Ethiopia saw soaring demand yesterday (4 Dec) for its debut $1 billion Eurobond, after a quick investor roadshow. Total demand was $2.6bn and the yield on the 10-year bond was settled at a relatively low 6.625%, at the lower end of the 6.625%-6.75% price guidance.
According to this report in the Financial Times: “The debut sees one of the biggest, most closed — and, some observers say, most promising — African nations joining a number of other countries in the region that have issued similar bonds in the past 5 years. Africa has become a magnet for pension funds, insurers and sovereign wealth funds seeking higher-yielding assets.”
A Bloomberg report cites Standard Bank Group that African governments such as Ghana, Kenya, Senegal and Ivory Coast and corporates issued a record $15bn of Eurobonds this year as they try to benefit from investor appetite for higher returns before the US Federal Reserve raises interest rates expected next year. The bank says they raised $13bn in 2013. Sovereign issuers accounted for 71%.
It quotes Nick Samara, an Africa-focused banker at Citigroup in London, saying ““Pricing at a 6-handle is very attractive” for the country, similar to Zambia.
The move jumps ahead of the earlier schedule suggested in this report.
Ethiopia needs $50bn over 5 years
The FT quotes Kevin Daly, senior portfolio manager at Aberdeen Asset Management, that the bond’s yield “is decent value for the deal given the limited knowledge and different nature of the Ethiopian economy and the challenges it faces compared to these countries”. Bloomberg says he said Ethiopia made a strong case for infrastructure development and financing needs at investor meetings, “which suggests they will be looking to come back to the market in near term.”.
According to Bloomberg, Finance Minister Sufian Ahmed said on 7 Oct that Ethiopia will probably need to invest about $50bn over the next 5 years, of which $10bn to $15bn may come from foreign investors. Most will be used to develop sugarcane plantations, a 6,000-megawatt hydropower dam on a tributary of the Nile River and the country’s railway network.
Claudia Calich, emerging market bond fund manager at M&G told the FT that Ethiopia was one of the region’s weaker credits: “I am concerned over lack of transparency and levels of SOE [state owned enterprise] debt.” Mark Bohlund, senior economist for sub-Saharan Africa at consultants IHS, said investors were attracted to Ethiopia on the back of “strong economic growth prospects and limited external indebtedness”. He added: “We wish to highlight that there are still non-negligible risks to repayment.”
Fast 9% growth, limited foreign reserves
Deutsche Bank and JPMorgan were the lead managers for the bond and Lazard advised the Federal Government of Ethiopia.
The bond includes new clauses recently promoted by organisations such as the International Capital Markets Association and dubbed “anti-vulture” clauses. They aim to make it more difficult for investors to hold out against restructuring plans if the country defaults on its debt, as happened recently with Argentina.
Ethiopia first credit ratings came in May, as reported here. Moody’s Investors Service rates it a non-investment grade B1 with a stable outlook, while Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings awarded B, one grade lower.
Ethiopia has some of the fastest growth rates in Africa, around 9%, according to the International Monetary Fund. According to Reuters, the IMF said in a September report that the risk of Ethiopia facing external and public “debt distress” remained low but said it was on the “cusp of a transition to moderate” risk. It estimated public debt at 44.7% of GDP in fiscal 2013/14. Ethiopia’s foreign reserves covered only 2.2 months of imports in 2013/14 and capacity to increase this remains under pressure due to limited capacity to increase exports and foreign investment.
African debt warning
According to the African Development Bank’s Making Finance Work for Africa website (www.mfw4a.org), a few weeks ago the IMF warned African States against rushing to issue Eurobonds, saying they may face exchange-rate risks and problems repaying debts. African governments facing falling levels of foreign aid are on a borrowing spree to pay for new roads, power stations and other infrastructure, prompting concern this could raise debt levels and undermine growth.
“It comes with some risks,” the director of the IMF’s African Department, Antoinette Sayeh, told Reuters. “Whereas what it costs the countries to issue these bonds can often look lower than what they would pay on domestic borrowing… the real cost in the final analysis will also depend on the evolution of exchange rates in the course of the life of the bond issuance.”
Kenya’s debut $2bn Eurobond had launched at 6.875% in June but fallen to 5.90% when it issued a new tranche in late November, indicating that investors did not share the IMF’s concerns. Kenya’s 10-year bond was trading at 5.88% on 4 Dec and Kenya has a much higher average gross domestic product (GDP) per capita and much better advanced African capital market and securities exchange than Ethiopia. The bond prospectus listed Ethiopia’s GDP per capita at $631.50 in fiscal 2013/4.