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Fitch Revises Outlook on Mongolia to Positive; Affirms at 'B-'
November 17, 2017 / 9:23 AM / a month ago

Fitch Revises Outlook on Mongolia to Positive; Affirms at 'B-'

(The following statement was released by the rating agency) HONG KONG, November 17 (Fitch) Fitch Ratings has revised the Outlook on Mongolia's Long-Term Foreign-Currency Issuer Default Rating (IDR) to Positive from Stable and affirmed the IDR at 'B-'. A full list of rating actions is at the end of this rating action commentary. KEY RATING DRIVERS The revision of the Outlook to Positive reflects the following key rating drivers: The fiscal outlook has improved considerably. Fitch forecasts the general government deficit to decline to 7.3% of GDP in 2017, above the 'B' median of 4.2%, but down from a peak of 15.9% in 2016 due to strong revenue growth and capital expenditure cuts. The 2018 budget incorporates recently approved revenue-enhancing measures and only modest expenditure increases, which Fitch believes is consistent with a further narrowing of the budget deficit to 6.5% of GDP next year. Continued adherence to fiscal targets and reforms aimed at curtailing off-budget expenditure and introducing greater independence to the budgeting process should lay a path towards a more robust and credible fiscal framework over time, but is still in a nascent development stage. Gross general government debt (GGGD) is on a downwards trajectory. Fitch forecasts GGGD to decline to 87.5% of GDP in 2017, having peaked at 91.4% in 2016 as a result of the high budget deficit and a substantial revaluation of foreign-currency borrowings associated with a 20% depreciation of the tugrik. The agency's baseline forecasts suggest GGGD will decline to below 80% of GDP by end-2020, assuming a gradual decline in the primary deficit to 1.5%, average nominal GDP growth of 11.5%, and a broadly stable tugrik. Despite the expected improvement in public debt dynamics, GGGD/GDP will remain substantially above the 'B' category peer median of 58.5% for the foreseeable future, weighing on the sovereign ratings. Refinancing risks have receded. Implementation of an IMF-led financing and structural reform programme following board approval in May 2017 is expected to unlock up to USD3.5 billion in new funding from multilateral and bilateral creditors over the coming years. This in turn has bolstered investor confidence and facilitated the recent issuance of an USD800 million sovereign bond, which will refinance notes previously due in 2018. The authorities also successfully issued a USD600 million bond in early 2017 to fund an exchange offer for government-guaranteed notes, following announcements that an IMF programme was under consideration. Viewed together, recent capital markets exercises have alleviated any lingering near-term external refinancing risks, having extended the sovereign's nearest external bond maturity until after 2020. Prime Minister Khurelsukh took office in October 2017, following the ousting of the former prime minister and cabinet in a no-confidence vote in September. This political disruption led to a temporary postponement of the IMF's board meeting to discuss the first review of Mongolia's Extended Fund Facility, but this is now back on track, with the Fund having reached staff-level agreement on the first and second reviews in late-October. The economy is recovering. Real GDP rose by 5.8% in 9M17, up from 1.2% in 2016, due to a surge in investment tied to the underground development of the Oyu Tolgoi copper mine and a rebound in exports and private consumption. Fitch forecasts real GDP to rise by 4.5% in 2018, from 4.2% in 2017, bringing Mongolia's growth performance broadly in line with the 'B' median of 4.6%. The ongoing customs bottleneck at the Mongolia-China border has triggered a sharp deceleration in coal export volumes since July 2017, from record highs in 1H17. This introduces both downside and upside risk to our forecasts, but is unlikely to derail the recovery given that coal export volumes remain well above their 2015-16 monthly average even at reduced throughput levels, and other key exports, such as copper, are only modestly impacted. Mongolia's 'B-' Foreign-Currency IDR also reflects the following key rating drivers: External finances remain weak despite recent improvements. Foreign reserves reached USD2.0 billion in November 2017, up from 1.3 billion at end-2016, supported by acceleration in FDI tied to large mining projects and other inflows. Fitch forecasts foreign reserve coverage will rise to 3.0x current external payments (CXR) by end-2017, up from 2.3x a year prior, but remain well below the 'B' category median of 3.8x. External interest service ratios are exceptionally high at an estimated 14.3% of CXR versus the 'B' category median of 3.5%, reflective of Mongolia's heavy reliance on external debt capital markets, although this reliance should moderate as multilateral and bilateral