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Fitch Upgrades Ghana’s Outlook to Stable

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Fitch Upgrades Ghana’s Outlook to Stable
Fitch Upgrades Ghana’s Outlook to Stable

Ghana national flag

By Dipo Olowookere

The Outlook on Ghana’s Long-Term Foreign- and Local-Currency Issuer Default Ratings (IDR) has been upgraded by Fitch Ratings to Stable from Negative. Also, the West African nation’s IDRs have been affirmed at ‘B’.

A statement issued by the rating agency on Friday stated further that it has equally affirmed the issue ratings on Ghana’s senior unsecured foreign and local currency bonds at ‘B’, as well as the ‘BB-‘ rating on Ghana’s $1 billion partially guaranteed note.

Ghana’s Country Ceiling and Short-Term Foreign and Local Currency IDRs have been affirmed at ‘B’, Fitch said.

The agency said Ghana continues to make progress in stabilising its economy after its recent crisis period, with an expected revival in GDP growth, declining inflation, a more stable currency and increasing foreign exchange reserves.

Furthermore Fitch judges that the new government will make progress in reducing the budget deficit after the election-related slippage in 2016, albeit with continued downside risks.

Fitch expects growth to improve to 6 percent in 2017 from an estimated 3.6 percent in 2016, when it was hampered by lower than expected oil production and power cuts.

CPI inflation fell to 12.9 percent year on year in March, from a peak of 19 percent in March 2016. The cedi has recovered to 4.2/$, after depreciating to 4.7/$ in early March. The improvement in the macroeconomic environment has allowed the Bank of Ghana to cut its policy interest rate to 23.5 percent from a peak of 26 percent in 2016.

Further, rising oil production and the benefits from macroeconomic stability will support Ghana’s medium-term growth potential above 6 percent, a key rating strength.

Ghana experienced a blow-out in the 2016 budget deficit, which widened to an estimated 8.9 percent of GDP (on a cash basis) in the run-up to December general elections, compared with a government and IMF target of 5.3 percent, and an outturn of 6.3 percent in 2015.

The cash deficit includes up to USD1.3 billion (3% of GDP) in off-budget and unapproved spending. On a commitment basis, accounting for an additional $650 million in unpaid commitments, Ghana’s deficit widened to as much as 10.5 percent of GDP.

Fitch notes that some of the unapproved expenditure is presently being audited and a significant chunk may be written down, which would lower the deficit.

The election resulted in a win for the New Patriotic Party, Ghana’s centre-right party, which had been in opposition since 2009. In March, the new government announced its 2017 budget, which calls for fiscal consolidation, and measures to strengthen public financial management.

Fitch forecasts the 2017 budget deficit to narrow to 7.5 percent of GDP on a cash basis, and further to 5.5 percent in 2018.

The government’s 2017 deficit forecast of 6.5 percent of GDP is based on an expected increase in tax revenues and a cut to capital expenditures.

Fitch believes that the expected increase in tax revenues will be difficult to realise, as the budget contains significant tax cuts aimed at boosting the business climate. Fitch notes that Ghana has historically underperformed its budgeted revenue projections.

On the expenditure side, interest costs will continue to exert upward pressure. Ghana’s interest costs are 32 percent of its general government revenues, a level well above the ‘B’ median of 9 percent.

Also, a lack of transparency and accountability within the line ministries has persistently led to substantial off-budget spending and the accumulation of arrears.

Successful implementation of the measures outlined in the Public Financial Management Act, 2016 would help control expenditure and keep spending focused on the policy priorities outlined in the budget.

Gross general government debt has stabilised, experiencing a slight increase to 73 percent of GDP at end-2016, from 72 percent at end-2015.

Fitch expects the debt/GDP ratio to decline to around 71 percent by end-2017 due to strengthening of the exchange rate (62% of debt is foreign currency denominated), lower budget deficit and robust nominal GDP growth.

However, Ghana’s debt level will remain higher than peers both as a percentage of GDP (the ‘B’ median is 56% of GDP) and as a percentage of revenue. Ghana’s general government debt/revenue is 366%, compared with the ‘B’ median of 225 percent.

Fitch said Ghana’s $915 million Extended Credit Facility (ECF) with the IMF is a key support for the sovereign ratings.

