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Sub-Saharan Africa’s most debt-laden nations

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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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Ghana must continue fiscal consolidation to contain debt levels: IMF

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

ACCRA (Reuters) – Ghana must press on with its fiscal consolidation programme to tackle its high public debt irrespective of unfavourable commodity prices, an International Monetary Fund team said on Wednesday at the end of a visit to the country.

Ghana, which exports gold, cocoa and oil, signed a three-year, $918 million deal with the IMF a year ago to restore fiscal balance and the review team said it was broadly satisfied with implementation of the programme.

“The required fiscal adjustment is on track,” mission head Joël Toujas-Bernaté told reporters. “Given the high level of public debt, fiscal consolidation needs to continue notwithstanding the headwinds from low commodity prices.”

Ghana’s public debt stands around 70 percent of GDP, a level the IMF described in the past as “distressing”.

The government plans to issue a Eurobond of up to $1 billion this year to finance the budget amid concerns that market conditions are not favourable for the sale.

Toujas-Bernaté said it was up to Ghana to determine the appropriateness of the transaction at this time, adding that the government could utilise its “good” cash balance should market conditions remain unfavourable.


(Reporting by Kwasi Kpodo; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Mark Heinrich)

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Mozambique says loans to state firms necessary for security

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

MAPUTO (Reuters) – Mozambique provided guarantees on loans to state firms Proindicus and Mozambique Asset Management to protect strategic national infrastructure and help maintain naval equipment, a government spokesman said.

The spokesman’s comment, in a statement, followed disclosure by the International Monetary Fund last week that Mozambique had admitted to having more than $1 billion of undisclosed debt and that the two parties were evaluating the implications of the disclosure.

Earlier, a source at the Fund had told Reuters that Proindicus, owned by the interior and defence ministries and the state security services, had been lent $504 million by Credit Suisse and $118 million by Russia’s VTB.

Another loan of $535 million had gone to Mozambique Asset Management, another state company set up to build a shipyard in the northern city of Pemba, that source said.

In his statement dated Tuesday but acquired by Reuters on Wednesday, spokesman Mouzinho Saide said the government had granted a $622 million loan guarantee to Proindicus in 2013, and $535 million to Mozambique Asset Management the following year.

“We faced security threats, such as piracy … illegal immigration, drug trafficking … and illegal fishing,” Saide said after a meeting of Mozambique’s cabinet.

He said the government had also been keen to ensure protection of the assets of oil and gas companies operating in Mozambique’s exclusive economic zone.

The loans are in addition to an $850 million ‘tuna bond’ issued in 2013 and restructured last month because the southeast African nation was struggling to meet repayments.

The IMF source said the extra borrowing had pushed Mozambique’s foreign debt to $9.64 billion, a level “very close to unsustainability”.


(Reporting by Manuel Mucari; Writing by Stella Mapenzauswa; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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Zimbabwe to present new IMF financing programme by November

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

HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe will present a financing programme to the International Monetary Fund by November this year after clearing its arrears, opening the door to receiving its first loan from the Fund in nearly two decades, the finance minister said on Friday.

Patrick Chinamasa told reporters that he was optimistic an IMF executive board meeting on May 2. would accept Zimbabwe’s plan to pay $110 million in arrears to the Fund.

Another $1.7 billion would then be paid to the African Development Bank and World Bank.

Zimbabwe has not received a loan from the IMF since 1999.

President Robert Mugabe agreed last month to major reforms, including compensation for evicted white farmers and a big reduction in public sector wages. Those reforms are expected to be part of a new financing programme.

“Between September and November Zimbabwe will work feverishly to come up with a new country financing programme, on the basis of which we hope, if we clear our arrears, we should get new financing,” Chinamasa said.

Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangudya said on March 16. he expects a loan from the IMF in the third quarter of this year, after paying off foreign lenders by the end of June.


(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by James Macharia)

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Investors want answers from Mozambique, banks over loan mystery

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

LONDON (Reuters) – Investors holding Mozambique’s recently restructured ‘tuna bond’ are demanding answers from the government and its bankers over what the International Monetary Fund says are previously undisclosed loans that could exceed $1 billion.

The revelations have rocked the relationship between one of the world’s poorest countries and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which last year agreed to lend Mozambique $286 million to cushion its economy following deep declines in commodity prices and the value of the metical currency.

Only last month investors met Mozambican officials and agreed to swap an outstanding $697 million of the dollar-denominated tuna bond, issued in 2013 by state-owned fishing-company Ematum, for a sovereign issue.

