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Uganda central bank cuts lending rate to 10 percent

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KAMPALA (Reuters) – Uganda’s central bank lowered its key lending rate to 10.0 percent on Monday from 11.0 percent, saying a stable exchange rate for the shilling and subdued domestic demand had contributed to an easing of core inflationary pressures.

Bank of Uganda Governor Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile told a news conference the economy expanded by 3.9 percent in 2016/17 (July-June), down from a growth rate of 4.7 percent in the previous year, due to drought and slow implementation of public investment projects.

 

(Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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South Africa’s Sibanye says sacks 1,500 workers over wildcat strike

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By Ed Stoddard

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South African mining firm Sibanye Gold has fired around 1,500 workers taking part in a wildcat strike at its Cooke mine, it said on Thursday, prompting an angry reaction from the biggest gold miners’ union.

Workers at the mine downed tools over a week ago, angered by a company drive to root out illegal miners which has included the arrest of employees for collusion and taking food down to the illegal miners working underground.

Illegal gold mining has plagued South Africa for decades, with bullion pilfered from both disused and operating mines, and Sibanye has vowed it will clear all illegal miners from its shafts by January 2018.

The Cooke mine employs close to 4,000 underground miners and Sibanye said the sacked workers could appeal their dismissals.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the largest union in the gold mining industry, said earlier that nearly 2,000 miners were fired, including 1,100 of its members, who it said had been “wrongly dismissed.”

Sibanye said 793 NUM members had been dismissed.

NUM said they had been forced to take part in the strike in the face of coercion and intimidation from rival union the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). Last week 16 NUM members at Cooke were assaulted.

AMCU officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Located about 60 kms(35 miles) south-west of Johannesburg, the Cooke mine produces about 181,700 ounces of gold a year and brings in around 377 million rand ($29 million) in operating profit, or just over 6 percent of the group’s total.

Over 240 illegal miners have been arrested since the stoppage began. They have been forced to come to the surface because of the strike, which has emptied the shafts of employees, thereby starving them of their sources of food and water underground – an unintended consequence of the strike.

 

(Writing by and additional reporting by Tiisetso Motsoeneng; Editing by Mark Potter)

 

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Nigerian exchange bureau head urges rate unification

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By Oludare Mayowa

LAGOS (Reuters) – Nigeria’s central bank must step up efforts to unify the country’s multiple exchange rates to sustain gains in the local currency over the last few months, the head of the country’s exchange bureaus said.

Africa’s biggest economy has at least six exchange rates which include one for Muslim pilgrims going to Saudi Arabia, a retail rate set by licensed exchange bureaus, and a rate for foreign travel and school fees, in addition to the official and black market rates.

Nigeria is battling a currency crisis brought on by low oil prices which tipped its economy into recession and created chronic dollar shortages. It wants to attract foreign investors and strengthen its currency to ward off inflation.

The central bank has been intervening on the official market in the last few weeks to try to narrow the spread between rates on the official market and black market – where the local currency trades around 30 percent weaker. It has sold about $5 billion since February.

The bank opened a currency window in April for investors to trade the naira at rates set freely between buyers and sellers, hoping to increase the amount of dollars available in Nigeria.

“The gradual convergence of the exchange rate on both black market and investor forex window is an opportunity for the central bank to unify rate in all segments of the forex market,” Aminu Gwadabe, president of the country’s Association of Bureaux De Change Operators told Reuters late on Thursday.

Gwadabe said a move to eliminate multiple rates would restore investors’ confidence in the economy and boost offshore dollar inflows, further strengthening the naira.

Central bank spokesman Isaac Okorafor said the regulator would sustain its current efforts to improve dollar liquidity in the market until it was able to achieve currency rate convergence.

The naira was quoted at 365 to the dollar on the black market on Friday, while the local currency was quoted at 372.70 per dollar at the investor window.

The local bourse rose to a two-year high on Wednesday as investors snapped up Nigerian stocks after MSCI increased the country’s weighting in its frontier market index.

