JOHANNESBURG– The probability of a credit rating downgrade for South Africa is about a third, Moody’s said on Tuesday, warning however that a cut was likely if economic growth fell below its estimated growth of 0.2 percent this year.
Moody’s currently rates Pretoria two notches above sub-investment grade at Baa2 with a negative outlook, and has warned that political infighting, weak economic growth and mounting debt at state-owned companies all pose a downward risk.
Moody’s analyst Kristin Lindow also told an annual conference in Johannesburg that the agency it did not expect to upgrade the Baa2 rating for Africa’s most industrialised country in the near future.
“Fundamentally because the rating has a negative outlook, we don’t expect that we would upgrade the rating in the near future,” Lindow said.
“We would likely downgrade the rating in the absence of a growth recovery that we are anticipating … that takes growth to around 2 percent gradually over the next several years.”
Moody’s expects South Africa’s growth to tick up to 1.1 in 2017 and 2.0 percent the year after. It’s next review of South Africa is expected on Nov. 25.
“We have a negative outlook which means the risks (to the rating) are tilted to the downside,” Moody’s analyst Zuzana Brixiova told reporters on the sidelines of the conference.
“But having said that … fundamentally we expect that the probability of a downgrade is less than 50 percent, it’s about one-third.”
South Africa’s central bank has forecast that growth will be at zero percent this year.
Brixiova said any move to replace Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, who is at the centre of a police probe, would only be an issue if it threatened the continuation of current economic policy.
Political and financial analysts say that the investigation on Gordhan is part of a plan by allies close to President Jacob Zuma to remove Gordhan from his position.
The analysts say Zuma and Gordhan are locked in a power struggle over spending at state-owned companies and plans for a multi-billion dollar nuclear power programme backed by the president but which the Treasury opposes. Zuma has denied there is a “war” between the Presidency and Treasury.