South Africa Treasury Doubt Risks Confidence, Moody’s Says

  • Domestic politics greatest risk to nation’s creditworthiness
  • Reform of state-owned companies may be credit positive

Uncertainty about the leadership at South Africa’s National Treasury and political infighting are eating into investor confidence and present the greatest risks to the nation’s credit rating, Moody’s Investors Service said.

“Rising political infighting and the uncertainty about continuity of leadership at the National Treasury have been creating policy uncertainty,” the company said in an e-mailed report Thursday. “We view the greatest risk to South Africa’s creditworthiness, moderate but rising, as stemming from domestic political risks.”

While South Africa was spared credit-rating downgrades by Moody’s, S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings Ltd. earlier this year, all three companies have voiced concern about politics and sluggish economic growth. News last month that Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, who led efforts earlier in the year boost the confidence of investors and rating companies in the economy, is being investigated by the police hit the rand and bonds. The nation’s currency has weakened 18 percent against the dollar since the start of 2015.

Moody’s affirmed the rating of the continent’s most-industrialized economy at Baa2, two levels above junk, in May while keeping its outlook negative. The outlook “recognizes the downside risks associated with political in-fighting, fragility of growth recovery and pressures on the fiscal front,” the company said Thursday.

South Africa’s economy expanded by an annualized 3.3 percent in the second quarter, avoiding a second recession in seven years. The credit rating could be cut if growth doesn’t recover, Moody’s said. The economy will probably expand 0.2 percent this year and 1.1 percent in 2017, it said.

“The ratings agencies and others want to see proof that we’ve taken a few steps in the direction that we’ve indicated we will actually take,” Gordhan told reporters in the capital, Pretoria, Friday after a meeting with President Jacob Zuma and business leaders. “We feel confident that the work that we’ve been doing together will provide sufficient evidence again that we are serious about the promises we made to improve prospects for growth and stabilize our financial situation.”

While a rating upgrade is unlikely, Moody’s said it could change the outlook from negative to stable if the government delivers on faster growth and stabilizes, or eventually reduces, government debt. Gordhan will present the mid-term budget to lawmakers in Cape Town on Oct. 26. More labor-market flexibility and reforms at state-owned companies would also be credit positive, Moody’s said.

Moody’s placed five South African state-owned companies on review for a downgrade on Wednesday citing concerns about funding sources, governance and the political environment.

Officials from Moody’s will visit South Africa on Sept. 21 and 22, Gordhan said. S&P, which rates the nation’s debt one level above junk and is due to release its next review on Dec. 2, will be in the country early November and Fitch, which has a similar assessment, a month later, he said.

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