October 1, 2019 / 4:46 PM / 16 days ago

UPDATE 1-S.Africa to pay more for debt until fiscal problems addressed –central bank

(Adds detail, quotes)

PRETORIA, Oct 1 (Reuters) - South Africa will keep paying a high rate of interest on the loans it needs to plug a widening budget deficit until its fiscal problems are addressed, the central bank said on Tuesday.

The South African Reserve Bank (SARB) has resisted political pressure to implement a drastic lowering of the repurchase, or repo rate, to boost growth that is expected to remain at 0.6% this year, pointing to fiscal rather than monetary policy as the root of the problem.

In its biannual Monetary Policy Review publication after holding lending rates steady at 6.5% on Sept. 19, the bank hinted that it might be willing to lower rates to support growth but the impact would not last.

“Even with low potential growth, it is still possible to have cyclical deviations from the trend, and these deviations should be responsive to interest rate adjustments – even if the larger growth problem ... is beyond the powers of monetary policy,” the SARB said.

The bank said its analysis showed the gap between short-term and long-term bonds was widening and that this reflected investor demand for a higher risk premium. The bank described South Africa’s yield curve as “unusually high”.

“Much of the steepening over the past year has come from lower short-term rates, reflecting lower inflation and weaker growth. Meanwhile, the longer end of the curve has stayed high due to fiscal risks,” the central bank said.

The SARB said the average gap this year between two-year bonds and 10-year bonds, at 2.4 percentage points, was large relative to recent history. The gap has averaged 1.1 percentage points from 2000 to 2019.

“Investors expect the repurchase rate to stay somewhat lower in the future, but they also now require more compensation for locking money down in long-term loans,” the bank said.

South Africa’s debt to GDP ratio is fast approaching the 60% seen as a red line by ratings agencies, while interest payments on outstanding debt regularly outpace key spending such as infrastructure and health. (Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana Editing by Lisa Shumaker and David Goodman)

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