The incoming government has signalled its commitment to complete the programme, but has engaged with the Fund in renegotiating some of the programme’s indicative targets and structural benchmarks.

IMF staff completed the fourth review of the ECF in March and it will go to the IMF Board for approval before the end of June, allowing for the dispersal of an additional $116 million. Fitch believes that the government remains committed to successfully completing the current programme, which is due to run until 2018.

Ghana’s ‘B’ IDRs reflect the following key rating drivers:

Ghana’s external finances are a rating weakness. Fitch forecasts the current account deficit to narrow slightly to 6.3 percent of GDP in 2017, from 6.7 percent in 2016, but remain above the ‘B’ median of 5.7 percent of GDP.

Increases in oil and gas exports will help Ghana’s export performance, but rising imports will keep the current account deficit from narrowing significantly. International reserves increased by $460 million in 2016, ending at $4.9 billion, about 2.8 months of current external payments.

Fitch says it expects that external debt payments due in 2017 will limit reserves accumulation and forecasts reserves to reach $5.2 billion at end-2017.

The ratings are supported by World Bank governance indictors and business environment indicators that are stronger than the ‘B’ median, underlined by the peaceful transition of power in December. However, the ratings are constrained by low GDP per capita, which at $1,509 is less than half the ‘B’ median, low human development indicators and dependence on commodity exports.

Dipo Olowookere is a journalist based in Nigeria that has passion for reporting business news stories. At his leisure time, he watches football and supports 3SC of Ibadan. Mr Olowookere can be reached via dipo.olowookere@businesspost.ng

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Economy

Oil Prices Mixed Amid Weakening US Dollar

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Crude Oil Prices

By Adedapo Adesanya

Oil prices were mixed on Tuesday despite drawing support from a weakening US Dollar, with Brent futures contract down by 37 cents to $84.53 per barrel and the US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude up by 92 cents or 1.2 per cent to $78.82 a barrel.

The US Dollar index turned negative after data showed labour costs increased at their slowest pace in a year in the fourth quarter. This occurred as wage growth slowed, bolstering expectations of the US Federal Reserve slowing its interest rate increases.

Investors expect the Fed to raise rates by 25 basis points on Wednesday, with increases of half a percentage point by the Bank of England and European Central Bank the following day.

The rate increase expected at the Federal Open Market Committee’s January 31- February 1 meeting would bring the policy rate to the 4.5 per cent – 4.75 per cent range; that’s two quarter-point rate hikes short of the level most Fed policymakers in December thought would be sufficiently restrictive to bring inflation under control.

Economists at UBS expect the US Dollar to travel along a weaker path, with limited and short-lived bouts of strength.

“The Fed is getting closer to the end of its rate-hiking cycle. With markets growing comfortable with a terminal fed funds rate close to or at 5 per cent, and US inflation likely to quickly roll over in the first half of this year, downward pressure on the USD should continue to mount,” they said in a note.

The Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) panel will likely recommend keeping the group’s output policy unchanged when it meets at 2 pm (Nigerian time) on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a Reuters survey showed 49 economists and analysts expect Brent crude to average more than $90 a barrel this year, the first upward revision since October, with gains likely driven by demand from the world’s second top consumer, China.

China has been easing stringent COVID-19 restrictions this month, with the country reopening borders for the first time in three years.

Analysts noted that China’s reopening is supporting demand prospects for oil.

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Economy

Economy in Danger, Nigerians Suffering—Lagos Assembly

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Lagos Assembly economy in danger1

By Aduragbemi Omiyale

The Lagos State House of Assembly has accused the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) of compounding the woes of Nigerians through the Naira redesign policy, which it said has also put the economy in danger.

Speaking through its Speaker, Mr Mudashiru Obasa, the Lagos Assembly commended the National Assembly for putting pressure on the Governor of the CBN, Mr Godwin Emefiele, to ensure that Nigerians would still be able to take their old currency notes to the banks after the current deadline of February 10, 2023.

At the plenary on Tuesday, legislators in the state parliament noted that even though the policy was a good one, its timing was wrong as it had further thrown the country into economic chaos, which could become difficult to resolve if urgent steps are not taken.

