Bond investors signal South Africa to lose investment grade

Hard-currency bond investors have already downgraded South Africa to junk.

The premium investors demand to the country’s dollar debt rather than U.S. Treasuries climbed above the emerging-market average in October, shortly before Moody’s Investors Service cut the country’s credit outlook to negative. It has now been above the mean for the longest period since Bloomberg started tracking the data in 1997. Previously, South Africa’s sovereign spread crossed above the average for brief periods only during times of stress.

Many investors expect South Africa to lose its last investment-grade rating. Their only question is when.

Moody’s is scheduled to review the assessment shortly after Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s key budget statement. To escape a downgrade, Mboweni would have to convince Moody’s that the government is on track to restructure ailing state-owned companies, and has credible plans to curb the budget shortfall and fuel growth.

“We are skeptical the government will make sufficient progress on fiscal consolidation in time for the 2020 budget,” analysts at RBC Securities wrote in a note. “We expect Moody’s to downgrade South Africa to non-investment grade in March, though the decision is likely to be a close call.”

Others, including Morgan Stanley’s Johannesburg-based Andrea Masia, expect the downgrade to be delayed until November.

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