Paris, November 01, 2019 -- Moody's Investors Service ("Moody's") has today
changed the outlook on the Government of South Africa's ratings to negative
from stable and affirmed the Baa3 long-term foreign-currency
and local-currency issuer ratings.
Moody's also affirmed South Africa's Baa3 long-term foreign-currency
and local-currency senior unsecured debt ratings, its (P)Baa3
senior unsecured medium-term note (MTN) and Shelf foreign-currency
ratings, as well as its (P)P-3 short-term foreign-currency
Other Short Term rating. In a related decision, Moody's
changed the outlook to negative from stable on ZAR Sovereign Capital Fund
Propriety Limited's rating and affirmed its Baa3 foreign-currency
backed senior unsecured debt rating. ZAR Sovereign Capital Fund
Propriety Limited is a special purpose vehicle whose debt issuance is
ultimately the obligation of the South African government.
Moody's decision to change the outlook to negative from stable reflects
the material risk that the government will not succeed in arresting the
deterioration of its finances through a revival in economic growth and
fiscal consolidation measures. The challenges the government faces
are evident in the continued deterioration in South Africa's trend
in growth and public debt burden, despite ongoing policy responses.
While high unemployment, income inequality and the social and political
challenges they imply for policymakers are long-standing features
in South Africa, the obstacles that they pose to the government's
plans to raise potential growth and contain fiscal deficits are proving
more severe than expected a year ago. Acute financial stress for
state-owned enterprises (SOEs), in particular Eskom Holdings
SOC Limited (Eskom, B2 negative), continues to require sizeable
ongoing support from the government. The development of a credible
fiscal strategy to contain the rise in debt, including in the 2020
budget process and statement, will be crucial to sustain the rating
at its current level.
The Baa3 rating affirmation takes into account the country's deep,
stable financial sector and robust macroeconomic policy framework,
set against ongoing challenges related to weak potential growth and strong
South Africa's long-term local-currency bond and bank deposits
ceilings remain unchanged at A2, and the long-term and short-term
foreign-currency bond ceilings are also unchanged at A3/Prime-2.
The long-term foreign-currency bank deposits ceilings remain
at Baa3, while the short-term foreign-currency bank
deposits ceiling remains at Prime-3.
RATIONALE FOR CHANGING THE OUTLOOK TO NEGATIVE FROM STABLE
LOWER GROWTH FORECASTS REFLECT DEEPLY ENTRENCHED CONSTRAINTS ON GROWTH
Socio-economic features in South Africa including structurally
high unemployment and income and wealth inequality are longstanding and
deeply-entrenched constraints on the country's growth potential.
Deep inequalities -- South Africa's income inequality is among
the highest globally, as measured by the Gini index -- and
resistance to reforms from key stakeholders limit the government's
room to adopt and implement structural reforms.
In the last two years, it has become increasingly apparent that
those constraints are challenging the government's ability to implement
reforms that would durably lift growth, to an even greater extent
than previously expected. Moody's has revised down its medium-term
growth projections to 1-1.5%, barely in line
with population growth, from earlier expectations of a gradual pick-up
Job creation remains a central problem, with unemployment at a multi-year
high of 29% in the third quarter of 2019. Gross fixed capital
formation has been contracting on a year-on-year basis since
the second quarter of 2018, as private companies see limited prospects
of an improvement in the business environment. Productivity,
the level of output per worker, has remained stagnant, in
contrast with the steady, even if sometimes limited, growth
seen in other countries at similar income levels.
The government has promoted a number of initiatives in response to these
long-diagnosed issues. However, its ability to implement
those initiatives in a way which generates broadly-based sustainable
growth has faced obstacles in part from outstanding vested interests,
in part from the social and political challenge of imposing measures that
are initially likely to be detrimental for parts of the population.
For instance, while the new mining charter has finally been introduced,
it is unlikely to boost the sector's investment, with regulatory
uncertainty persisting amid ongoing appeals against some provisions of
the charter. The government has also introduced multiple initiatives
in the labour market including the Youth Employment Service programme,
but none on a scale likely to materially increase employment. Other
politically and socially sensitive reforms such as land reform have seen
slow progress given the government's need to balance the social
and political objective of allowing land restitution, including
through expropriation without compensation, and the economic objective
of preserving investor confidence.