The deal was seen widely as investor friendly and accepted by holders representing more than 80 percent of the issue. Ratings agency Standard and Poor’s defined the restructuring as “tantamount to a default”.

The original $850 million bond has been controversial from the start: when it was launched, it was presented to investors as funding for “fishing infrastructure” but it quickly became apparent most of the cash was for defence.

Under IMF pressure, the government re-allocated $500 million of the debt to its defence budget. The subsequent bond rescheduling was part of efforts to clean up and rebuild trust for the southern African nation, under pressure from donors to improve the transparency of its finances.

However, last Friday the IMF said it believed Maputo borrowed $1 billion more than previously disclosed.

The Fund’s Africa Director, Antoinette Sayeh, said the additional loans appeared to have been borrowed from Credit Suisse and Russia’s VTB Bank and allocated to Mozambique’s defense and security sector.

Credit Suisse and VTB Bank were also joint dealer managers on the exchange offer launched in March. Mozambique’s Finance Minister Adriano Maleiane was quoted on Sunday saying the country had no hidden loans and that this was down to “some confusion”.

Investors say if found to be true, the IMF allegations could greatly damage the country’s reputation and ability to raise funds.

“At this stage, things are really up in the air until we hear from the various parties of what is really going on,” said one fund manager, who holds the bond but declined to be named. “If this is additional debt which was not included in the overall debt stock it completely changes the overall relationship with the international financial institutions’ community, the IMF, the donor community and it changes the market relationship. There is a lot of harm created in the short term.”

Details of the alleged new loans are sketchy and have not been disclosed in the prospectus to holders of the new bond issue.

However, a February 2013 Credit Suisse document obtained by Reuters outlines a $372 million loan to Proindicus, a company owned by the Ministries of Interior and Defence and the State Security and Intelligence Service. According to the document, the funds are to be spent on high-speed naval interceptors, radar stations, off-shore patrol vessels and aircraft. Credit Suisse declined to comment on the document.

The Ematum bond swap prospectus seen by Reuters also notes under “conflicts of interest” that the dealer managers may make loans or be involved in other transactions to Mozambique.

Marco Ruijer, portfolio manager at NN Investment Partners, who also holds the bond said he had addressed questions to Credit Suisse.

“It was perhaps not prudent of Credit Suisse to say we are doing restructuring to extend maturity from 2020 to 2023 when they themselves have a loan on the books which is maturing before 2023,” said Ruijer. “Now they get money back earlier than the bondholders.”

A Credit Suisse spokesman declined to comment on whether the bank had arranged loans for Mozambique in addition to the Ematum bond.

A source closed to VTB said the bank was assured by Mozambique’s finance ministry that all its financing had been disclosed to the IMF, and that the total debt spelled out in the prospectus included all outstanding direct and publicly guaranteed debt.

Mozambique has seen its foreign debt spiral in recent years. According to the restructuring prospectus, total foreign direct and government-guaranteed debt ballooned from $5.244 billion in 2012 – before the Ematum bond issue – to $9.637 billion in 2015. Combined with domestic debt of $1.5 billion, the government had obligations last year equivalent to 102 percent of GDP, the document said.


(By Karin Strohecker. Additional reporting by Sujata Rao in London, Ed Cropley in Johannesburg and Lidia Kelly in Moscow; Editing by Dominic Evans)

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Tripling of South African bond buying signals new faith in rule of law

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

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – A tripling of South African bond sales this year on Monday added to signs that investors’ faith in its institutions has been somewhat restored following a court ruling against President Jacob Zuma and the appointment of a former finance minister.

Securities exchange figures showed foreign investors bought a net 30 billion rand ($2 billion) worth of South African debt in 2016, compared with 10 billion in the same period last year.

The Treasury is flush with cash after a $1.25 billion 10-year bond sale this month was two times oversubscribed, and bond yields have recouped heavy losses in December after Zuma fired his finance minister, raising fears of political interference.

Benchmark yields, which spiked to a record 10.38 percent after Zuma briefly replaced Nhlanhla Nene with a virtually unknown politician, have since recouped nearly 140 basis points, a third of which was after the ruling against Zuma.

Sentiment, helped by Zuma bringing back Pravin Gordhan as finance minister, improved further after the Constitutional Court found that the president was wrong to ignore an order to repay state funds used to upgrade his Nkandla home.

