Ramaphosa Speech Flags South Africa Credit Challenges, Fitch Says

Rene Vollgraaff

(Bloomberg) -- Sign up to our Next Africa newsletter and follow Bloomberg Africa on Twitter

The challenges to South Africa’s credit outlook were highlighted by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s state-of-the-nation address, Fitch Ratings said.

While Ramaphosa promised progress in his speech on Thursday, he offered only partial detail on key policy areas, including stabilizing the electricity sector, improving public finances, accelerating economic growth and land reform, the ratings company said in an emailed statement on Friday.

Ramaphosa announced changes to the nation’s electricity industry to tackle energy shortages and reduce reliance on debt-stricken state power utility Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd., including increased participation of private producers. He warned the nation’s debt trajectory is unsustainable and said Finance Minister Tito Mboweni will elaborate on measures to cut spending when he delivers his budget speech on Feb. 26. The government is in talks with labor unions about reducing the state wage bill, he said.

However, with the current wage settlement only expiring in 2021, Fitch said it doesn’t expect any clear commitments on reducing the salary bill relative to previous plans. The impact of growth-enhancing measures including the auction of additional broadband spectrum will be limited at first, the company said.

Negative Outlook

Fitch cut South Africa’s credit rating to junk in April 2017 after a late-night cabinet reshuffle in which the finance minister was removed. The company changed the outlook on its BB+ rating to negative in July last year, citing the heightened difficulty of stabilizing government debt over the medium term and the downside risks to South Africa’s economic growth potential.

“The difficulty of addressing competing priorities of reducing inequality, raising growth, improving public finances and containing populism and in-fighting within the African National Congress will continue to limit the government’s ability to take more decisive steps to accelerate growth,” Fitch said.

--With assistance from Prinesha Naidoo.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rene Vollgraaff in Johannesburg at rvollgraaff@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Benjamin Harvey at bharvey11@bloomberg.net, Renee Bonorchis, John Viljoen

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

Subscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.