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Rating Action:

Moody's affirms the Kyrgyz Republic's B2 issuer rating; maintains stable outlook

01 Mar 2019

Singapore, March 01, 2019 -- Moody's Investors Service ("Moody's") has today affirmed the Kyrgyz Republic's local and foreign currency issuer ratings at B2. The outlook is maintained at stable.

The affirmation of the Kyrgyz Republic's B2 ratings is based on Moody's expectations that the government's debt burden will remain relatively high and vulnerable to a potential exchange rate depreciation, policy predictability and effectiveness will remain weak, and the economy will face the challenge of adjusting to resource depletion at its main gold mine.

These credit challenges are balanced by very high debt affordability and long debt maturities, some signs of improvement in policymaking, and a more stable domestic political climate, following a smooth transition of power after recent elections that will support reform.

The stable outlook balances upside risks related to prospects of strong working age population growth and productivity catch-up supporting growth potential, with downside risks especially as the Kumtor gold mine approaches end of mine life and ongoing economic and financial exposure to Russia. The outlook for reform is mixed with some signs of commitment by policymakers but also indications of significant hurdles to enabling a more predictable policy and business environment.

The local currency bond and deposit ceilings and the foreign currency bond ceiling are unchanged at Ba3. The foreign currency bank deposits ceiling is unchanged at B3.

RATINGS RATIONALE

RATIONALE FOR THE AFFIRMATION OF THE B2 RATING

GOVERNMENT DEBT BURDEN TO REMAIN RELATIVELY HIGH; RELIANCE ON CONCESSIONAL FUNDING BOOSTS DEBT AFFORDABILITY

Moody's assessment of the Kyrgyz Republic's fiscal outlook reflects its expectations that the government's debt burden will remain large for a small, low-income economy, broadly stable around the current levels (55.4% of GDP at the end of 2018). The credit challenge of carrying such a debt burden is mitigated by the debt structure characterized by low interest rates and very long maturities.

The debt-to-GDP ratio rose from 46.2% in 2013, reflecting a large depreciation of the som against the US dollar in 2015. Since then, an appreciation of the som in the first half of 2016 and subsequent stability have partially unwound the currency effect. However, with nearly all the government debt in foreign currency, the debt burden remains exposed to a potential renewed sharp depreciation. Exposure to pressure on the exchange rate is also manifest in wide current account deficits and low foreign exchange reserves coverage of imports denoting economy-wide external vulnerability.

The fiscal deficit peaked at 5.9% of GDP in 2016 reflecting large infrastructure spending. Since then, fiscal consolidation has continued at a slower pace. Importantly, fiscal consolidation has reflected ongoing collaboration with the IMF on the taxation regime, including measures aimed at broadening the tax base, streamlining tax exemptions and improving the efficiency of public administration. In 2018, Moody's estimates that the deficit narrowed to 3.4% of GDP.

The authorities' past record of commitment to progress on fiscal reform and improving domestic political stability suggest that fiscal consolidation will continue in supportive conditions. However, the medium-term prospects for further fiscal consolidation beyond Moody's current expectations are uncertain, as the Enhanced Credit Facility with the IMF, a key support for economic and fiscal reform, concluded in April 2018 and has not yet been replaced.

Moody's expects the deficit to hover around 3.5-4.5% of GDP in the next few years. Combined with robust nominal GDP growth and potentially a gradual depreciation of the currency, the debt burden will be around 55-58% of GDP. These projections assume that the pace of implementation of potential investment projects financed by Chinese lenders will remain gradual.

Mitigating the Kyrgyz Republic's elevated debt and exchange rate exposure is the country's large and stable revenue base, with government revenue amounting to 34% of GDP in 2017, buttressing debt affordability. The government's debt is also on highly concessional terms, with low interest rates and long maturities. As a result, interest payments are very low, at 3.4% of revenue, significantly lower than the median of B rated sovereigns (9.6%).

SOME SIGNS OF IMPROVING INSTITUTIONS BUT A LACK OF CLARITY ON CONTINUED PROGRESS

Moody's expects that gains in institutional strength, from weak levels, will continue gradually. Past gains have been achieved in the context of reform-based lending programs by International Financial Institutions (IFIs). Changes in the relationship with IFIs could coincide with slower reforms than recently.

