6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
The Algiers Stock Exchange has five stocks listed – each at no more than 35 percent equity. There is a small and medium enterprise exchange with one listed company. The exchange has a total market capitalization representing less than 0.1 percent of Algeria’s GDP. Daily trading volume on the exchange averages around USD 2,000. Despite its small size, the market functions well and is adequately regulated by an independent oversight commission that enforces compliance requirements on listed companies and traders.
Government officials aim to reach a capitalization of USD 7.8 billion in the next five years and enlist up to 50 new companies. Attempts to list additional companies have been stymied by a lack both of public awareness and appetite for portfolio investment, as well as by private and public companies’ unpreparedness to satisfy due diligence requirements that would attract investors. Proposed privatizations of state-owned companies have also been opposed by the public. Algerian society generally prefers material investment vehicles for savings, namely cash. Public banks, which dominate the banking sector (see below), are required to purchase government securities when offered, meaning they have little leftover liquidity to make other investments. Foreign portfolio investment is prohibited – the purchase of any investment product in Algeria, whether a government or corporate bond or equity stock, is limited to Algerian residents only.
Money and Banking System
The banking sector is roughly 85 percent public and 15 percent private as measured by value of assets held, and is regulated by an independent central bank. Publicly available data from private institutions and U.S. Federal Reserve Economic Data show estimated total assets in the commercial banking sector in 2017 were roughly 13.9 trillion dinars (USD 116.7 billion) against 9.2 trillion dinars (USD 77.2 billion) in liabilities. The central bank had mandated a 12 percent reserve requirement until mid-2016, when in response to a drop in liquidity the bank lowered the threshold to eight percent. In August 2017, the ratio was further reduced to 4% in an effort to inject further liquidity into the banking system. The decrease in liquidity was a result of all public banks buying government bonds in the first public bond issuance in more than 10 years; buying at least five percent of the offered bonds is required for banks to participate as primary dealers in the government securities market. The bond issuance essentially returned funds to the state that it had deposited at local banks during years of high hydrocarbons profits. In January 2018, the bank increased the retention ratio from 4 percent to 8 percent, followed by a further increase in February 2019 to a 12 percent ratio in anticipation of a rise in bank liquidity due to the government’s non-conventional financing policy, which allows the Treasury to borrow directly from the central bank to pay state debts. In response to liquidity concerns caused by the oil price decline in March 2020, the bank decreased the reserve requirement to 8 percent.
The IMF and Bank of Algeria have noted moderate growth in non-performing assets, currently estimated between 10-12 percent of total assets. The quality of service in public banks is generally considered low as generations of public banking executives and workers trained to operate in a statist economy lack familiarity with modern banking practices. Most transactions are materialized (non-electronic). Many areas of the country suffer from a dearth of branches, leaving large amounts of the population without access to banking services. ATMs are not widespread, especially outside the major cities, and few accept foreign bankcards. Outside of major hotels with international clientele, hardly any retail establishments accept credit cards. Algerian banks do issue debit cards, but the system is distinct from any international payment system. In addition, approximately 4.6 trillion dinars ( USD 40 billion), or one-third, of the money supply is estimated to circulate in the informal economy.
Foreigners can open foreign currency accounts without restriction, but proof of a work permit or residency is required to open an account in Algerian dinars. Foreign banks are permitted to establish operations in the country, but they must be legally distinct entities from their overseas home offices.
In 2015, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) removed Algeria from its Public Statement, and in 2016 it removed Algeria from the “gray list.” The FATF recognized Algeria’s significant progress and the improvement in its anti-money laundering/counter terrorist financing (AML/CFT) regime. The FATF also indicated Algeria has substantially addressed its action plan since strategic deficiencies were identified in 2011.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
There are few statutory restrictions on foreign investors converting, transferring, or repatriating funds, according to banking executives. Monies cannot be expatriated to pay royalties or to pay for services provided by resident foreign companies. The difficultly with conversions and transfers results mostly from the procedures of the transfers rather than the statutory limitations: the process is bureaucratic and requires almost 30 different steps from start to finish. Missteps at any stage can slow down or completely halt the process. Transfers should take roughly one month to complete, but often take three to six months. Also, the Algerian government has been known to delay the process as leverage in commercial and financial disputes with foreign companies.
