Egypt's central bank has conducted an exceptionally large foreign exchange auction, selling $600 million to banks that urgently need money to pay for basic imports like wheat and materials for industry and medicine.

The central bank said in a statement Sunday that the auction was aimed at encouraging the banking sector to bolster the domestic economy.

Sunday's auction of $600 million was five times the usual weekly amount.

A banker with inside knowledge about the auction says banks in Egypt were running low on dollars for vital imports. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.

The bank has been auctioning U.S. dollars in measures that have helped to regulate devaluation of the Egyptian pound, which has dropped 11 percent since December.