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Kenya’s central banker urges firms to invest after surprise rate cut

Comments (0) Actualites, Africa, Economy

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya’s central bank hopes its surprise interest rate cut this week will encourage firms to invest more to spur lagging economic growth, Governor Patrick Njoroge said on Tuesday.

Growth slid to an estimated 4.8 percent last year from 5.8 percent the year before, mainly due to a drought, a prolonged presidential election and a sluggish private sector credit growth.

The finance ministry expects growth to rebound to 5.8 percent this year but pressure to rein in the fiscal deficit could see the government scale back on ambitious infrastructure projects, weighing down economic output.

“It really has to be the private sector that picks that up,” Njoroge said. “We will have to re-balance away from public sector driven to private sector driven economic growth.”

Kenya’s total debt has risen to about 50 percent of GDP, from 42 percent in 2013, as it borrowed locally and abroad to build infrastructure including a new railway line from Nairobi to the port of Mombasa.

The government has pledged to cut the fiscal deficit to 7 percent of GDP at the end of this fiscal year in June, from 8.9 percent in 2016/17, and to less than 5 percent in three years.

Monday’s 50-basis-point cut in the benchmark lending rate to 9.5 percent took much of the market by surprise, with seven of 11 analysts polled by Reuters having forecast no change.

Njoroge said a cap on commercial interest rates could interfere with the aim of the easing stance of boosting credit, as banks lock out borrowers who are deemed too risky.

“We may have a perverse reaction, where indeed, the lowering of the CBR rate leads to a reduction in the level of credit,” he told a news conference. “We will stand ready to take any action to counter if it actually began to manifest itself.”

Private sector credit increased by 2.1 percent in the year to February, well below the central bank’s target of 12-15 percent.

Njoroge said the central bank is pushing commercial banks to be less careless in their lending and correctly asses the risk profiles of borrowers when writing loans.

“The point here is not just having low interest rates … the fundamental issue is to have risk-based pricing of loans,” Njoroge said.


(By Omar Mohammed; Additional reporting by George Obulutsa; Editing by Duncan Miriri and Andrew Heavens)

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IMF tells Ghana to adopt new revenue plan before April review

Comments (0) Actualites, Africa, Economy, Politics

ACCRA (Reuters) – Ghana must legislate new measures to boost revenues by at least 0.5 percent of gross domestic product before the IMF reviews a $918 million credit deal next month, the Fund said.

The West African nation must also outline plans to clean up the financial sector and show stronger commitment to cut debt, including limiting its next Eurobond for budget support to $500 million, IMF said in a document seen by Reuters.

Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta said last week the government planned to issue up to $2 billion of sovereign issuance by June to pay down debt that hit 68.7 percent of GDP last November and help finance the 2018 budget.

Ghana is seeking a combined fifth and sixth review of the IMF programme in early April, government and IMF sources told Reuters. The fifth review, originally scheduled for December, had delayed pending implementation of benchmark structural reforms.

“Parliament to adopt revenue measures equivalent to 0.5 percent of GDP (one billion cedis) by March 31 and do more later,” the Fund said. The document, dated Feb. 26, formed the basis for talks between an IMF staff mission and the government this week.

The mission left Accra on Thursday after discussing the actions required for the next review, as well as other reforms needed to exit the programme early next year. It is unclear if the talks were conclusive.

Ghana, which exports cocoa, gold and oil, is in its final year of the programme, designed to stabilise an economy dogged by high inflation and debt, and low growth.

The Fund said the government must publish by end of March an agreement between the Finance ministry and Bank of Ghana to reinforce zero financing of the budget deficit, a core condition of the programme.

The government of President Nana Akufo-Addo, inaugurated in January 2017 said it inherited $2.3 billion in accumulated debt owed to power utilities and has launched long-term bonds for repayment. It is also probing unpaid contract arrears of around $1.6 billion.

The IMF said while the country made progress, the central bank must adopt a fully market-based foreign exchange management policy and cut non-performing loans.

The government aims to cut the budget deficit to 4.5 percent of GDP in 2018 from a revised 6.3 percent while inflation is projected to fall to 8.9 percent. It sees GDP growth at 6.8 percent from a projected 7.9 percent in 2017.


