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Rating Action:

Moody's changes Suriname's rating outlook to stable from negative; affirms B2 rating

28 Feb 2019

New York, February 28, 2019 -- Moody's Investors Service ("Moody's") has today changed the outlook on the Government of Suriname's ratings to stable from negative and affirmed the B2 issuer and senior unsecured ratings.

The decision to change the outlook to stable reflects Moody's view that liquidity pressures have subsided over the past year, and that increased scope for financing from domestic and external sources will ease funding pressures in 2019 and 2020. As a result, even taking into account a relatively gradual pace of fiscal consolidation, risks of increased liquidity pressures building up are now more contained than what the rating agency had assumed in February 2018 when it assigned the negative outlook.

Moody's decision to affirm the B2 rating is supported by the country's sizeable mining and hydrocarbon resources, favorable investment environment driven by mining activity, and improved external accounts. The credit challenges acting as a constraint on the rating include a high debt burden and weak debt affordability, structural and economic vulnerabilities due to the country's small size and commodity dependence, and weaknesses in governance.

The local-currency bond and deposit ceilings remain unchanged at Ba2. The foreign-currency bond ceiling is unchanged at Ba3 and the foreign-currency deposit ceiling is unchanged at B3. In addition, the short-term foreign currency bond and deposit ceilings remain at Not Prime.

RATINGS RATIONALE

RATIONALE FOR THE STABLE OUTLOOK

LOWER SUSCEPTIBILITY TO EVENT RISK DRIVEN BY IMPROVED LIQUIDITY POSITION OF THE GOVERNMENT

Downside risks related to government liquidity challenges have eased, driven by improved domestic funding conditions and increased access to concessional external funding. Reduced gross and net financing needs also contribute to the sustained improvement in the government liquidity situation going forward.

In 2018, despite an estimated primary deficit of 4.4% of GDP, the government used the proceeds from the loan repayment by state-owned energy company, Staatsolie, to pay down existing debt and meet most of its net financing needs. Moody's estimates the government still has around $100 million, or 2.5% of GDP, available in deposits at the central bank for use to cover part of its financing needs in 2019. The government will also rely on a combination of domestic and external financing. Given Moody's expectations for a narrowing fiscal deficit, the rating agency anticipates this strategy will not place upward pressure on borrowing costs in the domestic market or increase rollover risk. Moody's expects short-term domestic debt, which mostly comprises Treasury bills, to be rolled over by banks given the increase in domestic liquidity.

A narrowing fiscal deficit will reduce gross financing requirements in 2019 and 2020. The clearance of arrears, which added to the government's financing needs in each year since 2015, has steadily declined and Moody's doesn't expect the government to require additional cash payments to clear further arrears. As a result, gross funding needs will decline to around 12% of GDP by 2020, down from 15% of GDP in 2018.

Beginning in early 2018, a pickup in banking sector liquidity increased scope for the government rely more on domestic financing. In the second half of 2018, the government has been able to refinance maturing Treasury bills with domestic banks at lower borrowing costs. Based on the increase in excess reserves in the banking system, and continued growth in bank deposits, which provides a funding source to investment in government securities, Moody's sees greater scope for the domestic banking sector to increase its holdings of government securities without increasing domestic liquidity risks. Lower inflation and the expected gradual reduction in the government's deficit to 5% of GDP by 2020, from a peak of 11% of GDP on a cash basis in 2016, should also contribute to supportive market sentiments and funding costs domestically.

In addition, the government intends to rely on concessional external borrowing from multilateral creditors like the IDB and bilateral creditors, in particular China, with no plans to access commercial external borrowing. The government faces very little in the way of external amortizations in the coming years. The government's only outstanding Eurobond, which it issued in 2016, matures in 2026.

The resignation of the Central Bank Governor in February 2019, at the request of the government, is unlikely to change funding conditions and therefore Moody's assessment of liquidity risk. Moody's expects the central bank, under a new governor, to provide more support to the government's fiscal operations, including through the temporary provision of liquidity as allowed for under current legislation. However, Moody's doesn't anticipate the change in leadership at the central bank to materially affect the government's fiscal stance.

RATIONALE FOR THE RATING AFFIRMATION AT B2

STABLE MACROECONOMIC CONDITIONS SET AGAINST STRUCTURAL AND ECONOMIC VULNERABILITIES AND WEAK INSTITUTIONAL CAPACITY

Moody's decision to affirm the B2 rating is supported by the country's sizeable mining and hydrocarbon resources, a favorable investment environment driven by mining activity and improved growth prospects in the medium-term. Suriname's economy continues to emerge from the deep contraction in 2015-16, with economic growth increasing to 2.7% in 2018, up from 1.9% growth in the prior year. The recovery is supported by increased gold production and higher prices, with spillover to the rest of the economy. The stabilization of the exchange rate, and inflation trending down to single digits, also support the economic recovery.

