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Sovereign risk in South Africa

Recent events in South Africa have sent some conflicting signals to investors about sovereign risks. On the one hand there was some regulatory flip-flopping over the Vodacom listing given objections from the union organisation COSATU, which raised questions about the influence of unions in Jacob Zuma’s administration. On the other hand the sovereign issuing some $1.5 billion was highly successful and oversubscribed.

With Zuma recently elected on a platform of change for his domestic audience and continuation of old policies when speaking to investors, there is a raft of new ministers and new ministries and quite a bit of policy uncertainty. No foreign investor will deny South Africa’s need to address serious social problems of inequality, housing, jobs and education through a more developmental state agenda.

However investors I speak to simply want to see that this is not at the expense of the productive sectors of the economy. This agenda will naturally involve the ANC’s allies: COSATU and SACP (communist party).  As such, the process of governing will be a noisy affair for investors. I put the Vodacom incident down to such noise.

However I believe the new Zuma administration will find itself heavily constrained by the need to raise funds for its agenda and so keep investors onside as the government’s borrowing requirement balloons. Add state owned enterprises engaging in very necessary investment, and a current account deficit and you arrive at a funding requirement north of  500 billion rand for the next two years.

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