S&P: SA faces downgrade on further policy mistakes, slowing growth

JOHANNESBURG, Jan 21 (Reuters) – South Africa’s credit rating would be downgraded if further policy mistakes are made and if growth continues to disappoint, the regional head of Standard & Poor’s said on Thursday.

A view shows the Standard & Poor's building in New York's financial district
A view shows the Standard & Poor’s building in New York’s financial district.

President Jacob Zuma changed finance ministers twice in a week, alarming investors and triggering financial turmoil that sent the rand, bonds and stocks plummeting.

“Certainly events before Christmas was a good sign of how policy mistakes can be made and how they can have a tremendous impact on something like the exchange rate very quickly,” said Konrad Reuss, sub-Saharan Africa head of S&P, referring to a surprise cabinet reshuffle last month.

In its November review of South Africa’s credit status S&P kept its rating at BBB-, one notch above sub-investment grade, but changed the outlook to negative from stable.

“We certainly felt we had to flag downside risks in this current environment for South Africa which would result in a downgrade in particular if growth continues to disappoint significantly,” Reuss said, referring to the change in outlook.

Fellow ratings firm Fitch also cut South Africa’s rating to a notch above junk in December. Ratings firm Moody’s rating is two notches above junk with a negative outlook.

The International Monetary Fund on Tuesday cut its 2016 growth forecast for South Africa to 0.7 percent from 1.3 percent.

Focus is now likely to shift to reappointed Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s budget speech in February.

The agencies and the wider investor community are keen to see if Gordhan can reign-in government spending while boosting growth in Africa’s most industrialised economy that is also facing rising inflation and unemployment running at 25 percent.

The country’s wide current account deficit, which stretched to a shortfall of 4.1 percent of GDP in the third quarter from 3.1 percent in the second, has also been cited by the agencies as a ratings risk.

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