“Having Pravin Gordhan back in control, and having this noise around Nkandla and Jacob Zuma, is showing the market that South African institutions are still strong,” Investec fixed income portfolio manager Vivienne Taberer said.

Analysts said markets were also cheered by a backlash against the Gupta family and its businesses. South Africa’s four big banks cut ties with a Gupta-owned investment company over criticism that the family has undue influence with Zuma.

“Government and state owned enterprises can get about their constitutionally mandated activities, less encumbered by predatory actions of (the) president and his allies,” BNP Paribus Securities South Africa analyst Nic Borain said.

“We expect markets – especially the bonds, currency and banks – to track the ebbs and flows of Jacob Zuma’s fortunes.”

Added to that, signals from the central bank and Treasury that they will pursue prudent policy have seen South African assets leading emerging market gainers, boosted by signs that the U.S. may not hike interest rates as quickly as expected.

Recent economic data out of China, a major consumer of emerging market commodities, has also lessened worries over a slowdown in the world’s second largest economy.

“If this environment, where we see the Fed not really doing much and being cautious over the balance of this year, continues and we continue to see reasonable data coming out of China … then this constructive risk environment can continue for the next three or so months at least,” Investec’s Taberer said.

The litmus test for assets will be whether credit rating agencies decide to downgrade debt. A cut from Moody’s would mean a loss of its investment grade status and possible ejection from the prestigious World Government Bond Index (WGBI).

“Such an ejection would represent possibly the most dramatic outcome of a ratings downgrade and should be South Africa’s biggest cause for concern,” Citadel chief strategist Adrian Saville said.


(By Stella Mapenzauswa. Editing by James Macharia and Louise Ireland)

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South Africa’s economy slows further, ratings eyed

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

PRETORIA (Reuters) – Disappointing economic growth in South Africa at the end of 2015 is likely to heighten fears its credit rating will be cut to “junk” and further unnerve investors concerned about President Jacob Zuma’s handling of the economy.

Data from Statistics South Africa on Tuesday showed the continent’s most industrialised economy expanded 0.6 percent in the final quarter, slowing slightly from the previous three months as the agricultural and manufacturing sectors shrank. Economists polled by Reuters had expected a rise of 0.8 percent.

“With all expectations that 2016 will be weaker still, this signals decelerating growth momentum in South Africa for three consecutive years, highlighting some of the long-standing concerns of the ratings agencies,” said Standard Chartered’s head of Africa research, Razia Khan.

The rand nevertheless rose 1 percent against the dollar, tracking other emerging market currencies higher as uncertainty over the pace of further U.S. interest rate hikes tempers the dollar’s momentum.

Credit rating agencies have said South Africa is at risk of a downgrade that could take it below investment grade.

The Treasury has warned such a move could trigger a sharp reversal of foreign capital flows on which South Africa relies to finance its huge current account deficit and precipitate a recession.

Fitch and Standard & Poor’s currently rate South Africa BBB-, one notch above “junk”, while Moody’s assigns a slightly higher Baa2 grade.

On a year-on-year basis, the economy grew 0.6 percent from 1 percent in October to December compared with a Reuters poll forecast of 0.4 percent.

More sluggishness is expected in 2016 as a severe drought persists and global demand for South African exports including gold and other metals remains depressed.

The government forecasts growth of 0.9 percent this year compared with an estimated 1.3 percent in 2015, which would be the lowest rate of expansion since South Africa emerged from a recession in 2009.



Investors are also nervous about economic policymaking after Zuma’s sudden firing in December of finance minister Nhlanhla Nene in favour of a relatively unknown lawmaker precipitated a plunge in the rand and other South African assets.

To halt the sell-off, Zuma brought back Pravin Gordhan as his third finance minister in a week, but recent media reports have suggested a rift between the president and Gordhan, who won investors’ respect during a previous stint in the job.

Gordhan outlined an austere budget last week that was aimed at avoiding credit rating downgrades but which failed to reassure investors.

Zuma, who faces his second no-confidence vote in a year on Tuesday over what the opposition Democratic Alliance called his reckless handling of the economy, has denied he and Gordhan are at war.

Highlighting the economy’s weakness, separate data on Tuesday showed new vehicle sales fell by 8.1 percent year-on-year in February, their third consecutive monthly contraction.

Electricity prices could also drag on growth after the energy regulator allowed state-owned power firm Eskom to raise tariffs by 9.4 percent in the 2016/17.

