."Companies must provide customs documents to banks. Companies are allowed to withdraw a maximum $30,000 a day, so it can take two weeks or more to complete a sizeable import purchase," Mansour said."We have problems convincing foreign investors to work with us or to finance what we import from them or to allow us to pay later in instalments - they all demand up-front payments for anything they would export here," Elabd said.

Your money what can a divorce coach do for you


´╗┐Getting unmarried is as time-consuming and detail-oriented as tying the knot in the first place, so if you were the type to hire a wedding planner, it's not a far leap to think you'd want a divorce coach."The whole process is an emotional roller coaster," says Candace Pittenger, 51, a natural healer in Carlsbad, California, who used a divorce coach this year to help end her 13-year marriage."You're splitting up everything - your house, your stuff, our children, which in our case are our furry pets. I knew a lot of emotions would come up, and I needed someone to help me deal with all of those."Just as the 1990s brought the rise of life coaches, the new millennium is the age of the divorce coach. It's a concept that appears to have started with Dr. Kim Lurie, a Merrick, New York, attorney who began calling herself a divorce coach in the 1990s. The phrase "divorce coach" doesn't begin turning up in newspaper archives until the 2000s, when attorneys, financial mediators, psychotherapists and other professionals began reinventing themselves and calling themselves divorce coaches. In recent years, businesses around the country have taken divorce coaching to a new level: A couple works with several coaches, each specializing in things such as finances and co-parenting. The key to finding a competent divorce coach is researching your coach's background - whether it's law, finance or counseling - and deciding if it will lend itself to helping you navigate your divorce. Some divorce coaches do receive specialized training, but if you aren't careful, you could wind up hiring a divorce coach whose only experience is having been divorced. The industry is in its infancy even as its (mostly) affluent clients struggle with very grown-up problems. So if you're thinking of hiring a divorce coach, here is what they can help you with.1. Pre-legal advice

Many people use divorce coaches to minimize talking to their lawyers. It's a chance to vent about what a jerk your ex is to a professional who isn't going to bill you as much. Pittenger used her divorce coach to take lawyers almost completely out of the equation. She worked with an attorney-turned-divorce coach, Laura McGee, who referred her to Sarah Elder, who runs Divorce with Dignity, a service that specializes in legal documents needed for divorce. Mostly, though, divorce coaches are used in conjunction with attorneys."I love them, and if I had my way, I'd never work without them," says Brigitte Bell, a Chicago divorce attorney. "They help manage the clients and support them by bringing a different set of skills to the divorce process than we do."Randall Cooper, co-founder of CDC College for Divorce Coaching in Tampa, Florida, which provides training and certification to divorce coaches, says the average cost of a divorce coach is $100 to $150 per hour, versus several hundred per hour for an attorney. The cost of either often depends on geography.

McGee, of San Diego, charges $225 for a 90-minute coaching session and $375 for a 2.5-hour session. Someone with a really complicated divorce may want to spend $675 for her five-hour session. Just don't mistake a divorce coach's advice for legal advice. "It's not," says Cooper. "That's the realm of the attorney."2. Hand-holding

While some people lean on friends and family for support, that can come with its own emotional baggage. Many divorced individuals, says Dave Hilton, a Dallas-based financial conflict coach, have "family members pushing them extremely hard to take their ex for all they are worth or hurt them in another way."Cooper says his job is to be his client's "thinking partner." Divorce is a long process, and the coach goes along for the ride - not as legal counsel or therapist, but as a guide. "It's all about creating a safe, supportive, nonjudgmental and patient environment," says Cooper. And the objectivity of a paid coach can be useful, says Beth Ashby, 46, a former nurse in West Lafayette, Indiana, who is getting her divorce coach certificate from CDC. "A divorce coach can really help someone define and refine their goals and let you pare down and peel the onion layers and get to what really matters," she says. But be aware that even if coaching costs a lot less than most lawyers, fees can add up if you book a lot of hours.3. OrganizingYou may have your emotions in order but not your paperwork, so there are free and low-cost services available, such as legal aid societies and software programs like DivorceWriter.com and RocketLawyer.com. But if that's still too difficult, a coach is one level up in help (and cost). Chris Furney, a project manager at a consumer products company in Atlanta, and his wife Anna ended their marriage in 2010 using Divorce Innovations, which specializes in divorce without lawyers. Two coaches helped the couple with everything from navigating their taxes to working out child-support issues, which was very helpful, says Furney, who admits to not initially understanding the nuts and bolts of the process. Furney says he spent about $3,000 on his attorneys and $7,000 at Divorce Innovations, which shows that divorce coach costs can add up. But he estimates he might have spent three times that if he had only gone with lawyers, and would have lost plenty from the financial mistakes he would have made on his own.