IMF says South Africa’s debt is “becoming uncomfortable”, but no bailout requested, what you need to know

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s public debt, which is approaching rating agencies’ red line of 60% of economic output, is reaching uncomfortable levels, an IMF official said on Thursday.

Public finances in Africa’s most industrialised economy are under strain as growth has proved weaker than expected and a clutch of state companies have needed large cash injections.

In July, the government said it would give power utility Eskom 59 billion rand ($4.1 billion) of additional financial support over the next two years, on top of an already-promised bailout of 230 billion rand spread over the next decade.

That spooked investors and credit agencies.

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni warned shortly afterwards that this and other bailouts for state firms would almost certainly push up the budget deficit as well as state borrowing, raising the prospect of emergency external loans.

“South Africa has not requested an IMF-supported programme. We do not see a balance of payments need … so as far as we are concerned there’s no need for South Africa to approach the IMF,” the lender’s senior resident representative in South Africa, Montfort Mlachila, told a conference in Johannesburg.

Mlachila, however, said the debt trajectory, forecast at 55% of GDP in February by treasury but likely to be revised upwards at the October mini-budget, was worrying.

“South Africa has the highest level of debt in its history,” he said. “This is actually quite concerning without a doubt … The public debt trajectory is not favourable and becoming uncomfortable.”

Reporting by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo; Writing by Mfuneko Toyana; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Andrew Cawthorne

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