Nigeria’s forex reserves grew to around $30.22 billion by June, from $26.44 billion a year ago, as oil production and oil price stabilise in the wake of OPEC and non-OPEC oil output cut deal, analysts have said.

 

(Editing by Alexis Akwagyiram and Toby Chopra)

 

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Djibouti accuses Eritrea of occupying disputed territory after Qatar withdrew peacekeepers

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By Aaron Maasho

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Djibouti accused neighbouring Eritrea on Friday of occupying disputed territory along their border after Qatar withdrew its peacekeepers.

Foreign Minister Mahamoud Ali Youssouf said Djibouti’s military were “on alert” and that it has lodged complaints to the U.N. and the African Union.

Qatar announced that it was pulling its contingent out on June 14, days after the two East African countries sided with Saudi Arabia and its allies in their standoff with Qatar.

Doha’s foreign ministry did not give a reason for the move but it comes as Doha faces a diplomatic crisis with some of its Arab neighbours. They cut ties a week ago, accusing Qatar of backing Islamist militants and Iran, something Doha strongly denies.

“Qatari peacekeepers withdrew on June 12 and 13. On the same day, there were Eritrean military movements on the mountain,” Ali Youssouf told Reuters.

“They are now in full control of Dumeira Mountain and Dumeira Island. This is in breach of the UN Security Council resolution,” he added, referring to areas that the neighbours dispute.

Authorities in Asmara were not immediately available for comment.

Djibouti, a close Western ally, hosts French and U.S. military bases and is the main route to the sea for Eritrea’s arch foe and Washington’s top regional ally, Ethiopia.

Eritrea has fractious ties with the West, which had previously accused it of backing Somali and other regional insurgents. Asmara denies the charges.

Clashes broke out between the Horn of Africa countries in June, 2008, after Djibouti accused Asmara of moving troops across the border, raising fears the spat could engulf the entire region.

The dispute triggered several days of fighting that killed a dozen Djiboutian troops and wounded dozens. Eritrea had initially denied making any incursions, accusing Djibouti of launching unprovoked attacks.

The U.N. Security Council then requested both sides withdraw from the area, before the neighbours accepted a Qatari request to mediate and deploy peacekeepers.

 

 

 

 

(Writing by Aaron Maasho; Editing by)

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Nigeria to sell 140 bln naira bonds on June 21 – debt office

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LAGOS (Reuters) – Nigeria plans to auction 140 billion naira ($460 million) in bonds on June 21, the Debt Management Office said on Friday.

The debt office will sell 40 billion naira of bonds due in 2021 and 50 billion naira each of bonds due in 2027 and in 2037, using a Dutch auction system.

Settlement is expected the day after the sale. The bonds are re-openings of previous issues.

The central bank on Wednesday announced plans to sell 133.24 billion naira worth of Treasury bills at an auction next week.

Nigeria, which has Africa’s biggest economy, issues sovereign bonds each month to help fund its budget deficit, support the local debt market and maintain a benchmark for companies to follow.

The West African country expects a budget deficit of 2.36 trillion naira this year as it tries to spend its way out of a recession. It expects to raise money to cover more than half the deficit from the local market.

It has a series of debt issues lined up including a $300 million diaspora bond and a 100 billion naira debut domestic sukuk this month.

($1 = 304.68 naira)

 

(Reporting by Oludare Mayowa; editing by Alexis Akwagyiram)

 

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Repo rate cut back on the cards for South Africa as inflation seen easing

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By Vuyani Ndaba

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s economic growth will be much softer this year after the country slipped into recession in the first quarter, and with inflation easing an interest rate cut is back on the agenda, a Reuters poll found.

Africa’s most industrialised nation is expected to expand 0.7 percent in 2017, 0.2 percentage points slower than last month’s median as economists trimmed growth forecasts following South Africa’s first recession for eight years.

The median prediction for interest rates shows a cut is back in the forecast horizon – 25 basis points to 6.75 percent in January or March. Some economists have pencilled it in as early as July or September this year.

