Ghana’s Addled Issuance Anniversary Angles

Ghana marked a decade since it Sub-Saharan Africa setting sovereign bond debut as rating agencies have one-third of the continent on negative watch on still slippery commodity recovery, with $25 billion in near-term maturities due. Oil earnings were half the 2013 peak last year at $1.5 billion, and cocoa exports continue to draw $2 billion in syndicated loans with arranger banks emphasizing relationships rather than crop resurgence. International lines have been in the sector forefront as domestic counterparts battle with 20 percent bad loan portfolios that forced the central bank to close two institutions in August and transfer them to state-run Ghana Commercial Bank, a heavyweight stock exchange listing, with the MSCI frontier index up 70 percent through the third quarter after a prolonged slump. Banks are also absorbing the impact of local debt swaps to reduce costs and extend tenors, as $2.5 billion in new issuance will tackle energy arrears and inject liquidity. Total global obligations are $30 billion and servicing drains one-third of government revenue, but the currency is no longer in free fall after an IMF program and inflation is near single-digits at 12 percent. Fiscal discipline is the centerpiece of the Fund accord recently stretched to 2019, with this year’s deficit estimated at 6 percent of GDP as “ghost workers” were dropped from the official payroll and a new digital identification system is to incorporate informal tax evaders. President Akufo-Addo, whose father held the post after independence, campaigned on a pro-business platform and named well-known former investment bankers to the Finance Ministry.  However the World Bank Doing Business ranking is 110, and the President has come under criticism for minister sprawl as he rewarded over 100 appointees associated with his party and decades of political life. Relations with China are also controversial, as his team cracked down on small-scale gold miners after complaints from mainland operators and set ambitions as a sub-regional rail hub with Chinese borrowing and technology.

The move is widely viewed as a West Africa challenge to giant Nigeria, where President Buhari has been on medical leave abroad and secessionist stirrings in Biafra have reignited with the anemic 2 percent growth rate and Boko Haram pillaging and terror. Since April the foreign exchange crunch has eased with more regular auctions for essential imports, and foreign investors have crept back into Treasury instruments with nominal 15 percent yields despite eviction from the main JP Morgan index. The MSCI stock gauge in turn has rebounded 25 percent through September on stronger oil prices boosting reserves, and likelihood that the President may step aside before the end of his term in 2019 and in a history repeat from the last administration transfer power to his more dynamic and economics-savvy vice president. In East Africa Kenya has also gained 25 percent on the frontier index as the presidential contest is replayed in mid-October after a constitutional court found evidence of vote hacking and count irregularities in the original exercise. The ruling was hailed as a democracy triumph in good governance circles, but spooked the business community with another round of uncertainty and potential large-scale violence between rival tribal candidate camps. Blue-chip Safaricom announced expansion plans in Ethiopia as a strategy response despite the glaringly more questionable free-election path.

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