IMF cuts African growth forecast

Africa’s growth is slowing dramatically, says the International Monetary Fund, and it could get worse if the global economy does not grow. The IMF says economic growth for 2015 is likely to be 3.75% and 4.25% next year, the lowest level in 6 years and down from last year’s 5% average growth.

In its October 2015 report African Economic Outlook: Dealing with the Gathering Clouds, the IMF writes: “The strong growth momentum evident in the region in recent years has dissipated. With the possibility that the external environment might turn even less favourable, risks to this outlook remain on the downside.”

There are many that are flourishing, including Cote d’Ivoire, forecast to grow at 9% this year because of an investment boom that followed the end of a brief civil war in 2012. It just had a very peaceful election and President Alassane Ouattara, a former IMF official, is widely expected to win.

In real growth terms (page 81) Ethiopia is Africa’s fastest-growing economy this year with 8.7% growth, followed by Democratic Republic of Congo (8.4%) and Cote d’Ivoire (8.2%). Ethiopia is second fastest next year with 8.1% forecast, just after Mozambique (8.2%).

The fund blames a slump in commodity prices and cheap dollars returning to the US and out of African credit markets for the lower overall growth. Hardest hit are the 8 countries that export oil from sub-Saharan Africa, where the prices are far lower. Top producers Nigeria and Angola will see revenues falling fast, while . weak minerals prices, power shortages and difficult financing conditions are slowing growth in countries such as Ghana, Zambia and South Africa. It said commodities revenues are forecast to remain depressed for several years.

According to a report by Reuters, Antoinette Sayeh, head of the IMF’s Africa department, said governments should work quickly to diversify revenue sources by improving domestic tax collection: “Mobilizing more revenues is an urgent matter – as is being more exacting in choosing expenditure. It’s a difficult patch, but we definitely think that countries can move out of the very difficult terrain and grow more robustly.”

The fund urges governments to increase productivity: “To sustain rapid growth the region will need to diversify away from commodities, increase export sophistication, and integrate into global value chains.”

Low interest rates, especially by issuing Eurobonds on international fixed income markets since 2007, has meant African governments have borrowed and public debt levels have risen. Sayeh warned governments to be “very careful” in how they managed dollar financing to ensure it is invested wisely. Some governments, such as Ghana, have been accused of frittering away Eurobond revenues on state salaries. Sayeh said Accra was doing “reasonably well” in its efforts to curb public spending under a $918 million IMF programme agreed in April.

She says that Zambia has not yet asked IMF for financial help. It is also struggling with the rising cost of servicing USD debt after the value of its currency fell 50% this year.

The Fund also notes that Sub-Saharan Africa has among the highest levels of inequality—both income and gender—in the world, even after accounting for the lower levels of per capita income in the region. There is growing international evidence that such inequality can impede macroeconomic stability and growth

Highlights from the report
In most low-income countries, growth is holding up, as ongoing infrastructure investment efforts continue and private consumption remains strong. The likes of Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Tanzania are projected to register growth of 7% or more this year and next. But even within this group, some countries are feeling the pinch from lower prices for their main export commodities, even as lower oil prices ease their energy import bill. On average, activity for this group is now projected to expand by 6% in 2015, some three-quarters of a percentage point lower than foreseen a year ago.

• The region’s 8 oil-exporting countries, conversely, are being hit hard by the continued weakness in oil prices. Falling export incomes and resulting sharp fiscal adjustments are taking their toll on activity, now expected to expand by 3½% this year, down from the 7% expected before oil prices started falling. Headwinds are particularly strong in Angola and Nigeria, but also among oil exporters in the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC).

• Several middle-income countries are also facing unfavourable conditions. A combination of supply shocks (for example, curtailed electricity production in Ghana, South Africa, and Zambia), more difficult financing conditions in a context of large domestic imbalances (Ghana and Zambia), and weaker commodity prices (Botswana, South Africa, Zambia) are set to lower growth.

Moreover, there is a risk of still lower growth if the external environment continues to weaken. Existing vulnerabilities, especially on the fiscal front, could also come to a head if the external environment were to turn even less favorable, via further declines in commodity prices, stronger growth deceleration in China, or a disorderly global asset reallocation.

Debt crunch
With gross external financing needs in excess of 10% of GDP in many of the larger economies (Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania), it might at best become increasingly difficult and expensive to cover these needs, and at worst, impossible to do so, forcing an abrupt adjustment.

Where fiscal deficits are particularly large and external costs have already risen substantially, recourse to domestic markets is also becoming increasingly difficult, as in Ghana and Zambia. This has pushed domestic borrowing costs up— crowding out the private sector in the process and restraining the emergence of new, more diverse, domestic sources of growth.

inflation is now inching up in some of the largest sub-Saharan African economies, in contrast with the trend of recent years. Average inflation in the region is expected to reach 7% this year and 7¼% next year. In some countries, specific factors such as electricity tariff hikes (South Africa), the elimination of fuel subsidies (Angola), and rising food prices (Ethiopia, Tanzania) have also pushed inflation up. However, inflation in most other countries remains contained, particularly in the CFA franc zones, where it ranges from 1 to 3%.
some central banks have intervened in the market to contain exchange rate volatility, and others, most notably oil exporters, have drawn on their external buffers to smooth the adjustment to lower commodity prices (Figure 1.12). Some countries, including Angola and Nigeria, have also introduced administrative measures to stem the demand for foreign currency, significantly hampering the conduct of private sector activities in the process.

Banks could well see a worsening of the quality of their assets. Recent analysis suggests that financial stability indicators in natural-resource-rich countries, such as bank profitability or nonperforming loans, tend to deteriorate and the probability of systemic banking crises tends to increase in the wake of negative commodity price shocks

Power block
Infrastructure bottlenecks have long been an impediment to attracting new activities and fostering trade integration.8 These bottlenecks have come to the forefront even more acutely recently for a wide range of countries. Load shedding and electricity shortages, triggered by delays in upgrading aging power plants and filling the power generation gaps, have become a regular occurrence in Ghana and South Africa, with particularly acute effects in the manufacturing sector. Worsening conditions in electricity supply have also been severely hampering activity in a few other countries (Comoros, Madagascar, Nigeria, and Zambia).

These difficulties are in stark contrast with encouraging progress made elsewhere in the region, as past investment is now bearing fruit. In Kenya, the doubling of geothermal generation capacity in the second half of 2014 led to a 20% increase in overall capacity and a 25% decline of electricity cost (IMF 2015b). The coming onstream of new hydropower plants in Ethiopia is contributing to a further increase in electricity availability for the entire east African region, and will do so even more in the next few years—supporting the emergence of new activities. In west Africa, a new dam put in service in Guinea in the summer of 2015 will also allow electricity exports to neighbouring countries.

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