Mozambique’s Choppy Fishing Expedition

Mozambique, downgraded to selective default last year after skipping interest and principal payments, stiffened its creditor renegotiation stance on the three instruments outstanding by refusing to honor a $60 million installment on the 2023 Eurobond due mid-January. The grace period lasts another month, and despite almost $2 billion in gross foreign reserves the government has signaled another restructuring after 2016’s Tuna bond swap and pari passu treatment for all obligations as it tries to resume a suspended IMF program. An audit was ordered to reveal the scope of legitimacy of liabilities arranged through investment banks and select officials, which creditors claim misrepresented contractual terms. With the standoff the currency lost one-third of its value against the dollar and the central bank was forced to raise the policy rate almost 15 percent, although it remains negative with inflation above 25 percent. A new governor came on board at year-end to help restore multilateral confidence, and has conducted minor exchange rate intervention without provoking large swings. The $5 billion current account deficit is close to half the economy’s size, with coal accounting for 15 percent of exports. Offshore gas finds will be a major contributor toward end-decade, but financing is complicated by the current sovereign debt dispute and long-term energy price uncertainty. Big bond holders include Franklin Templeton, which led the steering committee that took a haircut on Ukraine under international official pressure. The group has started to push back with threatened lawsuits against Mozambique’s Swiss and Russian transaction advisers, and has called on the Fund to reactivate lines only with full national account and private deal disclosure while looking for its injection to secure reimbursement.

Ghana also ran up large debts at 70 percent of GDP and would have been in bond refinancing difficulty without Fund and World Bank help, especially in the volatile pre-election period. Opposition standard-bearer Akufo Addo, whose father brought independence from the UK, won the December presidential contest with 55 percent of the vote after previous defeats and stints as foreign minister and attorney-general.  He condemned the “borrowing spree” during the campaign and promised tax reform and commodity diversification to bridge the near 10 percent fiscal deficit. Corruption investigations will also be a priority, after kickback allegations on large infrastructure projects supposed to be covered by oil revenue that has been slow to materialize. In agriculture the incoming President contrasted the five times more earnings from a product range in next-door Cote d’Ivoire, also the global cocoa export leader. GDP growth at 8 percent tops the sub-region, but civilian-military relations remain tentative as soldiers mutinied over back pay and other demands in January before President Ouattara reached a settlement. The army has resisted the President’s team technocrat approach aimed at luring foreign direct investment, as accused criminals from the decade-long civil war gradually face international trial. Tourism efforts were sidetracked by last year’s terror attack on the Grand Bassam resort, but the African Development Bank headquarters is again in Abidjan with frequent foreign visitors seeking to participate in new schemes like a dedicated public-private cross-border infrastructure fund which intends to overcome a legacy of past wreckage in the sector.

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