Gloomy growth a big risk for SA - S&P

Johannesburg – Ratings firm Standard and Poor’s (S&P) has warned that weak South African economic growth and government bailouts of state-owned companies could see Africa’s most industrialised nation downgraded to junk soon.

In its 2016 report on ratings trends in sub-Saharan Africa released this month, S&P said South Africa was in danger of missing its fiscal targets. The ratings agency currently has the country just one notch above sub-investment grade.

“We could lower the ratings if GDP growth does not improve in line with our current expectations, or if state-owned enterprises require higher government support than we currently expect,” said S&P analyst Gardner Rusike.

South Africa’s central bank, which decides on rates on Thursday, lowered its growth forecast for 2015 to 1.4 percent in November, and is tipped to lower the forecast further.

The National Treasury has shelled out billions in guarantees and loans to keep state-owned companies afloat.

The government has provided electricity firm Eskom with R10 billion in equity, with an additional R13 billion expected by March 2016.

Total guarantees given to loss-making national carrier South African Airways amount to R14.4 billion.

“We could also lower the ratings if external imbalances increase, or funding for South Africa’s current account or fiscal deficits becomes less readily available,” S&P analyst Rusike said in the report.

South Africa’s current account deficit raced to 4.1 percent of GDP in the third quarter from 3.1 percent in the second, while government debt remains high and could remain elevated following the rand’s sharp fall in 2015 and tepid growth.

Along with S&P fellow ratings agency Fitch also has South Africa one level above junk status, while Moody’s has the country two levels above sub-investment, but with a negative outlook.