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Could Tito Mboweni Be The Turning Point?

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Tito Mboweni inherits Africa’s recession-hit country as president Cyril Ramaphosa chases growth.

If the performance of South Africa’s currency in the week since Tito Mboweni was picked as finance minister is any good, Africa’s only economy in official recession might be on to a good thing.

The rand, Africa’s most freely-traded currency, gained more than 5% against the dollar in the week since the former central bank governor replaced Nhlanhla Nene who quit after lying about his dealings with a business family, the Guptas, accused of bribing government officials including former President Jacob Zuma.

The former labor minister brings a no-nonsense approach analysts say will be needed to take Africa’s second-largest economy out of a largely self-inflicted second recession in less than a decade amid graft allegations. He will need to rein in government spending, six months before elections that may drop the ruling African National Congress’ (ANC) support below half for the first time since the dawn of democracy in 1994.

“Fiercely independent and often regarded as a bit of a maverick, Mr Mboweni is nevertheless likely to emerge as one of Mr Ramaphosa’s more inspired decisions,’’ says Gary van Staden, analyst at Cape Town-based NKC Research.

“He is certainly among the more highly-regarded choices the president could have made and we expect him to add momentum to the decisions of the job summit and economic stimulus package.’’

Mboweni served four years as labor minister in former President Nelson Mandela’s government where he developed the first post-apartheid labor law. At the South African Reserve Bank, where he was the country’s first black governor, Mboweni spent a decade, and built a reputation as a conservative banker and defender of the country’s newly-adopted inflation-targeting regime.

His major achievement was building the country’s foreign exchange reserves from less than $10 billion to $40 billion when he left in 2009 after two terms deemed by most as successful.

READ MORE: One on One With Naledi Pandor SA Minister of Higher Education

“The economy is now in a safe pair of hands. It is someone senior both in the ANC and in the government as he served as a minister of labor previously. What is also important is we have ratings agencies watching us and this will bode well for them,’’ says independent economist Mike Schussler.

Mboweni takes charge of an economy that was in recession in the first six months of the year, hobbled by nine years of poor management under Zuma which left business confidence shattered. With the economy barely growing during the period, the country lost its investment grade rating from Standard & Poor’s (S&P) and Fitch Ratings.

Only Moody’s maintained its rating above junk and the company deferred a decision after Mboweni’s appointment, fanning hopes it will give him time to mend the country’s finances and present a credible growth plan.

But economists say it might be too late for a country that needs to cut spending while chasing economic growth.

“I am afraid we have overplayed our hand on the numbers,’’ says Dawie Roodt, an economist at Efficient Group in Johannesburg.

“The fiscal numbers are unsustainable and the debt numbers in particular are terrible. From a numbers point of view, I am afraid this is a downgrade.’’

The new minister has a full problem tray as he comes in: unemployment is sitting at 27.2% as companies grapple with soaring costs inflated by a weak rand, falling government revenues in a country where 17 million people depend on government grants, and weak business confidence.

But his appointment may provide the turning point the country desperately requires, according to Van Staden.

“The former Reserve Bank governor can be a difficult personality, but his skillset and deep understanding of financial markets are likely to see him embrace a market-orientated policy framework with a no-nonsense attitude and dedication to economic growth and social development. We expect the appointment to have a positive impact on the credibility of the Ramaphosa administration.’’

It is credibility Ramaphosa has been building and one he will need quickly, according to Ravi Bhatia, a director at S&P which rates the country’s debt junk with a stable outlook. Its next rating decision is scheduled to be announced on November 23.

“He will have to get up to speed quite quickly,’’ Bhatia said pointing to the country’s Medium Term Budget Policy statement released in October. “He will have to push through measures that will deliver growth. We want to see growth being delivered and the fiscal line being controlled.’’

– Godfrey Mutizwa

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As Wealthy Depart For Second Homes, Class Tensions Come To Surface In Coronavirus Crisis

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Topline: As New York City’s coronavirus cases exploded in recent weeks, residents fleeing to second homes have come under intense scrutiny and push-back, prompting officials in multiple states to create highway checkpoints screening for New Yorkers and a national travel advisory for the entire Tri-state area, highlighting the dramatic roles class and wealth will play in the pandemic. 

  • With over 56,000 coronavirus cases in New York, privileged New Yorkers with secondary homes are fleeing the City with massive effect on vacation home communities: the population of Southampton has gone from 60,000 a few weeks ago to 100,000 and rental prices in Hudson Valley rocketed from $4,000 to $18,000 per month—posing a threat to small-town hospitals that are ill-equipped to handle caring for high numbers of coronavirus patients.
  • In wealthy New England island communities like Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard and Block Island that are heavy with secondary homes and short on hospital infrastructure, officials are going so far as to cancel all hotel, Airbnb and VRBO reservations while stationing state troopers and the National Guard to maintain flow on islands and, in the case of Rhode Island, instating 14 day mandatory quarantine on all people traveling to stay in the state from New York, New Jersey or Connecticut.
  • As outrage has grown at the privileged fleeing the city while middle and working classes remain confined in New York City apartments, there’s been social media clapback at ostentatious displays of wealth in isolation: Geffen Records and Dreamworks Billionaire David Geffen ultimately deleted his Instagram of his $570 million megayacht captioned: “Sunset last night..isolated in the Grenadines avoiding the virus. I’m hoping everybody is staying safe” after it sparked outrage on social media.
  • New York City’s poorer boroughs are hit hardest by coronavirus: Brooklyn and Queens, where median income is  $56,015 and $64,987, respectively, remain the epicenter of COVID-19, compared to Manhattan with average income of $82,459, which has been less permeated by the virus and is home to many of Manhattan’s wealthiest enclaves—and those most likely to have residents with second homes elsewhere.
  • On Saturday, President Trump said he was considering quarantining parts of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, then, backed down and issued a domestic travel advisory for the tristate area that discourages residents of these states from non-essential domestic travel after “very intensive discussions” at the White House on Saturday night, said Dr. Anthony Fauci on CNN today: “The better way to do this would be an advisory as opposed to a very strict quarantine, and the President agreed.”
  • “Due to our very limited health care infrastructure, please do not visit us now,” reads a travel advisory from Lake Superior’s Cook County in Michigan, exemplifying vacation towns’ plea to travelers and second home owners across the country to stay away. 

