22 Nov

South Africa Awaits $7 Billion Ratings Double Jeopardy

South Africa will confront the threat of a $7 billion debt selloff this week as it awaits two concurrent judgments on its credit status.

Opinion among economists is divided as to how stark a danger that is. Fifty-six percent of respondents in a Bloomberg survey said S&P Global Ratings will reduce its assessment on rand-denominated debt to the highest non-investment grade on Friday. Moody’s Investors Service, which is scheduled to make a decision, will likely leave it unchanged, according to three-quarters of those asked.

Should both companies cut, rand debt would fall out of gauges including Citigroup Inc.’s World Government Bond Index, sparking outflows of 80 billion to 100 billion rand, Citigroup economist Gina Schoeman said. This would raise borrowing costs for the nation that’s selling more debt to plug a widening budget gap.

Conflict in the ruling party in the run-up to its leadership election next month has hamstrung efforts to bolster the Africa’s most-industrialized economy, which had its second recession in less than a decade earlier this year. Business confidence is near the lowest in more than three decades amid allegations of corruption against state companies’ managers and politicians including President Jacob Zuma.

“Given the fraught political context in which South Africa finds itself, alongside the negative repercussions of downgrades in triggering ejection from key bond indices, we believe that the rating agencies will not rush to cement decisions to downgrade this month,” said Phoenix Kalen, director for emerging-markets strategy at Societe Generale SA in London.

The sustainability of the nation’s debt will be at risk unless government presents a credible fiscal-consolidation plan in 2018, Moody’s said after the mid-term budget last month.

While the outcome of the ruling African National Congress’s elective conference next month will be of interest to ratings companies, it’s the February budget that they’ll be watching for clues on the country’s debt direction, said Annabel Bishop, the chief economist at Investec Bank Ltd.

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