Sun, Oct 07, 2012 - Page 14 News List

How wheat market’s most powerful man keeps Egyptians fed

Subsidized bread has been a load-bearing pillar of Egyptian society since the 1950s, and it is trader Nomani Nasr Nomani who ensures that it never crumbles

By Shaimaa Fayed  /  Reuters, CAIRO

“He knows what he’s doing and I would say that the work done by GASC so far has been impressive. They know when to enter the market and they give themselves a lot of flexibility,” said a Cairo-based trader, who has known Nomani for over a decade.

Nomani, once a keen soccer player who now prefers reading and playing chess, has worked at GASC for more than 30 years. As vice chairman since 2009 he leads a dealing room where specialist staff cover every region from which Egypt buys wheat around the clock.

“They live according to the timings of the countries they cover. Some come very early, some later, some stay at night till the exchange in question closes,” he said.

GASC announces it is seeking wheat late at night in Egypt and decides about its purchases the following afternoon. Once Nomani has reviewed the bids GASC announces its purchases, making a burst of headlines on the terminals of Reuters and other news agencies.

Some people criticize this system, saying that Japan for example has a better model in holding tenders on a set day each week. Nomani defends GASC’s method, explaining that Japan buys smaller quantities than Egypt and seeks a different quality.

Some traders worry that the vastly experienced Nomani could be swept away in Egypt’s revolutionary fervor, although there is no imminent sign of that.

“I would hate to see him go or be replaced by someone who doesn’t have his background in dealing with the organization and what it involves,” another Cairo-based trader said said.

Nomani himself is sanguine, saying even if he were to go GASC’s work would not be disrupted.

“Even if change arrives to my own position, there are fixed files I would give to the next person, as well as all my experiences and all the market directions because Egypt is going through change,” he said.

However, Nomani seems well-suited to navigate difficult waters, with his inside knowledge of GASC accumulated since he joined in 1979 as the head of a research unit.

Nomani and his team at GASC have snapped up almost seven months’ wheat stocks for Egypt, buying more than 1 million tonnes last month alone, mostly from that region.

He seems unflappable even as global markets grapple with worries about exports from Black Sea nations suffering drought such as Ukraine and Russia, Egypt’s top supplier.

“A commodity like wheat transcends all political and ideological differences,” he said. “Dealings here are at the human level.”

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