South African yields climb as bond sale amounts raised for Eskom

An electricity pylon (iStock).
An electricity pylon (iStock).

South African government yields climbed and the rand pared an advance after the National Treasury said it will increase the amount of debt sold at weekly bond auctions to help fund a bailout of the state-owned electricity company and counter a tax revenue shortfall.

Starting on August 6, the National Treasury will sell  R4.53bn of fixed-rate debt per week, up from R3.3bn, it said in a statement on Wednesday. Amounts at sales of inflation-linked bonds will rise to R1.04bn from August 16, compared with R760m currently.

While the additional borrowing was expected after the government announced another bailout for Eskom earlier this month, the amount of the increase caught some traders by surprise.

The rise in government debt will put the country’s last remaining investment-grade rating, at Moody’s, at risk at a time when foreign investors are selling the country’s bonds at an average rate of R450m a day.

“The increase in issuance levels is larger than what was expected,” said Lloyd Miller, a Johannesburg-based analyst at ETM Analytics.

“This suggests that the budget shortfall may be much larger than expected and could be a result of both weaker revenue collection as well as increased spending to fund bailouts to Eskom and other state owned companies.”

Yields on benchmark securities due 2026 rose three basis points to 8.34%, while those on generic 10-year securities pierced the key 9% level to trade around the highest level in about a month. The rand, which had gained as much as 0.5% on the day, pared the advance to trade flat against the dollar.

Finance Tito Mboweni said last week Eskom will get R26bn this financial year and R22bn in 2020-21 to help it remain solvent. The news came just five months after he announced a three-year, R69bn-rand cash injection for the utility.

Moody's described the bailout as “credit negative,” and Fitch Ratings lowered its outlook on the country’s debt to negative, from stable.

In addition to raising auction amounts, the Treasury said it would cancel bond-switch auctions for the rest of the year while it reviews the switch program.

It is also committed to shortening the average maturity of bonds sold at auctions, it said.

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