(Bloomberg) -- Zambia’s finance minister will have to assure creditors he’s got a plan for the country’s debt and convince the International Monetary Fund the government merits a bailout when he presents his annual budget on Friday.
At the same time, Bwalya Ng’andu must find ways to ensure a rebound for an economy forecast to contract the most since 1994, and make its finances more sustainable with elections set to be held in August 2021.
The southern African nation has for years overspent its budget, while running up external debt and draining foreign-exchange reserves. Combined with that, a collapse in tax revenue as a result of the pandemic’s shock left the government short of cash, prompting it to approach Eurobond-holders this week to seek a six-month freeze on interest payments.
However, Ng’andu may struggle to provide all the answers in this budget speech. Restructuring Zambian debt will take some time, IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said Thursday, adding to the blow of Fitch Ratings cutting its assessment of the country’s debt to the lowest level above a default.
That drove Zambia’s Eurobonds even lower and 2024 securities fell 0.9% Thursday to 52 cents on the dollar, extending this week’s losses to 6.6%. Fitch said that while the government has indicated it will continue to pay coupons on outstanding Eurobonds if an agreement is not reached, it sees a high risk of non-payment.
Zambia’s currency is the continent’s worst performer against the dollar this year, dropping 29%. That’s driven up external debt-servicing costs and fueled inflation. Local-currency bonds have yields as high as 33%, as the government increasingly had to rely on the domestic market to cover the budget deficit.
For debt restructuring to be successful, the country may need the IMF to agree a loan of $1.3 billion and an associated economic program. However, it’s unlikely to convince the IMF to provide assistance, said Trevor Hambayi, an economist in Lusaka, the capital.
“I do not think the finance minister will be able to create the kind of impression from the budget that the IMF will be confident with,” he said by phone Wednesday. “This should have been done before we got here.”
President Edgar Lungu, who plans to seek another five-year term, replaced Denny Kalyalya as central bank governor last month. That was another knock to investor confidence as it raised fears the government may increasingly rely on the Bank of Zambia for financing.
One bright spot for Ng’andu is the price for the copper that Zambia depends on for more than 70% of its foreign earnings. That’s jumped by nearly 50% since record lows earlier this year.
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