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Banking in Africa bearing brunt of governments fiscal crumble


International think tank Moody’s Investor Service recently said rising pressure on African governments caused by the coronavirus pandemic is weighing on the domestic banks.

This is because the creditworthiness of the banks is inextricably linked to the financial strength of the government in the country where they are based.

“As a result, when sovereign creditworthiness deteriorates, in the majority of cases bank creditworthiness comes under pressure. More specifically, governments facing a debt or currency crisis may impose deposit freezes and foreign currency debt moratoriums.

In addition, African banks hold government bonds and loans to government-related bodies worth many times their capital base, making them vulnerable to a government default. The resultant deterioration in operating conditions also affects African banks’ financial performance – especially asset quality, profitability and foreign currency liquidity – while governments’ capacity to provide support to troubled banks is weakened,” said Moody’s recently.

According to Moody’s which is also a renowned rating agency, roughly 90 percent of bank rating actions in Africa over the past six months have followed a sovereign rating action.

According to the rating agency, a sovereign crisis is typically accompanied by rising fiscal pressures, liquidity shortages and weaker economic growth.

“As the governments’ credit profiles weaken, so does their capacity to provide support to troubled banks. Past incidents of sovereign crises and defaults also suggest that there remains a heightened risk of authorities imposing prolonged capital controls on banks during difficult times, such as restricted deposit withdrawals or forced deposit conversions into local currency.

Governments have also previously restricted foreign-exchange transfers abroad, which interfere with private-sector issuers’ abilities to service their foreign-currency debts,” says Constantinos Kypreos, a senior vice president and African banking expert at Moody’s.

Moody’s also said the coronavirus outbreak and its wider impact on global trade, commodity prices and financial markets present severe economic and social challenges to many African sovereigns. This means sovereigns like Botswana which heavily depends on a commodity like diamonds, should have a major economic problem.

When releasing an update of sovereign credit rating for Botswana, another renowned international rating agency S&P Global Ratings, said for this country, long term foreign and domestic currency bonds are affirmed at “BBB+” and short-term foreign and domestic currency bonds at “A-2.”

The rating agency said BBB+ and A-2 sovereign credit ratings, for both long-term and short-term, foreign and domestic currency denominated debt are retained. But this was highly washed down or offset by the outlook which was changed from stable to negative by S&P due to the expected higher pressures on Botswana’s economic, external and fiscal performance over the next two years, notably arising from the adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, compounded by weaker diamond exports. Like Moody’s, S & P sees a bleak future for economies that a commodity-dependent like that of Botswana.

“We could lower our ratings on Botswana if the fiscal trajectory remained weak, beyond the initial impact of the pandemic. This could happen if diamond prices and demand failed to recover in the next two years,” said S & P.

Going back to Moody’s recent report, there is another thing that economy highly susceptible to external shocks which relates to being heavily dependent on commodities which are bought by American dollars, leaving a sovereign’s economy foreign exchange or dollar-bound. Botswana’s diamonds are bought with dollars

Moody’s said partly-dollarised systems like Botswana face acute foreign-currency shortages.  The agency said African banks generally benefit from a stable, deposit-based funding structure and are typically liquid. However, many African countries are partly dollarised, and so any depreciation or devaluation of their local currency or a dollar crunch can leave banks vulnerable, said Moody’s.

“More specifically, when government foreign-currency revenues are reduced (for example, as a result of low oil or other commodity prices, or a drop in tourism revenues) and/or international investors reduce their exposures to troubled sovereigns leading to portfolio outflows, this leads to a drop in foreign currency reserves and can prompt central banks to ration the foreign currency they make available to banks. It means that importers are unable to easily source foreign currency to buy goods, or are forced to draw down on their dollar deposits to do so, placing additional pressure on banks’ foreign currency liquidity,” says Moody’s.

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P230 million Phikwe revival project kicks off

19th October 2020
industrial hub

Marcian Concepts have been contracted by Selibe Phikwe Economic Unit (SPEDU) in a P230 million project to raise the town from its ghost status.  The project is in the design and building phase of building an industrial hub for Phikwe; putting together an infrastructure in Bolelanoto and Senwelo industrial sites.

This project comes as a life-raft for Selibe Phikwe, a town which was turned into a ghost town when the area’s economic mainstay, BCL mine, closed four years ago.  In that catastrophe, 5000 people lost their livelihoods as the town’s life sunk into a gloomy horizon. Businesses were closed and some migrated to better places as industrial places and malls became almost empty.

However, SPEDU has now started plans to breathe life into the town. Information reaching this publication is that Marcian Concepts is now on the ground at Bolelanoto and Senwelo and works have commenced.  Marcian as a contractor already promises to hire Phikwe locals only, even subcontract only companies from the area as a way to empower the place’s economy.

The procurement method for the tender is Open Domestic bidding which means Joint Ventures with foreign companies is not allowed. According to Marcian Concepts General Manager, Andre Strydom, in an interview with this publication, the project will come with 150 to 200 jobs. The project is expected to take 15 months at a tune of P230 531 402. 76. Marcian will put together construction of roadworks, storm-water drains, water reticulation, street lighting and telecommunication infrastructure. This tender was flouted last year August, but was awarded in June this year. This project is seen as the beginning of Phikwe’s revival and investors will be targeted to the area after the town has worn the ghost city status for almost half a decade.

