6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
Morocco encourages foreign portfolio investment and Moroccan legislation applies equally to Moroccan and foreign legal entities and to both domestic and foreign portfolio investment. The Casablanca Stock Exchange (CSE), founded in 1929 and re-launched as a private institution in 1993, is one of the few exchanges in the region with no restrictions on foreign participation. Local and foreign investors have identical tax exposure on dividends (10 percent) and pay no capital gains tax. With a market capitalization of around USD 60 billion and 75 listed companies, CSE is the second largest exchange in Africa (after the Johannesburg Stock Exchange). CSE authorities have recently invested in several initiatives to encourage more SME listings on the exchange. Short-selling, which could provide liquidity to the market, is not permitted. The Moroccan government initiated the Futures Market Act (Act 42-12) in October 2015 to define the institutional framework of the futures market in Morocco and the role of the regulatory and supervisory authorities. As of March of 2019, futures trading was still pending full implementation.
The Casablanca Stock Exchange demutualized in November of 2015. This change allowed the CSE greater flexibility, more access to global markets, and better positioned it as an integrated financial hub for the region. Morocco has accepted the obligations of IMF Article VIII, sections 2(a), 3, and 4, and its exchange system is free of restrictions on making payments and transfers on current international transactions. Credit is allocated on market terms, and foreign investors are able to obtain credit on the local market.
Money and Banking System
Morocco has a well-developed banking sector, where penetration is rising rapidly and recent improvements in macroeconomic fundamentals have helped resolve previous liquidity shortages. Morocco has some of Africa’s largest banks, and several are major players on the continent and continue to expand their footprint. The sector has several large, homegrown institutions with international footprints, as well as several subsidiaries of foreign banks. According to the IMF’s 2016 Financial System Stability Assessment on Morocco at , Moroccan banks comprise about half of the financial system with total assets of 140 percent of GDP – up from 111 percent in 2008. There are 24 banks operating in Morocco (five of these are Islamic “participatory” banks), six offshore institutions, 32 finance companies, 13 micro-credit associations, and nine intermediary companies operating in funds transfer. Among the 19 traditional banks, the top three hold over two-thirds of the banking system’s assets. The top eight banks comprise 90 percent of the system’s assets (including both on and off-balance sheet items). Foreign (mainly French) financial institutions are majority stakeholders in seven banks and nine finance companies. The financial system also comprises several microcredit associations and financing companies, with combined assets of 10.5 percent of GDP. Moroccan banks have built up their presence overseas mainly through the acquisition of local banks, thus local deposits largely fund their subsidiaries.
The overall strength of the banking sector has grown significantly in recent years. Since financial liberalization, credit is allocated freely and the Central Bank (Bank Al-Maghrib) has used indirect methods to control the interest rate and volume of credit. The banking participation rate is approximately 60 percent, with significant opportunities remaining for firms pursuing rural and less affluent segments of the market. At the start of 2017, Bank Al-Maghrib approved five requests to open Islamic banks in the country. By mid-2018, over 80 branches specializing in Islamic banking services were operating in Morocco. The first Islamic bonds (sukuk) were issued in October 2018, and Islamic insurance products (takaful) are expected to launch in mid-2019.
Following an upward trend beginning in 2012, the ratio of non-performing loans (NPL) to bank credit stabilized at 7.5 percent in 2017 at USD 6.5 billion. According to the most recently available data from the IMF, NPL rates in September 2018 were 7.7 percent.
Morocco’s accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures are transparent and consistent with international norms. Morocco is a member of UNCTAD’s international network of transparent investment procedures (please visit https://rabat.eregulations.org/procedure/2/2?l=fr for more information). Bank Al-Maghrib is responsible for issuing accounting standards for banks and financial institutions. Circular 56/G/2007 issued by Bank Al Maghrib requires that all entities under its supervision use International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) for accounting periods that began January 2008. The Securities Commission is responsible for issuing financial reporting and accounting standards for public companies. Circular No. 06/05 of 2007 reaffirmed the Moroccan Stock Exchange Law (Law No. 52-01), which stipulated that all companies listed on the Casablanca Stock Exchange (CSE), other than banks and similar financial institutions, can choose between IFRS and Moroccan Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). In practice, most public companies are using IFRS.
