Fitch’s downgrade is a vote of no confidence in finance minister’s ability to hold the fiscal line and stabilise debt
The new Minister of Finance, Malusi Gigaba’s, attempts to restore confidence and engage ratings agencies failed to convince Fitch Ratings (“Fitch”) not to downgrade South Africa.
The fact is that the decision by Fitch to downgrade our long-term foreign currency debt and long-term local currency debt to “BB+”, or “junk status”, with a “stable outlook”, is a vote of no confidence in the minister’s ability to hold the fiscal line and stabilise debt.
This should come as no surprise given that the minister is trying to convince the ratings agencies that he can hold the fiscal line and implement “radical economic transformation”, which is simply not credible.
It’s not good enough for the minister to simply concede the ratings downgrade was a “setback”. The minister needs to roll up his sleeves and get into the fight to avoid further ratings downgrades.
The minister’s number one priority should be to avoid the nightmare scenario where massive forced selling of our debt triggers an economic meltdown that will spare nobody, rich or poor.
This could happen if Standard & Poors and Moody’s downgrade our long-term local currency debt, which makes up about 90% of our debt, to “junk status”.
However, the problem is that the ratings agencies do not trust the minister: they regarded him as a presidential minion, ready to carry out any instruction, no matter how damaging to the economy.
To re-establish trust, the minister will have to show, rather than tell, ratings agencies that he is serious about avoiding further downgrades, by delivering “quick wins”, starting with saying “no” to bailouts for “zombie” state-owned entities, like the SABC.
Statement issued by David Maynier MP - DA Shadow Minister of Finance, 8 April 2017