(Reporting by Kwasi Kpodo; editing by John Stonestreet)

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Kenya raises $2 bln Eurobond but concerns over deficit linger

Comments (0) Actualites, Africa, Economy, Infrastructure, Politics

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya shook off a downgrade and the loss of access to an IMF standby credit facility to raise a $2 billion dollar bond at competitive yields, but market participants said on Thursday it still needs a credible plan to tackle its fiscal deficit.

Kenya received $14 billion worth of bids. It took just $1 billion in a 10-year note with a yield of 7.25 percent, and another $1 billion in a 30-year tranche with a yield of 8.25 percent, Thomson Reuters news and market analysis service IFR reported.

“They were in line with the yield curve,” said a fixed income trader in Nairobi.

The eventual yield reflected a tightening of the initial pricing area by about 30 basis points. It was close to the comparative yields for other African sovereigns like Nigeria, the trader said.

Last week, credit ratings agency Moody’s downgraded Kenya’s debt rating to B2 from B1 while officials were in the middle of the bond roadshow abroad, angering the government.

More bad news emerged on Tuesday, after the International Monetary Fund said it had frozen Kenya’s access to a $1.5 billion standby facility last June, after failure to agree on fiscal consolidation and delay in completing a review.

“They (the government) were able to weather the knocks of the Moody’s downgrade and the IMF issue,” said Aly Khan Satchu, a Nairobi-based independent trader and analyst.

But he warned that the government needed to convince investors it has a plan to tackle the fiscal deficit.

“People are worried about debt-to-GDP ratios and they want to see a stronger language about how this will be addressed,” he said.

Kenya’s total debt is about 50 percent of GDP, up from 42 percent in 2013. It has borrowed locally and abroad to build infrastructure like a new railway line from Nairobi to the port of Mombasa.

The finance ministry has published a plan to lower its fiscal deficit to 7 percent of GDP at the end of this fiscal year in June, from 8.9 percent in 2016/17, and to less than 5 percent in three years’ time.

Satchu said it was not enough for investors. They want to see more targeted infrastructure investments that will ensure a return, and attempts to reign in a ballooning public service wage bill and other recurrent expenditure.

“We have got to walk the talk. We are not even talking the talk yet,” he said.


(By Duncan Miriri. Editing by Katharine Houreld and Toby Chopra)

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Kenya government to guarantee $750 million in Kenya Airways debt

Comments (0) Latest Updates from Reuters

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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Sub-Saharan Africa’s most debt-laden nations

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Featured


Sub-Saharan Africa’s most indebted countries are revealed in the latest figures from the World Bank and the IMF.

Recent figures from the World Bank and the IMF provide a clear picture of which of Africa’s sub-Saharan nations have the highest levels of debt. The figures illustrate national debt as a percentage of the nation’s GDP, as opposed to ranking nations on absolute debt. This is an important distinction, as it accounts for how significant the effect of a government’s debt could be to its economic future.

For example, South Africa has the largest overall debt in absolute terms – with a huge 158 billion euros worth – but it also has a much larger GDP then most African states. This larger economic base ensures that South Africa is not even in the top ten of the most indebted nations.

From the highest debt to the lowest

The ten most debt laden countries of sub-Saharan Africa (with the percentage of their GDP that debt represents in parentheses) are Eritrea (126%), Cape Verde (122%), Gambia (97%), São Tomé and Príncipe (92%), Congo (79%), Ghana (74%), Malawi (73%), Angola (70% ) and Seychelles (65%).

In contrast, the ten nations with the lowest percentage of their GDP represented as debt were Nigeria (13%), Botswana (16%), DR Congo and Swaziland (20%), Equatorial Guinea (25 %) and the Comoros (29.2%), Namibia (31%), The Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso (33%) and finally Mali (35%).

Across the entire sub-Saharan region this averaged out at a 52% debt to GDP ratio, which actually compares favorably with Europe, in which the average is 92%.

What is clearly of significance is the degree to which an economy is likely to grow, and thus manage its debt without it becoming crippling. Moreover, what is sustainable for a developing nation is markedly less than it is for a developed market. While 40% is generally seen as manageable for emerging economies it can be significantly higher for large, more established markets.