Expatriated funds can be converted to any world currency. The IMF classifies the exchange rate regime as an “other managed arrangement,” with the central bank pegging the value of the Algerian dinar (DZD) to a “basket” composed of 64 percent of the value of the U.S. dollar and 36 percent of the value of the euro. The currency’s value is not controlled by any market mechanism and is set solely by the central bank. As the Central Bank controls the official exchange rate of the dinar, any change in its value could be considered currency manipulation. When dollar-denominated hydrocarbons profits fell starting in mid-2014, the central bank allowed a slow depreciation of the dinar against the dollar over 24 months, culminating in about a 30 percent fall in its value before stabilizing around 110 dinars to the U.S. dollar in late 2016. However, the dinar lost only about 10 percent of its value against the euro in the same time frame. The 2020 Finance Law forecast a 10 percent depreciation of the dinar against the dollar over three years. Between March 8 and March 30 2020, the government allowed the dinar to depreciate five percent against the dollar. Imbalances in foreign exchange supply and demand caused by the COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020 led to a steep decline in the value of the euro and dollar on the foreign exchange black market.
There have been no recent changes to remittance policies. Algerian exchange control law remains strict and complex. There are no specific time limitations, although the bureaucracy involved in remittances can often slow the process to as long as six months. Personal transfers of foreign currency into the country must be justified and declared as not for business purpose. There is no legal parallel market through which investors can remit; however, there is a substantial black market for foreign currency, where the dollar and euro trade at a significant premium above official rates, although economic disruptions related to the outbreak of COVID-19 in March 2020 led to interruptions in the functioning of the black market. With the more favorable informal rates, local sources report that most remittances occur via foreign currency hand-carried into the country. Under central bank regulations revised in September 2016, travelers to Algeria are permitted to enter the country with up to 1,000 euros or equivalent without declaring the funds to customs. However, any non-resident can only exchange dinars back to a foreign currency with proof of initial conversion from the foreign currency. The same regulations prohibit the transfer of more than 3,000 dinars (USD 26) outside Algeria.
Private citizens may convert up to 15,000 dinars (USD 127) per year for travel abroad. To do the conversion, they must demonstrate proof of their intention to travel abroad through plane tickets or other official documents.
In April 2019, the Finance Ministry announced the creation of a vigilance committee to monitor and control financial transactions to foreign countries. It divided operations into three categories relating to 1) imports, 2) investments abroad, and 3) transfer abroad of profits.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
Algeria’s sovereign wealth fund (SWF) is the “Fonds de Regulation des Recettes (FRR).” The Finance Ministry’s website shows the fund decreased from 4408.2 billion dinars (USD 37.36 billion) in 2014 to 784.5 billion dinars (USD 6.65 billion) in 2016. Algerian media reported the FRR was spent down to zero as of February 2017. Algeria is not known to have participated in the IMF-hosted International Working Group on SWF’s.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
There is a shortage of skilled labor in Algeria in all sectors. Business contacts report difficulty in finding sufficiently skilled plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and other construction/vocational related areas. Oil companies report they have difficultly retaining trained Algerian engineers and field workers because these workers often leave Algeria for higher wages in the Gulf. Some white-collar employers also report a lack of skilled project managers, supply chain engineers, and sufficient numbers of office workers with requisite computer and soft skills.
Official unemployment figures are measured by the number of persons seeking work through the National Employment Agency (ANEM). Unemployment in 2019 dropped slightly to 11.4 percent. Unemployment is significantly higher among certain demographics, including 29 percent of young people (ages 16-24). The rate of unemployed young men decreased in 2019, from 9.9 to 9.1 percent. The percentage of unemployed young women increased from 2018 from 19.4 percent to 20.4 percent. Roughly 70 percent of the population is under 30.
An important factor in the increased unemployment rate in 2019 is the government’s continued austerity policy since 2015, which has resulted in the cancellation of several investment projects, the freezing of recruitment in the public sector, and the decision not to replace government positions lost to normal attrition. Additionally, the subsidy allotted to finance vocational integration (le dispositif d’insertion professionnelle) decreased from 135 billion dinars in 2013 to 44.1 billion in 2019. In general, finding a job is regulated by the government and bureaucratically complex. Prospective employees must register with the labor office, submit paper resumes door to door, attend career fairs, and comb online job offerings. According to the Office of National Statistics, 81 percent of university graduates say that they favor “family relationships” or “the family network” as the best way to look for a job.
The private sector accounts for 62.2 percent of total employment with 7.014 million people, with 37.8 percent in the public sector, employing 4.267 million people. Additionally, the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that more than one-third of all employment in Algeria takes place in the informal economy. The Ministry of Vocational Training sponsors programs that offer training to at least 300,000 Algerians annually, including those who did not complete high school, in various professional programs.
Companies must submit extensive justification to hire foreign employees, and report pressure to hire more locals (even if jobs could be replaced through mechanization) under the implied risk that the government will not approve visas for expatriate staff. There are no special economic zones or foreign trade zones in Algeria.
