TEXT-Fitch: African ratings more stable but less buoyant than other regions

Thu Feb 28, 2013 10:29am EST

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Feb 28 - Fitch Ratings says in a review of a decade of Sub-Saharan Africa
(SSA) ratings, that two-thirds of the region's sovereign ratings are unchanged
since they were first assigned while one-third have improved. Unlike other
regions, no ratings are lower than when first assigned. However, with the
exception of South Africa, none have been upgraded by more than a notch.

Excluding South Africa, which was first rated in 1994 and has been upgraded a
cumulative three notches since then (notwithstanding January's one-notch
downgrade), five of the other 14 rated sovereigns in the region (36%) have been
upgraded: Lesotho, Ghana, Rwanda, Seychelles and Angola. However, Lesotho and
Ghana were upgraded several years ago, in 2004 and 2005 respectively, and both
their Outlooks are currently Negative. The other three were upgraded more
recently, in 2010 and 2011, and the Outlooks on Angola and Seychelles are
currently Positive.

Comparing SSA's experience with other regions, and focussing on countries, as in
SSA, that were first assigned ratings in the 'B' or low 'BB' categories, of 20
such countries, a quarter have suffered downgrades, 30% are unchanged, but a
higher proportion - 45% - have seen rating upgrades. Moreover, in several cases
these upgrades have been of more than a rating category. Azerbaijan, Brazil,
Bulgaria, Kazakhstan and Turkey have all moved from low sub-investment grade
into low investment grade. SSA still has only two investment grade ratings -
South Africa and Namibia - and the number is unlikely to increase any time soon.

SSA's rating trajectory is therefore best described as mildly positive, but less
dynamic than other regions. However, compared with current non-African rating
peers in the 'B' and low 'BB' categories, SSA's performance has been much more
positive. Virtually all current non-African 'B' category sovereigns have seen
downgrades, in some cases by several notches e.g. Cyprus, Egypt and Lebanon.

Africa's upward rating progress has been relatively slow because the factors
that constrain the region's ratings, whilst not acting as a cap, are ones which
will only ease slowly. For example, with few exceptions, SSA ratings are
constrained by relatively low per capita GDP and levels of human development.
Even with sustained average GDP growth of over 5%, and in some countries much
higher growth rates, per capita GDP will remain below 'B' category medians for
the foreseeable future.

Other constraining factors affect groups of countries rather than the whole
region. Weak governance is not unique to SSA and is only a constraint within the
'B' category for oil producers Cameroon, Gabon, Angola and Nigeria. Improving
governance will be a long-term challenge.

Commodity dependence will also be slow to change but can be mitigated by strong
reserve cushions or ideally an effective commodity reserve fund, though few SSA
sovereigns actually have such a fund. Dependence on FC borrowing and the
counterpart - underdeveloped local markets - is a constraint on countries such
as Gabon, Lesotho and Mozambique. Debt/GDP ratios are quite low for the region
as a whole, at an average 37%, and not a major rating constraint within the 'B'
category except for Cape Verde and Seychelles, with 70% to 80% ratios.

Positive and Negative Outlooks are roughly balanced at present. Four ratings in
the region have a Positive Outlook (Angola, Gabon, Mozambique and Seychelles)
while three have a Negative Outlook (Ghana, Lesotho, Zambia).

The presentation 'Africa's Prospects: A Rating Perspective' is available at
www.fitchratings.com


Additional information is available at www.fitchratings.com.
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