Background: Coronavirus cases in the United States have skyrocketed to 124,000, with deaths doubling from 1,000 to 2,046 in two days. Since those with COVID-19 can be asymptomatic for days, their presence in remote communities may be deadly, as they can spread the virus and wreak havoc on rural hospitals. The clash between wealthy and poor, also creates state-versus-state hostility, as federal support is limited and essential to states overcoming coronavirus.

Alexandra Sternlicht, Forbes Staff, Under 30

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Moody’s Downgrades South Africa To Junk

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Credit ratings agency Moody’s has downgraded South Africa to junk status on day 2 of the country’s nationwide lockdown.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s economic reform plans have been slowed by the coronavirus pandemic. The downgrade adds salt to injury for South Africa as it currently struggles with a recession it slipped into in early March.

“The unprecedented deterioration in the global economic outlook caused by the rapid spread of the coronavirus outbreak will further exacerbate South Africa’s challenges” said Moody’s.

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What You Need To Know About AfDB’s $3 billion “Fight COVID-19” Social Bond

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Landmark transaction, largest Social bond transaction to date in capital markets

Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, 27 March 2020 – The African Development Bank (AAA) has raised an exceptional $3 billion in a three-year bond to help alleviate the economic and social impact the Covid-19 pandemic will have on livelihoods and Africa’s economies.  

The Fight Covid-19 Social bond, with a three-year maturity, garnered interest from central banks and official institutions, bank treasuries, and asset managers including Socially Responsible Investors, with bids exceeding $4.6 billion. This is the largest Social Bond ever launched in international capital markets to date, and the largest US Dollar benchmark ever issued by the Bank. It will pay an interest rate of 0.75%.

The African Development Bank Group is moving to provide flexible responses aimed at lessening the severe economic and social impact of this pandemic on its regional member countries and Africa’s private sector.

“These are critical times for Africa as it addresses the challenges resulting from the Coronavirus. The African Development Bank is taking bold measures to support African countries. This $3 billion Covid-19 bond issuance is the first part of our comprehensive response that will soon be announced. This is indeed the largest social bond transaction to date in capital markets. We are here for Africa, and we will provide significant rapid support for countries,” said Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank Group.

The order book for this record-breaking bond highlights the scale of investor support, which the African Development Bank enjoys, said the arrangers.

“As the Covid-19 outbreak is dangerously threatening Africa, the African Development Bank lives up to its huge responsibilities and deploys funds to assist and prepare the African population, through the financing of access to health and to all other essential goods, services and infrastructure,” said Tanguy Claquin, Head of Sustainable Banking, Crédit Agricole CIB.

Coronavirus cases were slow to arrive in Africa, but the virus is spreading quickly and has infected nearly 3,000 people across 45 countries, placing strain on already fragile health systems. 

It is estimated that the continent will require many billions of dollars to cushion the impact of the disease as many countries scrambled contingency measures, including commercial lockdowns in desperate efforts to contain it. Globally, factories have been closed and workers sent home, disrupting supply chains, trade, travel, and driving many economies toward recession. 

Commenting on the landmark transaction, George Sager, Executive Director, SSA Syndicate, Goldman Sachs said: “In a time of unprecedented market volatility, the African Development Bank has been able to brave the capital markets in order to secure invaluable funding to help the efforts of the African

continent’s fight against Covid-19. Not only that, but in the process, delivering their largest ever USD benchmark. A truly remarkable outcome both in terms of its purpose but also in terms of a USD financing”.

The Bank established its Social Bond framework in 2017 and raised the equivalent of  $2 billion through issuances denominated in Euro and Norwegian krone. In 2018 the Bank was designated by financial markets, ‘Second most impressive social or sustainability bond issuer” at the Global Capital SRI Awards.

“We are thankful for the exceptional level of interest the Fight Covid-19 Social Bond has raised across the world, as the African Development Bank moves towards lessening the social and economic impact of the pandemic on a continent already severely constrained. Our Social bond program enables us to highlight our strong development mandate to the investor community, allowing them to play a part in improving the lives of the people of Africa. This was an exceptional outcome for an exceptional cause,” said Hassatou Diop N’Sele, Treasurer, African Development Bank.

Fight Covid-19 was allocated to central banks and official institutions (53%), bank treasuries (27%) and asset managers (20%). Final bond distribution statistics were as follows: Europe (37%), Americas (36%), Asia (17%) Africa (8%,) and Middle-East (1%).

Press Release by the African Development Bank

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