In recent years, reforms have included the passage of the budget code, enhancement to the approval process and monitoring of public investment projects, creation of a comprehensive register of government staff, improvement to data collection and dissemination, improved central bank independence, development of a framework for banking sector supervision, and increasing transparency of the budget process.

However, significant constraints to the institutional framework remain. The evolution of the Kyrgyz Republic's Worldwide Governance Indicators shows a mixed picture over time, with control of corruption and rule of law key weaknesses while government effectiveness remains volatile. All three of the main components of Moody's institutional effectiveness assessment are among the weakest globally, hampered by, for example, high turnover within the mid- and high-levels of the bureaucracy and political volatility. Distortions from artificially low administered prices in some sectors also hamper the business environment and policy transmission.

More recent reforms to government procurement and efforts to increase government accountability by requiring officials to publicly disclose their assets bode well for future improvements in terms of control of corruption and rule of law. Also, reforms implemented since the 2010 Revolution have reinforced the independence of the ministries' civil servants and the justice system and ensured multi-party representation in government. The Kyrgyz Republic stands out among regional peers as the only sovereign in Central Asia with a recent rack record of democratic political transition and increasingly entrenched democratic institutions. Political stability will remain a particularly important element in supporting institutional and economic reform.

Conversely, given the important role that the relationship with the IMF has played in institutional reform and enhancements in policymaking to date, a deterioration or break in this relationship could presage a slowing in the reform process.

GROWTH POTENTIAL BOOSTED BY FAVOURABLE DEMOGRAPHICS, AMPLE NATURAL RESOURCES WEALTH BUT HAMPERED BY DEPLETION OF KEY GOLD MINE AND DIFFICULT BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT

The economy's low shock absorption capacity remains a constraint to the sovereign rating. Growth prospects are brightened by strong population growth and darkened by rapid depletion of gold at the country's main gold mine.

The economy's strong growth potential in part reflects a young, fast-growing, working age population. Low-cost and as yet largely untapped natural resources, notably hydropower, also boost the Kyrgyz Republic's growth potential. Moody's estimates that annual real GDP growth will average 4.8% in 2013-22, above the B median of 3.6%.

Donor support remains conducive to growth. As explained above, the Kyrgyz Republic benefits from significant financial and technical assistance provided on both multilateral and bilateral bases.

However, the economy's small size (with nominal 2017 GDP of only $7.7 billion) and reliance on gold mining and remittances, two sources of incomes that are volatile, constrain shock absorption capacity. Within the mining sector, the Kumtor mine has been a very significant source of income. While cost competitive, extraction is due to end in 2023 according to Centerra Gold the operator. Meanwhile, prospects for development of non-gold mining are unclear. While the country has ample natural resources wealth, constraints on development are numerous, including government interference, resistance from local populations, license hoarding, and contradictions in the new subsoil code.

More generally, the Kyrgyz Republic scores poorly in international competitiveness rankings, with corruption, political and policy instability, government bureaucracy, and small scale lowering its scores. It is ranked 97th out of 140 countries in the World Economic Forum's Competitiveness survey, generally lagging behind its regional peers. This environment poses significant hurdles to faster and broader-based economic development.

RATIONALE FOR STABLE OUTLOOK

The stable outlook balances upside risks related to prospects of strong population growth and productivity catch-up supporting growth potential, with downside risks especially as the Kumtor gold mine approaches end of mine life and ongoing economic and financial exposure to Russia. The outlook for reform is mixed with some signs of commitment by policymakers but also indications of significant hurdles to enabling a more predictable policy and business environment. These hurdles include legislative frameworks such as those governing the resources development sector, which potentially deter both foreign and domestic investment.

WHAT COULD CHANGE THE RATING UP

Further structural reforms and sustained fiscal consolidation efforts which Moody's believe would lead to a significant and sustained reduction in the government's debt burden and improvement in the predictability and effectiveness of policy would likely prompt an upgrade of the rating.