In March, the consensus was for the repo rate to be cut to 6.75 percent early next year but then President Jacob Zuma changed his finance minister for a fourth time, triggering debt downgrades and leading economists to push cuts off the horizon.

But a trimming is back on the cards and Mandla Maleka, chief economist at Eskom Treasury, said the cut could come earlier than 2018.

“It will be contingent on the persuasive improvement on domestic inflation and less volatile currency. Growth – much as it is not targeted by the Monetary Policy Committee – could be the game changer,” Maleka said.

After contracting 0.7 percent in the first quarter, the economy is expected to have rebounded and will expand 0.8 percent this quarter and 0.9 percent in the third.

In contrast to South Africa, the U.S Federal Reserve is widely expected to raise its interest rate this week due to a tightening labour market and may also provide more detail on its plans to shrink the mammoth bond portfolio it amassed to nurse the economic recovery.

South Africa’s Reserve Bank does not have the fire power of bond purchases like the U.S. Fed and only targets inflation, with an aim to keep it between a 3-6 percent range.

Consumer inflation slowed to 5.3 percent in May, and is expected to average 5.5 percent this year, a change to last month’s median of 5.7 percent.

Economists are worried that debt denominated in the heavily traded rand is in serious risk of being downgraded to “junk status” this year, ejecting it from crucial bond indexes that automatically invest in local bonds and prop up demand for the rand.

However, Thea Fourie, senior economist at IHS Markit, added that lower inflation and interest rate levels could support real incomes of households.

Fourie added South Africa’s growth environment was low partially due to very weak confidence, both for investors and consumers.

“This means big ticket spending plans are delayed,” she said.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) is due to hold a conference at the end of June to review policy and make recommendations on amendments or new strategies. Investors hope that will address confidence issues.

 

 

(Editing by Alison Williams)

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South Africa’s rand clings on to gains despite downgrade fallout

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s rand edged firmer on Wednesday, clinging on to recent gains despite continued fallout triggered by a Moody’s ratings downgrade last week and an anticipated interest rate hike by the U.S. Federal Reserve.

At 0640 GMT, the rand traded 0.2 percent firmer at 12.7350 per dollar compared to close of 12.7600 overnight in New York, bringing weekly gains to around 1.3 percent.

Following a one notch downgrade to its lowest sovereign investment grade on Friday, Moody’s cut the ratings of a dozen banks and companies including embattled power utility Eskom, further shaking confidence in Africa’s most advanced economy.

Quarterly business confidence and April retail sales due in the session are expected to shed more light on ailing economy. Growth shrunk 0.7 percent in Q1 2017 after a 0.3 percent contraction in Q4 of 2016.

Traders expect the U.S. central bank to increase interest rates by a notch when it concludes a policy meeting on Thursday, a move that could dampen demand for high-yielding emerging market assets.

South African bonds were flat, with the yield on benchmark 2026 government bond inching up 0.5 basis points to at 8.445 percent.

Stocks set to open higher at 0700 GMT, with the JSE securities exchange’s Top-40 futures index up 0.3 percent.

 

(Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana; Editing by Ed Cropley)

 

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Kenya government to guarantee $750 million in Kenya Airways debt

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By Duncan Miriri

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya will offer $750 million in guarantees to Kenya Airways’ existing creditors to help the heavily-indebted carrier secure financing from other sources to complete its recovery, a cabinet document showed on Tuesday. The guarantees, approved by the cabinet, will cover $525 million owed to the U.S. Exim Bank and the rest to local lenders, said the document seen by Reuters.

The airline, partly-owned by Air France KLM and the Kenyan government, has struggled to return to profit after tourist traffic slumped four years ago following a spate of attacks by Somalia-based Islamist militants.

The government will also convert its existing loans to the carrier into equity, it said. It was not immediately clear how much it has lent the carrier, but a source at the airline said it was a “significant” amount lent over time. The plan to guarantee the existing debt will be taken to the National Assembly for approval, the government said.