The negative outlook signals in part Moody's rising concern that
the government will not find the political capital to implement the range
of measures it intends, and that its plans will be largely ineffective
in lifting growth.
STRONG, WIDE-SPREAD FISCAL PRESSURES LEAVE GOVERNMENT DEBT
ON AN UPWARDS TRAJECTORY
Low growth is exacerbating the pressures on South Africa's fiscal
position. The government debt burden has risen further than was
expected a year ago and will rise still more in the coming years.
South Africa is one of the few countries globally where the average interest
rate on government debt markedly exceeds -- by an estimated 3 percentage
points in fiscal year 2018 -- nominal GDP growth. Given that
condition, the government debt-to-GDP ratio will continue
rising unless the government is able to generate large primary surpluses.
The likelihood that it is able to do so has fallen materially.
The above-inflation wage indexation agreement, which runs
until fiscal 2020 (ending on 31 March 2021), continued transfers
to SOEs including the planned capital support for Eskom, and a fast-growing
interest bill limit the scope for spending restraint. Meanwhile,
acute financial stress for certain SOEs, including but not only
Eskom, point to likely ongoing sizeable transfers and broader contingent
liabilities for the foreseeable future.
As a result, scope for spending restraint is mainly in relation
to purchases of goods and services (15% of total government spending)
and a reduction in headcount numbers in the public sector, most
likely through natural attrition.
On the revenue side, Moody's expects that tax collection performance
will improve over the medium term as the South African Revenue Service's
efforts to improve tax compliance yield some results, with taxes
increasing at a faster pace than nominal growth from 2021 onwards.
Over the near term, however, tax revenues have underperformed
budget targets in fiscal 2018 and the 2019 main budget execution for the
first six months suggests that this will be once again the case for full
fiscal year 2019.
In the absence of any further policy response, the combination of
rising expenditures and underperforming revenues will cause the fiscal
deficit to widen to 6%-6.5% of GDP over 2019-22,
from around 4% over 2015-18. Government debt will
continue to rise to around 70% of GDP by end of fiscal year 2022,
from 57% as of end of fiscal 2018. Taking into account the
7.5% of GDP in government guarantees to SOEs that Moody's
includes in the government debt perimeter from fiscal 2019 onwards,
debt will approach 80% of GDP at the end of fiscal 2022 and remain
on a rising trajectory. In Moody's view, the combination
of low potential growth and high and inexorably rising debt as outlined
in the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) published this week
would not be consistent with a Baa3 rating. The current rating
rests on the government's ability to quickly develop a credible
strategy to halt and ultimately reverse the rise in debt.
Such a strategy has not been forthcoming to date. The MTBPS represents
a further step towards developing one. It broadly quantifies the
ZAR150 billion (3% of 2019 GDP) additional cost saving measures
that will be needed to balance the main budget net of interest and support
to Eskom by fiscal 2022, its fiscal target, and stabilise
government debt. It does not yet identify what those measures will
be, other than that they will focus on containing the public sector
wage bill. The MTBPS also reiterates that additional operational
and financial reforms will be needed to curb the drain on public finances
from Eskom and SOEs in general. In short, this week's
announcements do not yet represent a developed, credible fiscal
strategy. The development of a credible fiscal strategy to contain
the rise in debt, including in the 2020 budget process and statement,
will be crucial to sustain the rating at its current level.
RATIONALE FOR AFFIRMING THE RATINGS AT Baa3
The Baa3 rating reflects South Africa's deep, stable financial sector,
resilience to a prolonged period of low growth, and a robust macroeconomic
policy framework. The South African Reserve Bank has a demonstrated
track record in implementing credible and effective monetary policy and
preserving financial stability. Moreover, the government
remains committed to fighting the so-called "state capture",
even though the process will take time to gain legitimacy and show results
in improved institutions and business environment.
Balancing these relative strengths, South Africa's institutions
continue to be tested by weak growth and strong fiscal pressures.