“These data make it less likely that the Reserve Bank will follow up January’s 50 basis points interest rate hike with another rate rise this month, despite the deteriorating inflation outlook,” Capital Economics analysts said in a note.

The South African Reserve Bank has been hiking interest rates to tame rising inflation, despite weak growth.

The bank will announce its second interest rate decision of 2016 on March 17.


(By Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo. Editing by James Macharia and Catherine Evans)

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IMF reviews Zimbabwe economy, eyes first new financing since 1999

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

HARARE (Reuters) – The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has started talks with Zimbabwe’s government to review its economic performance, stepping up engagement as Harare seeks a financial aid package after years of isolation.

President Robert Mugabe’s government started defaulting on debts to the IMF, World Bank, African Development Bank and several Western lenders in 1999 – leading to a freeze in IMF assistance – and is struggling to emerge from a catastrophic recession that ran for a decade until 2008.

Without balance of payment support or foreign credit, Zimbabwe is running its budget hand-to-mouth, leaving it with virtually no money for infrastructure.

With formal unemployment above 85 percent, Zimbabwe has since December 2013 softened previously sacrosanct policies in the hope of gaining fresh loans. [nL8N12L1Q0]

At the same time, Western countries have eased sanctions imposed over alleged human rights abuses and vote fraud, looking beyond the rule of the 92-year-old Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s sole leader since independence in 1980.

An IMF team met government representatives on Wednesday under the final phase of a Staff Monitoring Programme, Christian Beddies, the IMF representative in Zimbabwe, told Reuters.

The team will also meet central bank officials and local business leaders before March 10.

“The team is also doing the annual Article IV consultation, which is an important ingredient in the re-engagement process,” Beddies said.



Zimbabwe started the SMP – an informal agreement with the IMF to monitor implementation of its economic reforms – in December 2013, and has met its targets.

These include softening provisions of its black empowerment law to attract foreign investment, making it easier for firms to lay off workers, and improving government financial accountability.

A senior treasury official said Zimbabwe hoped to begin negotiations this year on new financial aid, which will require it to tackle difficult reforms such as cutting the state wage bill, 82 percent of the national budget.

A parallel programme to clear $1.8 billion in external arrears would also be undertaken. [nL8N129142]

“We are working on the structure of a new financing programme from the IMF and we will soon present to them a country strategy paper on this and the economic reforms that will support the programme,” said the treasury official, who is involved in discussions with the IMF.

The worst drought since 1992 has left 3 million people facing hunger and Zimbabwe has appealed for nearly $1.6 billion to help pay for grain and other food. [nL8N15O44B]

Zimbabwe says it expects growth of 2.7 percent this year after 1.5 percent in 2015, but the World Bank says the economy will stagnate due to drought and weak commodity prices. [nL8N15I3CV]

Beddies has already said the IMF might resume aid to Zimbabwe this year if foreign creditors accept its plans to clear arrears and implement economic reforms. [nL5N11R2YV]


(By MacDonald Dzirutwe. Editing by James Macharia and Kevin Liffey)

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South Africa’s Financial Minister says ratings downgrade would impact markets

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

PRETORIA (Reuters) – South Africa’s finance minister said on Wednesday that a potential credit ratings downgrade would impact markets in Africa’s most industrialised economy.

The rand remained on fragile ground against the dollar as investors fretted about a possible credit rating downgrade.

“We are always on the lookout for such. We are always on alert. If it does happen, it will have an impact on markets,” Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene told Reuters before the South Africa-China bilateral talks in Pretoria.

By 1445 GMT the rand, which hit an all-time low of 14.4950 versus the greenback in the previous session, was trading 0.3 percent higher at 14.3925.

Traders said investors were focused on Friday’s reviews from Fitch, which rates South Africa at BBB with a negative outlook and warned of a possible downgrade in September, and from Standard & Poor’s, which has it at BBB- with a stable outlook.

“The currency situation is doing what it is supposed to do,” Nene said. “Our floating exchange rate serves as a shock absorber when it comes to external shocks and we have seen that happening. It supports our manufacturing and export industries.”

Nene backed a decision by the central bank, which raised interest rates to 6.25 percent last month, citing that the priority for monetary policy was to keep inflation within a 3-6 percent target range.

Headline consumer inflation ticked up to 4.7 percent year-on-year in October compared with 4.6 percent in September.

“It is meant to send a signal to try and deal with inflation expectations. I think it was timely,” Nene said.


(Reporting by Joe Brock; Editing by James Macharia)

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