The good news for Africa as a whole is that average GDP growth is second only to South Asia. A more cautionary view would note that borrowing is also growing quickly, and unforeseen humanitarian disasters, such as the 2014 Ebola outbreak, can have huge economic fallout in developing markets.

Changes to old debt and shaping the future

The single largest impact on the once debilitating debt levels in Africa occurred with the 1996 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC). The internationally developed program was managed by the World Bank, in conjunction with the IMF and the African Development Bank. The initiative was further bolstered by 2005’s Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative, which was managed by the same trio, and led to 35 sub-Saharan nations eradicating over $100 billion of external debt.

While this allowed many nations to invest in social infrastructure, for others it simply meant writing off overdue debt, but did not create new streams of revenue for investment. Whether a nation wrote off old debt, or managed to put new resources into development, all of the affected nations profited in one key area.

According to Marcelo Guigale, a World Bank director, this universal benefit was that governments learnt “discipline” in spending, and had to have clear plans on reducing poverty. As such, Guigale stated African governments had “more money to spend and new offers to borrow—this time from private bankers.”

The concern in some quarters is that borrowing in some nations is outpacing growth, and this could lead to a return to pre HIPC levels of financial burden. An article in The Economist warned that, although Africa’s economies were growing quickly, “growing fastest of all is debt—personal, corporate and government.”

However, a trio of The World Bank’s own economists feel confident that “overall, governments have been borrowing responsibly”, and the IMF have ensured that guidance is being provided to help nations manage their debt constructively.

It is important for nations to be prudent with their borrowing, but even with some worries over rising debt, most experts feel genuine progress has been made.

Todd Moss, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Global Development summarized the nature of Africa’s debt situation, saying, “Despite misgivings about certain countries, Africa is still in a fundamentally different place than it was 20 or 30 years ago when old debts were taken on.”

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Higher South African rates leave households saddled with crushing debt

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Latest Updates from Reuters

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Rate increases by South Africa’s central bank have left at least 10 million people crippled by debt in a country where many people buy on credit.

The result may be a further slowdown in South Africa’s slumping economy, which is now expected to grow just 0.9 percent in 2016. That would only aggravate the problem for those struggling with debt.

South Africa’s unemployment rate is already at a record high of nearly 27 percent. Food prices are soaring as a drought afflicts southern Africa.

Consequently, many households are borrowing to put food on the table. But inflation exceeds the central bank’s target of 3 to 6 percent, leading it to raise interest rates by 200 basis points in the past two years.

Inflation slowed to 6.2 percent in April, but commercial banks have raised their lending rates. Home loans now average around 10.5 percent, up from a low of 8.5 percent in 2012.

“Almost 75 percent of the income of the average household in South Africa is spent towards credit providers, to pay debt, so at the end of the day they don’t have enough money left to pay for their living expenses,” said Neil Roets, chief executive of Debt Rescue, a local company that helps clients manage debt.

“It’s had a devastating effect on consumers, especially because of the fact that a lot of consumers already find themselves in a situation where they are over-indebted,” he said, referring to the rising rates.

Industry officials say about 47 percent of the consumers that buy on credit are in debt arrears. About 10 million people, or a fifth of South Africa’s 52 million people, buy on credit.

The TransUnion South Africa consumer credit index, a gauge of consumer credit health, fell to a three-year low in the first quarter of this year. Debt defaults, defined by three months of arrears, rose 1.8 percent year-on-year during the quarter, after shrinking 5.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015.

Analysts said South Africans are still paying the price for unbridled lending that fuelled a consumer frenzy. That helped the economy grow an average 5 percent a year in the five years before 2009, when a recession wiped out nearly a million jobs.

Households are now reluctant to take up new debt. Private sector credit grew in April at its slowest rate since late 2013, central bank data showed.

Retailers are feeling the pinch across the board, with consumer demand for non-essential goods in particular dropping. New vehicle sales fell 10.3 percent in May from the same month last year, the sixth consecutive contraction.

“Both consumer and business confidence is unlikely to improve significantly in the short term, given the poor economic outlook and the poor job market,” Nedbank analysts Johannes Khosa and Dennis Dykes said in a note.

“Credit growth is likely to remain contained in the months ahead as the economic environment remains weak.”