“The guarantees would be in exchange for material concessions to be provided as part of the financial restructuring which would secure future funding for the company,” the cabinet document said, without giving details on the concessions.

The government views the airline as a strategic asset, supporting other industries such as tourism and encouraging investments from abroad. Several international firms have set up their regional headquarters in Nairobi to take advantage of Kenya Airways’ extensive route network on the continent. Kenya Airways ferries 12,000 passengers a day on its fleet of Boeing and Embraer planes to destinations such as Juba and Accra.

At 1012 GMT, Kenya Airways shares were down 1.5 percent at 6.65 shillings.

The government would not provide additional cash as part of the restructuring of the airline, it added.

The debt owed to the U.S Exim bank is related to the financing of the purchase of the carrier’s Boeing planes. Kenya Airways says the financial restructuring will involve restructuring debt and securing additional capital to help dig itself out of a position of negative equity, and attain a better balance between cash flow and debt repayments.

 

(Reporting by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Elias Biryabarema and Mark Potter)

 

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Zimbabwe bans grain imports after higher maize output

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HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe has banned grain imports to protect local farmers after producing enough to meet domestic demand, a government minister said on Tuesday, just a year after a devastating drought left more than 4 million people in need of food aid.

The southern African nation’s grain agency has also raised $200 million from the government and private sector to purchase maize from farmers, the Herald newspaper said.

The national treasury last week forecast output of the staple maize at 2.1 million tonnes this year, from 511,000 tonnes in 2016.

“It is true we have banned all grain imports because we have produced enough this year and also because we need to protect our local farmers,” Davis Mharapira, the deputy minister of agriculture said.

Mharapira said the Grain Marketing Board would pay $390 per tonne for white maize, almost triple the $143 for the September contract for white maize in South Africa, one of the countries from which Zimbabwe has previously imported maize.

The deputy minister said the higher price would encourage farmers to produce more maize while the import ban would make it impossible for dealers to buy the grain abroad and resell it at a higher price locally.

Zimbabwe has since 2001 been importing maize to meet domestic demand of 1.8 million tonnes, blamed in part on seizures of white-owned farms by the government of President Robert Mugabe that hit commercial agriculture production.

Mharapira said the national strategic grain reserve was holding 180,000 tonnes of maize, far below its targeted requirements of between 500,000 and 700,000 tonnes.

 

(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Ed Stoddard and Mark Potter)

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Nigerian acting president to sign budget on Monday

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ABUJA (Reuters) – Nigeria’s acting president will sign the 2017 budget into law later on Monday, one of his aides told Reuters, as Abuja plans record spending to pull Africa’s biggest economy out of recession.

The OPEC member has been in recession since last year, largely due to low oil prices and militant attacks on the country’s Niger Delta energy facilities. Oil sales usually bring in two-thirds of the government’s revenue.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is standing in for President Muhammadu Buhari, who has been on medical leave in Britain since May 7, his second prolonged absence this year. Buhari’s medical condition is unclear.

“The acting president will be signing the budget today,” the presidency aide said.

President Buhari issued a statement saying it was in the interest of the country for Osinbajo to sign the budget into law.

Lawmakers last month passed the record 7.44 trillion naira ($23.6 billion) budget plan, which is bigger than the 7.298 trillion naira draft spending plan submitted by Buhari in December.

Two other presidency sources who did not want to be named also said the budget would be signed on Monday.

Sources said Osinbajo was at an event in the southeastern state of Anambra on Monday and would fly back to Abuja for the budget signing ceremony later in the day.

Last year’s budget, passed in May 2016, was delayed for months due to disagreements between lawmakers and the presidency over spending plans that cut the supply of government money and deepened the economic crisis.

Buhari said in his statement, signed by his spokesman Garba Shehu, that the 2018 budget proposal will be submitted by October and parliament will conclude the process by December so the country can return to a normal budget cycle from next year.

 

(Reporting by Felix Onuah and Camillus Eboh; Writing by Ulf Laessing and Chijioke Ohuocha; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

 

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