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Moody’s downgrades Ghana to further junk status, warns investors could lose in debt restructuring

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Moody, junk status, debt restructuring

Moody’s has downgraded the Government of Ghana’s long-term issuer ratings to Ca from Caa2 or further junk status and changed the outlook to stable.

This concludes the review for downgrade that was initiated on September 30, 2022.

The Ca rating reflects Moody’s expectation that private creditors will likely incur substantial losses in the restructuring of both local and foreign currencies debts planned by the government as part of its 2023 budget proposed to Parliament on 24 November 2022″, a statement published on its website said..

The statement pointed out that “given Ghana’s high government debt burden and the debt structure, it is likely there will be substantial losses on both categories of debt in order for the government to meaningfully improve debt sustainability”.

It explained further that the stable outlook balances Moody’s assumption that the debt restructuring will happen in coordination with creditors and under the umbrella of a funding program with the IMF against the potential for a less orderly form of default that could result in higher losses for private-sector creditors.

In addition, Moody’s, said it has also downgraded Ghana’s senior unsecured debt ratings to Ca from Caa2 and the senior unsecured MTN programme ratings to (P)Ca from (P)Caa2, along with downgrading to Caa3 from Caa1 the rating of Ghana’s bond enhanced by a partial guarantee from the International Development Association (IDA, Aaa stable), concluding the concurrent reviews for downgrade. The latter reflects a blended expected loss consistent with a one-notch uplift on the issuer rating.

Finally, Moody’s has lowered Ghana’s local currency (LC) and foreign currency (FC) country ceilings to respectively Caa1 and Caa2, from B2 and B3, mirroring the downgrade of the sovereign ratings by two notches”, it stressed.

“Non-diversifiable risks are captured in a LC ceiling three notches above the sovereign rating, taking into account relatively predictable institutions and government actions, limited domestic political risk, and low geopolitical risk; balanced against a large government footprint in the economy and the financial system and external imbalances. The FC country ceiling one notch below the LC country ceiling reflects constraints on capital account openness and very weak policy effectiveness against authorities’ history of providing access to foreign exchange”, it added.

Ratings rationale

The government has been grappling with increasingly high and costly debt for more than a year now, leaving increasingly limited policy levers to arrest the negative spiral between high inflation and elevated interest rates, depreciating local currency and rising debt.

As such, restructuring debt has progressively appeared as a necessary condition to secure debt sustainability. Moreover, given the structure of government debt, equally split between foreign and local currency, its elevated level (forecast at 104% of GDP by end of this year) and cost (interest payments should consume 58% of revenue in 2022), substantial losses to creditors as part of the debt exchange are likely in Moody’s view.

Rationale for stable outlook

The risk of higher losses for private-sector creditors than currently assumed by Moody’s is relatively contained, supported by Ghana’s economy and institutional framework.

Environmental, Social, Governance considerations

Ghana’s ESG Credit Impact Score is very highly negative (CIS-5), reflecting its high exposure to social risks. Resilience to environmental and social risks is very weak, constrained by low wealth and very high debt levels.

The exposure to social risk is highly negative (S-4 issuer profile score), driven by limited access to quality housing and education, especially in rural areas. Risks related to health and safety and access to basic services are moderately negative. While the government has put in place measures aimed at reducing poverty and inequality and strengthening social safety nets, its fiscal challenges constrain its scope for meaningful reduction in social risks given more than half of government revenue is consumed by interest payments”, it added.

Governance is very highly negative with a G-5 issuer profile score, it pointed out, adding, overall, Ghana’s institutions have shown some effectiveness, however domestic revenue mobilisation challenges and significant constraints on fiscal policy effectiveness manifest in very weak debt affordability.

The authorities have undertaken some institutional reforms on the revenue and competitiveness front, which will invariably take time to produce results.

It further stated that the government’s plan to resort to a restructuring of its debt, which constitutes a default under Moody’s definition, to improve its sustainability is ultimately a sign of institutional weakness. Governance considerations are a driver of today’s rating action.

The heightened default risk associated with Ghana’s announcement of a plan to restructure debt prompted the publication of this credit rating action on a date that deviates from the previously scheduled release date in the sovereign release calendar, published on www.moodys.com. In addition, by virtue of the ratings having been on review for downgrade, the conclusion of the review had to deviate from the previously scheduled date in the sovereign release calendar.

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