Zambia’s economy may grow faster than the government forecast this year on higher copper prices and a bumper grain crop, putting the country in a good position to seek its first credit rating, central bank Governor Caleb Fundanga said.
The government may sign an agreement with JPMorgan Chase & Co. as early as this week to advise it on proceeding with the credit rating, Fundanga said in an interview yesterday in Abidjan, the commercial capital of Ivory Coast.
Zambia, Africa’s biggest copper producer, shelved plans for a credit rating in the second half of 2008 after the global financial crisis hit. Copper prices have more than doubled since the beginning of last year, while the government estimated a 42 percent surge in grain output in 2010. That could push economic growth to between 7 percent and 8 percent in 2010, compared with 6.3 percent forecast in December, Fundanga said.
“There are reasons why one should be optimistic,” the governor said. “I don’t see why in a year when we have fewer problems we should do less than a year when we had more problems.”
Zambia will probably produce a grain surplus of 1 million metric tons this year, which will be exported, boosting foreign currency earnings, Fundanga said.
A credit rating will allow local companies to borrow at more favorable rates abroad, the governor said. The government hasn’t decided whether it will also use the rating to sell an international bond, he said.
“If there’s an opportunity for the government to borrow to finance critical investment in infrastructure, for example hydropower generation, roads and so forth, there’s no reason why the government can’t borrow,” Fundanga said. “Debt sustainability ratios are good right now, and our capacity to repay is very good.” Still the primary purpose of the rating is to “assist our private sector,” he said.
Angola, which vies with Nigeria as Africa’s biggest oil producer, was awarded its first credit rating of B+ by Standard & Poors and Fitch Ratings last week, paving the way for the sale of an international bond. Ghana, the world’s second-biggest cocoa producer, is also considering selling its second dollar bond next year, Deputy Finance Minister Fifi Kwetey said in an interview yesterday.
China and Copper
Zambia’s economy is benefiting from Chinese investment in its copper industry. China Development Bank Corp. will provide $5 billion of loans to companies involved in Zambia’s mining sector under an accord signed this month, the official Zambia News & Information Services reported on May 13.
Copper production is forecast to reach 1 million metric tons in 2012 from 700,000 tons this year, Fundanga said. Output was 697,860 tons last year.
The price of copper climbed to as high as $7,960.25 a ton in April, compared with $2,809.50 in December 2008.
“The key to maintaining a high price depends on growth in the key copper-consuming countries, such as China,” Fundanga said. “If China continues to grow, if India continues to grow, and countries in the euro zone can sort out their problems and start growing, that will help. They are also major consumers of our copper.”
Zambia’s kwacha has slumped 6.6 percent this month as investors sold riskier, emerging market assets on concern the European debt crisis may stall the global recovery. The currency was trading at 5,065 per dollar late yesterday.
The inflation impact from the kwacha’s depreciation may be limited, while exports may benefit, Fundanga said. The government is still on track to meet its goal of bringing inflation rate down to 8 percent by the end of the year, from 9.2 percent in April, he added.
“With a food surplus like that, prices will come down,” the governor said. “The trend is towards lower levels of inflation. Our target can easily be attained.”