The constitution provides workers with the right to join and form unions of their choice provided they are Algerian citizens. The country has ratified the ILO’s conventions on freedom of association and collective bargaining, but failed to enact legislation needed to implement these principles fully. The General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA) is the largest union in Algeria and represents a broad spectrum of employees in the public sectors. The UGTA, an affiliate of the International Trade Union Conference, is an official member of the Algerian “tripartite,” a council of labor, government, and business officials that meets annually to collaborate on economic and labor policy. The Algerian government liaises almost exclusively with the UGTA, however unions in the education, health, and administration sectors do meet and negotiate with government counterparts, especially when there is a possibility of a strike. Collective bargaining is legally permitted but is not mandatory.
Algerian law provides mechanisms for monitoring labor abuses and health and safety standards, and international labor rights are recognized under domestic law, but are only effectively regulated in the formal economy. The government has shown an increasing interest in understanding and monitoring the informal economy, evidenced by its 2018 partnerships with the ILO and current cooperation with the World Bank on several projects aimed at better quantifying the informal sector.
Sector-specific strikes occur often in Algeria, though general strikes are less common. The law provides for the right to strike, and workers exercise this right, subject to conditions. Striking requires a secret ballot of the whole workforce, and the decision to strike must be approved by a majority vote of the workers at a general meeting. The government may restrict strikes on a number of grounds, including economic crisis, obstruction of public services, or the possibility of subversive actions. Furthermore, all public demonstrations, including protests and strikes, must receive prior government authorization. By law, workers may strike only after 14 days of mandatory conciliation or mediation. The government occasionally offers to mediate disputes. The law states that decisions agreed to in mediation are binding on both parties. If mediation does not lead to an accord, workers may strike legally after they vote by secret ballot. The law requires that a minimum level of essential public services must be maintained, and the government has broad legal authority to requisition public employees. The list of essential services includes banking, radio, and television. Penalties for unlawful work stoppages range from eight days to two months imprisonment.
In 2019, there were strikes at the end of the year, largely in the public health and public education sectors. Medical residents went on strike demanding higher pay, better working conditions, and male residents sought an exemption from mandatory military service requirements. After weeks of strikes, the Ministry of Health made some concessions in terms of additional benefits for doctors, and the residents resumed work. Teachers also went on strike for higher pay and complained of perceived inequalities in the pay scale. After weeks of strikes and a closed-door meeting, the Ministry of Education and unions came to an agreement, but to date no changes have been implemented and periodic teacher strikes continue.
Stringent labor-market regulations likely inhibit an increase in full-time, open-ended work. Regulations do not allow for flexibility in hiring and firing in times of economic downturn. For example, employers are generally required to pay severance when laying off or firing workers. Unemployment insurance eligibility requirements may discourage job seekers from collecting benefits due to them, and the level of support claimants receive is minimal. Employers must have contributed up to 80 percent of the final year salary into the unemployment insurance scheme in order for the employees to qualify for unemployment benefits.
The law contains occupational health and safety standards but enforcement of these standards is uneven. There were no known reports of workers dismissed for removing themselves from hazardous working conditions. If workers face hazardous conditions, they may file a complaint with the Ministry of Labor, which is required to send out labor inspectors to investigate the claim. Nevertheless, the high demand for unemployment in Algeria gives an advantage to employers seeking to exploit employees.
Because Algerian law does not provide for temporary legal status for migrants, labor standards do not protect economic migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere working in the country without legal immigration status. However, migrant children are protected by law from working.
The Ministry of Labor enforces labor standards, including compliance with the minimum wage regulation and safety standards. Companies that employ migrant workers or violate child labor laws are subject to fines and potentially prosecution.
The law prohibits participation by minors in dangerous, unhealthy, or harmful work or in work considered inappropriate because of social and religious considerations. The minimum legal age for employment is 16, but younger children may work as apprentices with permission from their parents or legal guardian. The law prohibits workers under age 19 from working at night. While there is currently no list of hazardous occupations prohibited to minors, the government reports it is drafting a list which will be issued by presidential decree. Although specific data was unavailable, children reportedly worked mostly in the informal sector, largely in sales, often in family businesses. They are also involved in begging and agricultural work. There were isolated reports that children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation.
The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws. There is no single office charged with this task, but all labor inspectors are responsible for enforcing laws regarding child labor. In 2018, the Ministry of Labor focused one month specifically on investigating child labor violations, and in some cases prosecuted individuals for employing minors or breaking other child-related labor laws. While the government claims to monitor both the formal and informal sectors, contacts note that their efforts largely focus on the formal economy.
The National Authority of the Protection and Promotion of Children (ONPPE) is an inter-agency organization, created in 2016, which coordinates the protection and promotion of children’s rights. As a part of its efforts, in 2018 ONPPE held educational sessions for officials from relevant ministries, civil society organizations, and journalists on issues related to children, including child labor and human trafficking.