Legal provisions regulating the banking sector include Law No. 76-03 on the Charter of Bank Al-Maghrib, which created an independent board of directors and prohibits the Ministry of Finance and Economy from borrowing from the Central Bank except in exceptional circumstances. Law No. 34-03 (2006) reinforced the supervisory authority of Bank Al-Maghrib over the activities of credit institutions. Foreign banks and branches are allowed to establish operations in Morocco and are subject to provisions regulating the banking sector. At present, the U.S. Mission is not aware of Morocco losing correspondent banking relationships.
There are no restrictions on foreigners’ abilities to establish bank accounts. However, foreigners who wish to establish a bank account are required to open a “convertible” account with foreign currency. The account holder may only deposit foreign currency into that account; at no time can they deposit dirhams. One issue, reported anecdotally, is that banks in Morocco close accounts without giving appropriate warning
In November 2017, the foreign exchange office (Office des Changes), the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MoEF), the Central Bank, and the Moroccan Capital Market Authority (AMMC) announced a prohibition on the use of cryptocurrencies, noting that they carry significant risks that may lead to penalties.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
Foreign investments financed in foreign currency can be transferred tax-free, without amount or duration limits. This income can be dividends, attendance fees, rental income, benefits, and interest. Capital contributions made in convertible currency, contributions made by debit of forward convertible accounts, and net transfer capital gains may also be repatriated. For the transfer of dividends, bonuses, or benefit shares, the investor must provide balance sheets and profit and loss statements, annexed documents relating to the fiscal year in which the transfer is requested, as well as the statement of extra-accounting adjustments made in order to obtain the taxable income.
A currency-convertibility regime is available to foreign investors, including Moroccans living abroad, who invest in Morocco. This regime facilitates their investments in Morocco, repatriation of income, and profits on investments. Morocco guarantees full currency convertibility for capital transactions, free transfer of profits, and free repatriation of invested capital, when such investment is governed by the convertibility arrangement. Generally, the investors must notify the government of the investment transaction, providing the necessary legal and financial documentation. With respect to the cross-border transfer of investment proceeds to foreign investors, the rules vary depending on the type of investment. Investors may import freely without any value limits to traveler’s checks, bank or postal checks, letters of credit, payment cards or any other means of payment denominated in foreign currency. For cash and/or negotiable instruments in bearer form with a value equal to or greater than USD 10,000, importers must file a declaration with Moroccan Customs at the port of entry. Declarations are available at all border crossings, ports, and airports.
Morocco has achieved relatively stable macroeconomic and financial conditions under an exchange rate peg (60/40 Euro/Dollar split), which has helped achieve price stability and insulated the economy from nominal shocks. In January 2018, the Moroccan Ministry of Economy and Finance, in consultation with the Central Bank, adopted a new exchange regime in which the Moroccan dirham may now fluctuate within a band of ± 2.5 percent compared to the Bank’s central rate (peg). The change loosened the fluctuation band from its previous ± 0.3 percent.
Amounts received from abroad must pass through a convertible dirham account. This type of account facilitates investment transactions in Morocco and guarantees the transfer of proceeds for the investment, as well as the repatriation of the proceeds and the capital gains from any resale. AMDIE recommends that investors open a convertible account in dirhams on arrival in Morocco in order to quickly access the funds necessary for notarial transactions.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
Ithmar Capital is Morocco’s investment fund and financial vehicle, which aims to support the national sectorial strategies. Established in November 2011 by the Moroccan government and supported by the royal Hassan II Fund for Economic and Social Development, the fund initially followed the government’s long-term Vision 2020 strategic plan for tourism. The fund is currently part of the long-term development plan initiated by the government in different economic sectors. Its portfolio of assets is valued at USD 1.8 billion.