JOHANNESBURG – Power utility Eskom’s request for the government to take up 100 billion rands ($7 billion) of its debt could cause the country’s overall debt ratio to jump two percentage points from the current 55.8 percent, rating agency Moody’s said on Friday.
Moody’s, the last of the top three rating firms to still rate Pretoria’s debt at investment grade, said in a research note dated Dec. 12 that granting Eskom’s request would have a neutral credit impact and was unlikely to accelerate the firm’s long-promised turn-around strategy.
Last week, the cash-strapped power firm said it wanted the government to take on 100 billion rands of its total borrowings of 420 billion rands, a move President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday said was not an option as it would cause the country’s debt to spiral.
“The transfer will increase South Africa’s debt/GDP ratio by around two percentage points from the 55.8 percent envisioned for the fiscal year 2019,” Moody’s said, noting that it does not currently include the firm’s government-guaranteed debt in the overall measure of debt.
“If the debt transfer grants further measures like efficiency savings and/or tariff increases requested by the company in October that reduces this contingent liability risk, the overall credit impact of the debt transfer could be neutral,” Moody’s said.
The agency, however, said this was unlikely as Eskom had already delayed its turnaround plan on numerous occasions, and that the utility was unlikely to implement it before general elections due mid-2019.
($1 = 14.3634 rand)