State firms debt may threaten financial stability, warns SARB

Johannesburg - The inability of state-owned companies to roll over debt could threaten South Africa's financial stability and ultimately result in more credit-rating downgrades, according to the central bank.

Governance issues at state companies, rising contingent liabilities and inadequate liquidity could add pressure to government finances through the increased use of guarantees, the Reserve Bank said in its six-monthly Financial Stability Review released in Pretoria on Wednesday.

“Financial stability centres around the ability of state-owned enterprises to roll over debt and achieve financial consolidation,” the SARB said. “Should state-owned enterprises fail to roll over debt, the government would be liable and might not be able to honor such debt.”

Ratings companies have flagged state firms’ finances as a concern in recent years. While Moody’s Investors Service kept the nation’s credit rating at investment grade and changed the outlook to stable from negative last month, it warned if risks at these companies materialise and increase the government’s debt burden, it could lead to downgrades.

Government guarantees to state companies are at more than R450bn, according to data from the National Treasury. The state’s exposure to this increased to 64.5% in the past fiscal year from 54.4% as companies drew on the guarantees.

Power utility Eskom is the single biggest recipient of guarantees at R221bn, followed by the Road Accident Fund at R189bn, the central bank said.

South African Airways said on Tuesday it needs R5bn from the government to cover immediate costs and warned it may struggle to make debt repayments due next year.

The rand, which has declined 0.5% versus the US dollar this year, was little changed on Thursday morning at R12.4435/$.

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