funding inflows increase. The country's high commodity export dependence (76% of CXR) and export concentration to China (75% of exports) also leave it vulnerable to external shocks, and constrain the ratings. Mongolia's recent history of sporadic leadership changes increases the potential for political shocks and sharp reversals in policy, but Fitch believes these risks are somewhat muted by the Mongolian People's Party overwhelming parliamentary majority ahead of elections in mid-2020. The more immediate risk, in the agency's view, is that stronger macro performance and the resurgence in external inflows dilute the authorities' drive and commitment to adhere to IMF reform targets. Overall capital adequacy of the Mongolian banking system should become clearer as a result of an ongoing asset-quality review being conducted as part of the IMF programme. Bank of Mongolia will start its supervisory review in December by applying its own two-year stress testing on individual banks and engaging with them to identify and rectify any potential capital shortfalls. The IMF has estimated bank capital needs could amount to 7% of GDP (15% of system-wide loans), from which up to 3.5% of GDP has been earmarked from public funds as a contingency. While the deployment of public funds for banking-sector recapitalisation would be a potential set-back to recent fiscal improvements, Fitch does not believe the estimated amount would pose a material funding constraint to the sovereign, nor is it sufficient in size to offset other positive developments across Mongolia's sovereign credit profile. Structural factors such as GDP per capita, governance indicators, and doing business rankings score above 'B' category peers and provide continued support to the rating. Mongolia's small population of roughly 3 million also suggests per capita incomes have the potential to rise dramatically over the longer term if the country can successfully harness its general natural resources endowments through strategic projects such as Oyu Tolgoi and Tavan Tolgoi, and deliver them more reliably via planned rail and other infrastructure connectivity enhancements. SOVEREIGN RATING MODEL (SRM) and QUALITATIVE OVERLAY (QO) Fitch's proprietary SRM assigns Mongolia a score equivalent to a rating of 'B' on the Long-Term Foreign-Currency IDR scale. Fitch's sovereign rating committee adjusted the output from the SRM to arrive at the final Long-Term Foreign-Currency IDR by applying its QO, relative to rated peers, as follows: - External Finances: -1 notch, to reflect repeated bouts of external financing stress. Fitch's SRM is the agency's proprietary multiple regression rating model that employs 18 variables based on three-year centred averages, including one year of forecasts, to produce a score equivalent to a Long-Term Foreign-Currency IDR. Fitch's QO is a forward-looking qualitative framework designed to allow for adjustment to the SRM output to assign the final rating, reflecting factors within our criteria that are not fully quantifiable and/or not fully reflected in the SRM. RATING SENSITIVITIES The main factors that could lead to positive rating action, individually or collectively, are: - Continued implementation of credible and coherent macroeconomic policy-making that improves Mongolia's basic economic stability. - A track record of meeting stated fiscal targets, contributing to an improved outlook for government debt ratios. - Evidence of substantial improvement in the country's external liquidity position, for example through a build-up of foreign reserves. The main factors that could lead to negative action, individually or collectively, are: - Failure to remain current on IMF programme guidelines, which could heighten external financing risks. - Emergence of systemic financial stress. - Failure to maintain the GGGD/GDP ratio on a downward trajectory. KEY ASSUMPTIONS - IMF staff-level agreement on the first and second reviews receives board approval. - Customs bottleneck at Mongolia-China border does not deteriorate any further. The full list of rating actions is as follows: Long-Term Foreign-Currency IDR affirmed at 'B-'; Outlook Revised to Positive from Stable Long-Term Local-Currency IDR affirmed at 'B-'; Outlook Revised to Positive from Stable Short-Term Foreign-Currency IDR affirmed at 'B' Short-Term Local-Currency IDR affirmed at 'B' Country Ceiling affirmed at 'B-' Issue ratings on long-term senior unsecured foreign-currency bonds affirmed at 'B-' Contact: Primary Analyst Andrew Fennell Director +852 2263 9925 Fitch (Hong Kong) Limited 19/F Man Yee Building 68 Des Voeux Road Central Hong Kong Secondary Analyst Stephen Schwartz Senior Director +852 2263 9938 Committee Chairperson Tony Stringer Managing Director +44 20 3530 1219 Media Relations: Leslie Tan, Singapore, Tel: +65 67 96 7234, Email: leslie.tan@fitchratings.com; Wai-Lun Wan, Hong Kong, Tel: +852 2263 9935, Email: wailun.wan@fitchratings.com. 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