The African bond market continues to expand, with many countries raising money on world capital markets. They are taking advantage of low global interest rates and many investors turning to African debt, partly fuelled by better economic management in Africa. Yields are near zero in Europe, the U.S. and Japan, and investors are looking to new frontiers.
Africa has massive capital needs to fuel its anticipated long growth run. The temptations to rack up debt again remain. The World Bank estimates that Africa needs to spend $93 billion a year on power, transport and water projects over the next decade to lift growth in the world’s poorest continent.
Bloomberg news agency reports that Nigeria appointed Barclays Capital in October as an adviser for its planned $500 million Eurobond. Zambia plans to raise $1 billion on the back of a planned sovereign credit rating this year.
Other African nations are dusting off plans to sell Eurobonds – bonds issued in an international currency, not the local one – to international investors. Many plans had been shelved in the global financial crisis in late 2008.
Bloomberg quotes Tanzania’s Deputy Finance Minister Omar Yusuf Mzee as saying that Tanzania is returning to work on its bond plan after postponing a sale of $500 million of the securities in 2008.
Angola has been talking for some time about raising $1 billion – $2 bln through international bonds this year. It received a B+ credit rating from Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings in May.
Kenya plans to wait on its planned $500 million sovereign bond as the global recovery is “still uncertain,” according to Geoffrey Mwau, economic secretary in the Finance Ministry reportedly in August.
Sudan is next year to seek investors from the Persian Gulf region for $300 million of Islamic bonds because U.S. economic sanctions have denied the country access to other international markets, central bank Governor Sabir Hassan told the agency in an interview in Khartoum on 6 Sept.
Economic growth for Africa is expected to be more than 5% a year, says Bloomberg, fuelled partly by investment from China and India and partly by its own growing consumer spending. Infrastructure to be upgraded includes obsolete road and rail networks and power generation, where may countries face more power shortages – Bloomberg says that a continent of 1 billion people that has electricity capacity equivalent to Spain.
Bloomberg cites Samir Gadio, an emerging- markets strategist in London at Standard Bank Group Ltd: “The timing is perfect. Global yields are extremely low and that’s pushed a lot of countries to tap international markets. We’ll see good demand for these bonds. There’s just so much excess liquidity across the globe.”
South Africa’s $2 billion bond maturing in March 2020, yielded 3.69% recently (on 11 October), 138 basis points lower than when the securities were sold in June, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The yield on Ghana’s 8.5% dollar-denominated bonds, due October 2017, has fallen 239 basis points to 5.78% during 2010.
According to the report, David Damiba, managing director in London for Renaissance Asset Managers,says: “It’s a fantastic idea to diversify their sources of funding. It’s important that these countries would want a benchmark bond” so that other assets can be priced appropriately by investors.
Another proponent is Stuart Culverhouse, chief economist of London-based Exotix Ltd., which advises clients on investments in illiquid markets. “Africa is relatively new to investors. After the last 20 to 30 years of really bad news, the past 5 to 6 years have been generally positive. There’s a cash pile just waiting to be invested. African Eurobonds will definitely be well-received.”
Some economic fundamentals have improved in Ghana, Zambia, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda. Most of their foreign debt, totaling about $33 billion, was canceled by lenders such as the International Monetary Fund and the U.S. starting in 2000.
Nigeria’s sovereign debt was 15% of gross domestic product in 2009, according to data from the IMF. That compares with 115% in Greece, 77% in Portugal and 116% in Italy. The report cites the IMF’s April 2010 Regional Economic Outlook for Sub-Saharan Africa. as saying in 2009 government debt was 26% of GDP in Zambia, 37% in Tanzania and 60% in Ghana.
Eurobond sellers will have to rein in fiscal deficits and limit any shortfall in their current accounts, to show that they can repay the money.
“It puts the countries on their toes,” said Kofi Wampah, first deputy governor of the central bank of Ghana, which is considering selling its second security in international markets, speaking to Bloomberg in an interview from his office in Accra on 7 Oct: “You have to ensure that your fundamentals are always right.”