WHAT COULD CHANGE THE RATING DOWN

Moody's would likely downgrade the rating if fiscal strength looked likely to weaken materially, possibly because the Kyrgyz Republic undertook significant investment, with uncertain economic returns, at relatively higher costs, or because a sharp and sustained exchange rate depreciation was not offset by fiscal consolidation.

Economically destabilizing domestic or regional political tensions, particularly if they affect investment and production in the gold sector on a sustained basis, would also likely lead to a downgrade.

GDP per capita (PPP basis, US$): 3,697 (2017 Actual) (also known as Per Capita Income)

Real GDP growth (% change): 4.6% (2017 Actual) (also known as GDP Growth)

Inflation Rate (CPI, % change Dec/Dec): -0.5% (2018 Actual)

Gen. Gov. Financial Balance/GDP: -4.3% (2017 Actual) (also known as Fiscal Balance)

Current Account Balance/GDP: -6.8% (2017 Actual) (also known as External Balance)

External debt/GDP: 106.0% (2017 Actual)

Level of economic development: Low level of economic resilience

Default history: No default events (on bonds or loans) have been recorded since 1983.

On 26 February 2019, a rating committee was called to discuss the rating of the Kyrgyz Republic, Government of. The main points raised during the discussion were: The issuer's economic fundamentals, including its economic strength, have not materially changed. The issuer's institutional strength/framework have not materially changed. The issuer's fiscal or financial strength, including its debt profile has not materially changed. The issuer's susceptibility to event risks has not materially changed.

The principal methodology used in these ratings was Sovereign Bond Ratings published in November 2018. Please see the Rating Methodologies page on www.moodys.com for a copy of this methodology.

The weighting of all rating factors is described in the methodology used in this credit rating action, if applicable.

REGULATORY DISCLOSURES

For ratings issued on a program, series or category/class of debt, this announcement provides certain regulatory disclosures in relation to each rating of a subsequently issued bond or note of the same series or category/class of debt or pursuant to a program for which the ratings are derived exclusively from existing ratings in accordance with Moody's rating practices. For ratings issued on a support provider, this announcement provides certain regulatory disclosures in relation to the credit rating action on the support provider and in relation to each particular credit rating action for securities that derive their credit ratings from the support provider's credit rating. For provisional ratings, this announcement provides certain regulatory disclosures in relation to the provisional rating assigned, and in relation to a definitive rating that may be assigned subsequent to the final issuance of the debt, in each case where the transaction structure and terms have not changed prior to the assignment of the definitive rating in a manner that would have affected the rating. For further information please see the ratings tab on the issuer/entity page for the respective issuer on www.moodys.com.

For any affected securities or rated entities receiving direct credit support from the primary entity(ies) of this credit rating action, and whose ratings may change as a result of this credit rating action, the associated regulatory disclosures will be those of the guarantor entity. Exceptions to this approach exist for the following disclosures, if applicable to jurisdiction: Ancillary Services, Disclosure to rated entity, Disclosure from rated entity.

Regulatory disclosures contained in this press release apply to the credit rating and, if applicable, the related rating outlook or rating review.

Please see www.moodys.com for any updates on changes to the lead rating analyst and to the Moody's legal entity that has issued the rating.

Please see the ratings tab on the issuer/entity page on www.moodys.com for additional regulatory disclosures for each credit rating.

Martin Petch
VP - Senior Credit Officer
Sovereign Risk Group
Moody's Investors Service Singapore Pte. Ltd.
50 Raffles Place #23-06
Singapore Land Tower
Singapore 48623
Singapore
JOURNALISTS: 852 3758 1350
Client Service: 852 3551 3077

Marie Diron
MD - Sovereign Risk
Sovereign Risk Group
JOURNALISTS: 852 3758 1350
Client Service: 852 3551 3077

Releasing Office:
Moody's Investors Service Singapore Pte. Ltd.
50 Raffles Place #23-06
Singapore Land Tower
Singapore 48623
Singapore
JOURNALISTS: 852 3758 1350
Client Service: 852 3551 3077

No Related Data.
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