ENVIRONMENTAL, SOCIAL AND GOVERNANCE CONSIDERATIONS
Social considerations are material for South Africa's credit profile and
their implications for the economy and public finances are a driver of
the negative outlook. Deep socio-economic inequalities complicate
the implementation of reforms which would otherwise unlock the economy's
potential, and contribute to tensions that fuel latent political
Governance considerations are material to South Africa's credit
profile. South Africa's ranking under the Worldwide Governance
Indicators is in line with that of Baa3-rated sovereigns,
and the strength of key institutions, in particular the South African
Reserve Bank and the Treasury, continue to support the rating.
Set against those qualities, the broader erosion in institutional
strength induced by the corruption of the Zuma administration is an important
factor behind the erosion in South Africa's credit profile in recent
years. The legacy that era has bequeathed of poor governance of
SOEs, and of Eskom in particular, remains a key drain on fiscal
resources and also weighs on South Africa's fiscal strength.
Due to its geographical location, South Africa is subject to frequent
climate-related shocks such as droughts, which undermine
the agricultural sector's performance and have weighed on growth
in recent years. That said, the country's economic
diversification and sophisticated agricultural techniques mitigate the
impact of environmental considerations on South Africa's credit
WHAT COULD CHANGE THE RATING UP
A rating upgrade is very unlikely in the near future. Moody's
would likely change the rating outlook to stable if it were to conclude
that the government will succeed in stabilizing its debt ratios over the
medium term, by reining in expenditures, improving tax compliance
and by lifting potential growth.
Moody's will have regard to a number of factors in this respect,
including the government's progress early on in its tenure in delivering
the additional fiscal adjustments which the MTBPS identifies are needed,
but also in addressing long-standing issues related to corruption
and the financially weak SOEs sector, and in particular at Eskom.
If achieved, these should ultimately enhance business confidence
and private sector investment prospects.
WHAT COULD CHANGE THE RATING DOWN
South Africa's ratings would likely be downgraded were Moody's to
conclude that those conditions will not be met and that South Africa's
fiscal and/or economic strength will continue to erode. Ultimately,
this conclusion would likely reflect diminishing prospects that growth
will be sufficient to preserve current income levels for the majority
and halt the rise in government debt over the medium term. Signs
of diminishing resilience to external financing shocks would also exert
downwards pressure on the rating.
More immediately, a decision to downgrade the rating would reflect
growing clarity that the government will not be able to further develop
and implement its fiscal and economic strategy to halt and ultimately
reverse the debt trajectory. The 2020 budget in particular will
be a key indication in Moody's view of whether or not the government
is committed to the fiscal consolidation recommended by the MTBPS.
GDP per capita (PPP basis, US$): 13,630 (2018
Actual) (also known as Per Capita Income)
Real GDP growth (% change): 0.8% (2018 Actual)
(also known as GDP Growth)
Inflation Rate (CPI, % change Dec/Dec): 4.4%
Gen. Gov. Financial Balance/GDP: -4.2%
(2018 Actual) (also known as Fiscal Balance)
Current Account Balance/GDP: -3.5% (2018 Actual)
(also known as External Balance)
External debt/GDP: 47% (2018 Actual)
Level of economic development: Moderate level of economic resilience
Default history: At least one default event (on bonds and/or loans)
has been recorded since 1983.
On 31 October 2019, a rating committee was called to discuss the
rating of the Government of South Africa. 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 materially decreased. The issuer has
become increasingly susceptible to event risks.
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.
For ratings issued on a program, series, category/class of
debt or security this announcement provides certain regulatory disclosures
in relation to each rating of a subsequently issued bond or note of the
same series, category/class of debt, security 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
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
Please see the ratings tab on the issuer/entity page on www.moodys.com
for additional regulatory disclosures for each credit rating.
VP - Senior Credit Officer
Sovereign Risk Group
Moody's France SAS
96 Boulevard Haussmann
JOURNALISTS: 44 20 7772 5456
Client Service: 44 20 7772 5454
MD - Sovereign Risk
Sovereign Risk Group
JOURNALISTS: 852 3758 1350
Client Service: 852 3551 3077
Moody's France SAS
96 Boulevard Haussmann
JOURNALISTS: 44 20 7772 5456
Client Service: 44 20 7772 5454