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IMF projects deeper recession for 2020, slow recovery for 2021

19th October 2020

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has slashed its outlook the world economy projecting a significantly deeper recession and slower recovery than it anticipated just two months ago.

On Wednesday when delivering its World Economic Outlook report titled “A long difficult Ascent” the Washington Based global lender said it now expects global gross domestic product to shrink 4.9% this year, more than the 3% predicted in April.  For 2021, IMF experts have projected growth of 5.4%, down from 5.8%. “We are projecting a somewhat less severe though still deep recession in 2020, relative to our June forecast,” said Gita Gopinath Economic Counsellor and Director of Research.

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Botswana partly closed economy a further blow of 4.2 fall in revenue

19th October 2020

The struggle of humanity is now how to dribble past the ‘Great Pandemic’ in order to salvage a lean economic score. Botswana is already working on dwindling fiscal accounts, budget deficit, threatened foreign reserves and the GDP data that is screaming recession.

Latest data by think tank and renowned rating agency, Moody’s Investor Service, is that Botswana’s fiscal status is on the red and it is mostly because of its mineral-dependency garment and tourism-related taxation. Botswana decided to close borders as one of the containment measures of Covid-19; trade and travellers have been locked out of the country. Moody’s also acknowledges that closing borders by countries like Botswana results in the collapse of tourism which will also indirectly weigh on revenue through lower import duties, VAT receipts and other taxes.

Latest economic data shows that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the second quarter of 2020 with a decrease of 27 percent. One of the factors that led to contraction of the local economy is the suspension of air travel occasioned by COVID-19 containment measures impacted on the number of tourists entering through the country’s borders and hence affecting the output of the hotels and restaurants industry. This will also be weighed down by, according to Moody’s, emerging markets which will see government losing average revenue worth 2.1 percentage points (pps) of GDP in 2020, exceeding the 1.0 pps loss in advanced economies (AEs).

“Fiscal revenue in emerging markets is particularly vulnerable to this current crisis because of concentrated revenue structures and less sophisticated tax administrations than those in AEs. Oil exporters will see the largest falls but revenue volatility is a common feature of their credit profiles historically,” says Moody’s. The domino effects of containment measures could be seen cracking all sectors of the local economy as taxes from outside were locked out by the closure of borders hence dwindling tax revenue.

Moody’s has placed Botswana among oil importers, small, tourism-reliant economies which will see the largest fall in revenue. Botswana is in the top 10 of that pecking order where Moody’s pointed out recently that other resource-rich countries like Botswana (A2 negative) will also face a large drop in fiscal revenue.

This situation of countries’ revenue on the red is going to stay stubborn for a long run. Moody’s predicts that the spending pressures faced by governments across the globe are unlikely to ease in the short term, particularly because this crisis has emphasized the social role governments perform in areas like healthcare and labour markets.

For countries like Botswana, these spending pressures are generally exacerbated by a range of other factors like a higher interest burden, infrastructure deficiencies, weaker broader public sector, higher subsidies, lower incomes and more precarious employment. As a result, most of the burden for any fiscal consolidation is likely to fall on the revenue side, says Moody’s.

Moody’s then moves to the revenue spin of taxation. The rating agency looked at the likelihood and probability of sovereigns to raise up revenue by increasing tax to offset what was lost in mineral revenue and tourism-related tax revenue. Moody’s said the capacity to raise tax revenue distinguishes governments from other debt issuers.  “In theory, governments can change a given tax system as they wish, subject to the relevant legislative process and within the constraints of international law. In practice, however, there are material constraints,” says Moody’s.

‘‘The coronavirus crisis will lead to long-lasting revenue losses for emerging market sovereigns because their ability to implement and enforce effective revenue-raising measures in response will be an important credit driver over the next few years because of their sizeable spending pressures and the subdued recovery in the global economy we expect next year.’’

According to Moody’s, together with a rise in stimulus and healthcare spending related to the crisis, the think tank expects this drop in revenue will trigger a sizeable fiscal deterioration across emerging market sovereigns. Most countries, including Botswana, are under pressure of widening their tax bases, Moody’s says that this will be challenging. “Even if governments reversed or do not extend tax-easing measures implemented in 2020 to support the economy through the coronavirus shock, which would be politically challenging, this would only provide a modest boost to revenue, especially as these measures were relatively modest in most emerging markets,” says Moody’s.

Botswana has been seen internationally as a ‘tax ease’ country and its taxes are seen as lower when compared to its regional counterparts. This country’s name has also been mentioned in various international investigative journalism tax evasion reports. In recent years there was a division of opinions over whether this country can stretch its tax base. But like other sovereigns who have tried but struggled to increase or even maintain their tax intake before the crisis, Botswana will face additional challenges, according to Moody’s.

“Additional measures to reduce tax evasion and cutting tax expenditure should support the recovery in government revenue, albeit from low levels,” advised Moody’s. Botswana’s tax revenue to the percentage of the GDP was 27 percent in 2008, dropped to 23 percent in 2010 to 23 percent before rising to 27 percent again in 2012. In years 2013 and 2014 the percentage went to 25 percent before it took a slip to decline in respective years of 2015 up to now where it is at 19.8 percent.

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