Mr Obasa noted that the concern of the lawmakers had to do with the pains, anguish and anger spreading among Nigerians over their inability to access the new currency.

“Economists have said most times you cannot use new currency to control inflation, it doesn’t achieve the purpose most times,” Mr Obasa said, adding that the intention of the policy, as claimed by CBN, had been defeated owing to the various complaints from experts and people across the country.

The Speaker said the CBN should have engaged stakeholders while citizens should have been adequately carried along rather than an ‘overnight’ policy by the apex bank.

“There are people in the rural areas. It is obvious that the additional 10 days are not even going to be enough.

“The idea is a good one, but the way it is being implemented will have an adverse effect on the people.

“We need to commend the National Assembly for showing quality representation and prompt action to intervene for an extension of the deadline,” he noted.

The Speaker said that in other countries, old currencies are not discarded in a rush but allowed to fade out of the system gradually.

Mr Rotimi Olowo, the lawmaker representing Somolu Constituency 1, who moved the motion, sought an extension of the deadline till July 2023 in line with the resolution of the National Assembly while noting the suffering the policy had brought on Nigerians.

He complained about the unavailability of the new notes and the effect on the people, including small business owners and those in rural areas.

Contributing to the motion, the chairman of the House Committee on Public Account, Mr Saka Solaja, argued that financial policies are not implemented the way the CBN had gone about the Naira redesign.

“We see videos of people beating themselves mercilessly at ATMs, yet there is no money,” he lamented while supporting the call for an extension of the deadline by the CBN.

On his part, Mr Richard Kasunmu argued that the timing of the policy was not right, especially as the country was still grappling with challenges of effective internet connectivity.

He recalled how he spent five hours a day earlier trying to make an electronic transfer of N55,000 to resolve an emergency situation.

“We should be looking at the larger Nigerian people. If we want to survive the Nigerian economy, this should not be a good time for such policy,” he said.

On his part, Mr Victor Akande stressed that Mr Emefiele breached a part of the CBN Act concerning the policy, while his colleague, Mr Setonji David, noted that, “All over the world, CBN governors are economists, not bankers like Emefiele.

“Our people are suffering, and the money can’t be found at the ATMs. If you go to the ATMs, you would see how people are struggling,” he lamented.

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Emefiele Says Banks Will Accept Old Naira Notes After Deadline

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Emefiele appears before Reps

By Dipo Olowookere

The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr Godwin Emefiele, has confirmed that Nigerians who could not deposit their old Naira notes before the deadline would not lose their funds.

Speaking on Tuesday when he appeared before an ad-hoc committee of the House of Representatives chaired by Mr Alhassan Ado Doguwa, he said banks will continue to accept the old N200, N500, and N1,000 notes after February 10, 2023.

Nigerians were earlier given till Tuesday, January 31, 2023, to swap their old currency notes for the newly redesigned banknotes.

But after much pressure, the CBN obtained approval from President Muhammadu Buhari to shift the deadline forward by 10 days.

Last week, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila, threatened to sign a warrant of arrest on Mr Emefiele over his refusal to appear before the lower chamber of the parliament to explain the policy to lawmakers.

On Monday night, while speaking on a television programme monitored by Business Post, Mr Doguwa said the House would expect the CBN chief to appear today or risk being arrested by the police.

This morning, he was at the National Assembly to face the lawmakers, and during his speech, he said banks would continue to accept the old notes after the deadline in line with section 20, subsection 3 of the CBN Act, which says even after the old currency has lost its legal tender status, the bank is mandated to collect those monies.

“In agreement with the House of Representatives resolution and subject to section 20, subsection 3, which says even after the old currency has lost its legal tender status, that we are mandated to collect those monies. I stand with the House of Representatives on this.

“What does that mean? It means if you have monies you are unable to deposit to your bank after the expiration, we certainly will give you the opportunity to bring them back into the CBN, we redeem it and pay it into your bank account, or we exchange it. In that case, you do not lose your money.

“I want to appeal to you, this is not an easy exercise, but we are happy that in 19 years, we are able to carry out this important part of our mandate. We are grateful that we are doing it. We want the support of all Nigerians,” Mr Emefiele said.

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