The economy's shock absorption capacity is low given its small size and high reliance on commodities, namely gold and oil, which account for more than 80% of exports and 30% of government revenue. Looking beyond the short-term rebound, medium-term growth prospects, which Moody's estimates around 2.5%, will depend on future investment in the mining sector. Upside risks stem from future mining and oil discoveries, while downside risks relate to a decline in commodity prices.

THE GOVERNMENT DEBT BURDEN WILL REMAIN HIGH, BUT IN LINE WITH SIMILARLY-RATED PEERS

Suriname's debt burden remains a rating constraint but will stay close to the B-rated median, while debt affordability will improve. Government debt peaked at close to 80% of GDP in 2017, but is now expected to stabilize at around 60% of GDP, close to the B-rated median of 56% of GDP in 2018.

Suriname's debt affordability, as measured by the ratio of interest payments to government revenue, worsened materially due to an increase in debt and a shift in the composition of debt toward more expensive sources of financing, increasing to 14% in 2018. However, as the debt level stabilizes, and revenue increases, Suriname's debt affordability will improve to levels in line with the B-rated median of 10%.

Under Moody's baseline scenario -- gradual progress with fiscal consolidation -- projected debt accumulation is marginal, driven mostly by primary deficits. Moody's expects government debt will remain slightly above 60% of GDP, which is relatively high to sustain for a small economy that has displayed high vulnerability to external shocks. In this baseline scenario, revenue will increase as a result of mining and non-mining revenue, with only a very modest reduction in overall government spending.

REDUCED EXTERNAL VULNERABILITIES DUE TO SMALLER CURRENT ACCOUNT DEFICITS AND ACCUMULATION OF RESERVES

Suriname's current account has seen a significant adjustment, with the current account deficit moving to a nearly balanced position in 2017, following a deficit of more than 16% of GDP in 2015. The improvement was driven by the opening of a new gold mine in late 2016 and higher gold prices, which resulted in the trade balance moving to a surplus position by 2017. Moody's expects a current account deficit of around 2-3% of GDP in 2019 and 2020, compared to 3% of GDP in 2018. The current account balance will improve once Newmont completes accelerated depreciation of its capital costs related to the Merian mine, which will reduce the profit remittances of the company and reduce the primary income deficit. By 2020, an increase in gold exports following the beginning of production at the Saramacca mine in late 2019, will further boost export earnings.

The modest current account deficit combined with FDI inflows, which averaged 5.5% of GDP between 2013 and 2017, will support a gradual increase in international reserves. At the end of December 2018, international reserves increased to $581 million, an increase of $133 million compared to December 2017. The increase mainly reflects the Staatsolie syndicated loan transaction in May 2018, when the company raised $625 million. Moody's expects international reserves to grow at a pace consistent with maintaining an import coverage ratio of around 4 months.

WHAT COULD CHANGE THE RATING DOWN

Suriname's sovereign rating could be downgraded in the event of a deterioration in fiscal performance that led to an increase of government debt ratios or a material weakening of economic growth prospects, given the lower than expected economic and fiscal strength that environment would imply. A material increase in government liquidity risk -- as reflected in an increase in domestic borrowing costs or limited external funding options -- would weigh on the rating.

WHAT COULD CHANGE THE RATING UP

Moody's would consider upgrading the rating if a sustainable narrowing of the fiscal deficit were to indicate that a material decrease in government debt metrics was likely, particularly if accompanied by fiscal measures to broaden and diversify the revenue base, through measures to increase non-mining revenue.

GDP per capita (PPP basis, US$): 14,915 (2017 Actual) (also known as Per Capita Income)

Real GDP growth (% change): 1.9% (2017 Actual) (also known as GDP Growth)

Inflation Rate (CPI, % change Dec/Dec): 9.3% (2017 Actual)

Gen. Gov. Financial Balance/GDP: -8.7% (2017 Actual) (also known as Fiscal Balance)

Current Account Balance/GDP: -0.1% (2017 Actual) (also known as External Balance)

External debt/GDP: 101.9% (2017 Actual)

Level of economic development: Low level of economic resilience

Default history: At least one default event (on bonds and/or loans) has been recorded since 1983.

On 27 February 2019, a rating committee was called to discuss the rating of the Suriname, Government of. The main points raised during the discussion were: The issuer's economic fundamentals, including its economic strength, have decreased. The issuer's fiscal or financial strength, including its debt profile, has decreased. The issuer has become less 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.

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.

David Rogovic
Asst Vice President - Analyst
Sovereign Risk Group
Moody's Investors Service, Inc.
250 Greenwich Street
New York, NY 10007
U.S.A.
JOURNALISTS: 1 212 553 0376
Client Service: 1 212 553 1653

Yves Lemay
MD - Sovereign Risk
Sovereign Risk Group
JOURNALISTS: 44 20 7772 5456
Client Service: 44 20 7772 5454

Releasing Office:
Moody's Investors Service, Inc.
250 Greenwich Street
New York, NY 10007
U.S.A.
JOURNALISTS: 1 212 553 0376
Client Service: 1 212 553 1653

No Related Data.
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