The South African flag is shown at the lighthouse and Donkin memorial in Port Elizabeth. Picture: 123RF/VANESSA BENTLEY
The South African flag is shown at the lighthouse and Donkin memorial in Port Elizabeth. Picture: 123RF/VANESSA BENTLEY

What’s the cost of becoming junk? SA will soon find out.

The country lost its last investment-grade rating on Friday when Moody’s Investors Service cut it to Ba1, citing a weak economy and an unreliable power sector.

When markets reopened on Monday in Asia, the effect was immediate. The rand fell to a record low, weakening beyond 18 per dollar for the first time, before paring losses.

The government’s local-currency debt and Eurobonds, as well as banking stocks, also dropped. The rand weakened 0.1% to 17.93 against the dollar by 6.45am in Johannesburg on Tuesday, extending its decline this year to 22%.

There could be more to come. The downgrade will trigger SA’s exclusion, probably in late April, from the FTSE World Government Bond Index (WGBI). The gauge includes 14 currencies, including the dollar, yen and euro, and is tracked by about $3-trillion of funds.

Passive funds following the WGBI will have to dump rand bonds once they are excluded. SA has a 0.45% weighting in the main index, suggesting there could be $14bn of passive money holding rand government bonds. But it is impossible to tell accurately since funds can be under- or overweight in SA, which is the highest-yielding member of the WGBI.

Here is what analysts say the impact could be on the rand and in terms of outflows from SA:

Barclays

The Moody’s downgrade may lead to $6bn  of forced bond selling, London-based analysts Michael Kafe, Nikolaos Sgouropoulos and Andreas Kolbe said. If so, that would cause foreign holdings of the government’s rand debt to fall to about 30%-32% of the total from 37%.

Another downgrade is possible, they said, if SA does not quickly reduce a budget deficit that was expected to rise to a three-decade high in the next year even before the coronavirus struck.

Ratings agency Moody's moved South Africa to "junk" status on March 27 2020 after revising the outlook on the country's last investment-grade credit rating to "negative" because of a slowdown in economic growth and rising debt burden. Mudiwa Gavaza gives us the breakdown on what it means for SA.

Citigroup

The Wall Street bank had previously estimated that SA would experience $6.6bn of outflows on a Moody’s downgrade.

“However, the event has been expected and thus priced in for a long time and, with markets also selling off significantly this month, the actual outflow is likely to be far smaller than the original estimate,” Gina Schoeman, a Johannesburg-based economist at the bank, said on Monday.

Deutsche Bank

Deutsche had been advising clients to wait for a downgrade and then buy rand debt as yields rose. The coronavirus pandemic has changed that and it now thinks the rand could depreciate another 10% to 20 per dollar.

“We find risk-reward as not attractive enough to get bullish immediately post the downgrade, considering the domestic challenges and the external backdrop,” said Christian Wietoska, a strategist in London.

Intellidex

About $3bn of passive outflows will occur directly because of the rating cut, according to Peter Attard Montalto, London-based head of capital-markets research at Intellidex.

Another $2bn will probably exit the country once the WGBI exclusion happens, he said. He believes S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings may lower SA’s rating in the coming months and that Moody’s could do so again in the next year.

Morgan Stanley

The US lender is in the more optimistic camp, predicting $2bn- $4bn of capital will exit SA. The rand will still weaken, according to analysts including Andrea Masia, who is based in Johannesburg. That will be driven in part by the central bank’s decision last week to buy government bonds in the secondary market for the first time.

The effect of the operation will be “to print money and expand the money supply”, they said.

Standard Chartered

Outflows could total $4bn-$10bn, according to Geoff Kendrick, London-based head of emerging-market currency research at Standard Chartered.

But further rand losses will be limited, he said, recommending that clients sell the dollar if the exchange rate gets to 19. That is because by the end of last month, funds had already hedged their rand exposure to the greatest degree since 2015, according to the bank’s calculations.

Moreover, the fall in rand bonds in March — their average yield is now 11.2%, according to Bloomberg Barclays indexes — is starting to make them attractive, he said.

Bloomberg