(By Stella Mapenzauswa. Editing by James Macharia, Larry King)

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A decade after write-offs, Africa sliding back into debt trap

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Latest Updates from Reuters, Politics

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – With their economies floundering and currencies sinking, African states that have borrowed heavily in dollars may be slipping back into the debt trap – and ultimately default – only a decade after a far-reaching round of debt forgiveness.

Some are looking to issue more Eurobonds to refinance existing foreign currency loans, but with U.S. interest rates set to rise soon, the inevitably higher borrowing costs will do little to alleviate pressure on creaking state budgets.

Top of the list of ‘at risk’ countries, according to experts, is Ghana, the first African sovereign after South Africa to go to the international markets when it launched a debut $750 million Eurobond in 2007.

Since then, Accra has issued two more bonds of $1 billion each, helping pushing total public debt to 71 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), according to data published this week.

This compares to 50 percent in 2005, the year anti-poverty campaigners Bono and Bob Geldof persuaded rich countries to write off billions of dollars owed by Ghana and other African nations.

Ghana’s central bank governor Henry Kofi Wampah dismissed the levels of debt – half of it in dollars – as “not very dangerous” but most analysts disagree, mainly due to the decline in the West African nation’s currency.

When it launched its debut bond in 2007 with an 8.5 percent interest rate, the cedi was virtually at parity with the dollar. It is now around 4, meaning the government is in effect servicing a loan equivalent to $3 billion.

Accra agreed a $918 million, 3-year rescue package with the International Monetary Fund in April, but even if the programme works the Fund admits the government’s interest payments are likely to stabilise at an eye-watering 40 percent of revenues.

And in reality the IMF package – essentially a dollar loan with slightly more favourable interest rates – is merely papering over the cracks.

“It’s a case of using one credit card to pay off another credit card,” said Carmen Altenkirch, an African sovereign debt analyst at Fitch. “Ultimately, the only ways to get your debt levels down are to raise your income or cut your expenditure.”

With growth slowing and a depressed outlook for commodity prices, balancing the books looks unlikely.

“The longer the commodity slump continues, the more countries will enter into crisis – and then you just can’t get out,” said Tim Jones, an economist for the London-based Jubilee Debt Campaign, an anti-poverty group.



Overall, Fitch says African sovereign debt levels have risen to 44 percent of GDP from 34 percent five years ago, with Zambia and Kenya – which are running budget deficits approaching 10 percent of output – looking particularly vulnerable.

Zambian finance minister Alexander Chikwanda told Reuters this week he would prefer not to have to go to the IMF for help – like Ghana, the southern African copper producer faces an election next year – but his options are narrowing.

As with Ghana, domestic yields are as high as 24 percent and since Chinese growth has cooled, leaders from Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe to Angola’s Jose Eduardo dos Santos have found Beijing to be an increasingly reluctant lender.

The cost of refinancing through more global bond issuance is also rising, as shown by the hefty 9.375 percent interest rate Zambia had to pay when it sold a $1.25 billion bond in July.

There is also the issue of moral hazard for the IMF, which, in positioning itself as a backstop, can be accused of encouraging reckless behaviour – both by rich-country lenders who know they will be bailed out, and by governments who fail to live within their means or wean their economies off commodities.

Oil producer Angola has told Reuters it plans to borrow $10 billion this year. The IMF expects Angolan public borrowing to hit 57 percent of GDP by end-2015.

“For all the talk of reform, Africa is still a commodity exporter,” said Ravia Bhatia, an Africa credit analyst at Standard and Poor’s. “‘Africa Rising’ masked the story that the fiscal deficits had been rising. Now it’s come home to roost.”



Assessments by credit agencies do not suggest defaults are imminent, but the ratings trend is downwards and negative outlooks prevail.

If it comes down to it, default and restructuring is likely to be messier than 2005 due to the presence of so many commercial investors in Africa’s debt mix, as opposed to the bilateral lending that prevailed before then.

“As sub-Saharan African sovereigns are moving away from bilateral and concessional lending and more towards market lending, debt forgiveness is less likely,” said Matt Robinson, an African sovereign ratings analyst at Moody’s.

“It makes it much more complicated.”

(By Ed Cropley, Reuters)

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