Browsing: interest rates

Africa's debt sustainability struggles

Over the past decade, African countries have accumulated external debt at a faster pace. The countries have capitalized on abundant, low-cost international credit for fiscal and balance-of-payments funding to help drive development plans.

Africa’s total external debt, accrued by both the private and public sectors, owed to foreign lenders, has surpassed $1 trillion. The related annual debt servicing costs broke through the $100 billion threshold for the first time in 2021.

The high-interest rates have made the United States dollar more appealing to investors who are piling into the greenback. The value of other currencies has tumbled: the pound, yuan, euro, and the yen. This depreciation in other currencies makes imports for these countries more expensive in United States dollars. The case for a recession caused by a strong dollar is grimmer in Africa where just about every country on the continent is overextended in terms of United States dollar-denominated borrowings.

Repaying loans in hard currency will be more expensive, especially where their currencies are rapidly depreciating.

The strong US dollar according to CNN has a destabilizing effect on Wall Street.

Companies listed on that bourse conduct business internationally, and a strong dollar will negatively impact their earnings. The second marker of the global economic recession is that US economy is slowing down or stalling. The world’s largest economy is driven by consumption.

Ghana’s case specifically plays out with the dramatic effect consistent with a Shakespearean tragedy. The west African nation ironically is a darling of the West in terms of foreign direct investment. Yet, its debt levels have breached what multilateral institutions consider to be sustainable. A painful irony in the case of Ghana is that it was offered the opportunity to renegotiate the terms of its debts through the World Bank’s Debt Service Suspension Initiative. However, Ghana did not elect to participate.

A second painful irony is that Ghana, this time around, does not owe most of its debts to multilateral institutions like the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank. It owes the bulk of its debt to private lenders like the world’s largest asset manager Black Rock, and its has expressed that it has no interest in renegotiating the terms of Ghana’s sovereign debt.

If Ghana had borrowed from the multilateral institutions mentioned formerly, it would have the scope to renegotiate its loans as these institutions tend to be more conciliatory and concessionary in their dealings with borrowers, unlike the private lenders who are driven by the profit motive and the need to create value for shareholders.

Countries must continue to work to mitigate their vulnerabilities over time. This involves minimizing balance-sheet misalignments, establishing money and foreign exchange markets, and lowering exchange rate passthrough by increasing monetary policy credibility.

However, in the short term—while vulnerabilities remain high—the use of extra instruments may assist relieve short-term policy trade-offs when certain shocks occur. In particular, foreign exchange intervention, macroprudential policy measures, and capital flow controls may help increase monetary and fiscal policy autonomy, promote financial and price stability, and minimize output volatility if reserves are enough and these instruments are available.

The United States dollar has reportedly appreciated to levels last seen 20 years ago and shows no signs of slowing down. According to Capital.com, “The ICE US Dollar Index (DXY) – a measure of the currency’s strength against a basket of rival currencies including the euro (EUR), Japanese yen (JPY) and British pound (GBP) – stood at 109.5 on 19 September 2022. The index was up over 14% from the start of the year, but down marginally from the 110.51 mark reached on 7 September – its highest level since 2002.”

The Federal Reserve, the US central bank, is giving further steam to the greenback through its aggressive interest rate stance. The Federal Reserve has raised interest rates a total of four times during 2022 for a total of 2.25 percentage points.

The result is that investors are piling into the US dollar, salivating into the fray as they chase opportunities to earn almost riskless returns from purchasing US government securities. This has boosted the greenback’s reputation as a safe haven currency.

For this reason, investors should take a long position on the US dollar and short other currencies, especially those in emerging and developing markets. In addition to the attractive United States dollar interest rates, conventional wisdom has it that investors should sell investments in depreciating currencies and buy investments in appreciating currencies.

Other reasons that can best explain the origins of stagflation include falling productivity when an economy experience falling productivity. This could be because workers becoming less efficient. The consequence of this will be falling productivity and rising costs. Structural unemployment is another cause in cases where there is a decline in traditional industries.

This creates a tendency for unemployment to rise while productivity falls. Zimbabwe, during its lost decade from 2000 to 2010, experienced this kind of stagflation.

More generally and more contextually, stagflation comes from supply shocks. These result from supply chain disruptions. Where demand for goods and services increases or is unchanged, the result is rising prices and lower productivity.

Stagflation is not desirable in an economy because citizens of a country are generally happy when prices are low and the economy is booming.

Due to globalization, countries worldwide are increasingly interdependent. This is why a conflict between two countries in Europe will cause ripple effects that the rest of the world feels. On this basis, the World Bank projects that economic growth in 2022 will slump. Not slow down but slump. The choice of words is intentional.

Malpass now believes that the world is in for several years of above-average inflation and below-average growth. This projection will most likely lead to destabilizing consequences for low- and middle-income economies. These low- and middle-income countries are largely on the African continent. Stagflation which the world last saw in the 1970s, will have a devastating effect on countries in Africa. Most countries in the continent do not have the resources like Germany to muster multibillion Euro or multi-billion United States dollar packages to subsidize the economic plight of their citizens.

World Bank forecasts a sharp downgrade of its global economic outlook and anticipates a sharp contraction in the economy. The global economy is expected to slow down from the GDP growth rate achieved in 2021 of 5.7% to 2.9% in 2022. The downgrade from the multilateral institution is because of the war in Ukraine, which has triggered food and energy increases as well as supply and trade disruptions.

According to the EIU graphic, much of the external debt stock of African countries consists of public medium- and long-term borrowings. This form of borrowing has been on the rise since 2000.

Private medium- and long-term debt stock in Africa has also been on the increase but not at the same scale and magnitude as the public debt. In short, governments, through their finance ministries, have been on a borrowing binge since 2000, whereas the private sector has marginally increased its borrowings in United States-denominated debt.

The increased levels of borrowing in hard currency badly expose governments to movements in interest rates and exchange rates. South Africa has the most external debt exposure of any country in Africa, followed by Egypt and Nigeria. With these facts in mind, it is no surprise to how much the Rand, the South African currency unit, has depreciated against the dollar.

McKinsey’s report notes that the wages of consumers are steadily being eroded. Wages in the largest economies reportedly flatlined; in other words, no significant change in their levels was recorded. Prior to the pandemic, the same wages were said to have increased, giving workers the upper hand in negotiations. The pandemic, however, drastically altered that state of affairs. Wages in developed markets post the pandemic are also related, but the advent of inflation has checked that growth and, in some instances, set the trend backwards.

In the United Kingdom, there have been reports of wages being lower year on year.

The culmination of these factors is that the outlook for global economic growth will be lower this year than last. McKinsey expects central banks to increase interest rates more assertively to deal with inflationary pressure. The risk of recession is becoming more and more prevalent.