The market tells us about the ANC succession battle

November 22nd, 2017 by Brian Kantor

 The outlook for the SA economy depends on who governs after December 2017. Will it be the Zuma faction or some other ANC coalition calling the shots? That is the essential question for the economy and the value of the financial claims on it.  The market in SA assets has made its preferences for much less of President Zuma very clear. RSA risk premiums rise and fall as the expected Zuma influence on policy gains or loses momentum.

On Thursday and Friday last week the market registered less SA risk as the rand strengthened, not only against the USD, but more meaningfully the rand also gained against other EM exchange rates.[1] Furthermore not only did RSA bond yields decline late last week – they declined relative to benchmark US yields. The political developments that actually moved the market are however not that obvious.

The behaviour of these indicators in 2017 is shown in figure 1 below. As may be seen 2017, despite this recent improvement in sentiment, has not been a good year for the ZAR. It weakened relative to its EM peers when highly respected Finance Minister Gordhan was also sacked in March. It also suffered in response to the Budget statement of his successor in late October, as may also be seen.

The budget disappointment was perhaps not in the details about the revenue shortfall  – that were well telegraphed – but that no revised plan to address the widening fiscal deficit was offered. The concern was presumably that Zuma and his cohorts would soon announce more rather than less government spending regardless of the fiscal constraints.

 

Fig.1; The USD/ZAR and the USD/EM exchange rate basket in 2017. Daily Data January 1st=100 or ratio (LHS) =1

 

 

a1



Source; Bloomberg and Investec Wealth and Investment

 

Though perhaps a little longer perspective on SA risk indicators is called for, as is provided in figure 2 below. There it may be seen that the ratio of USD/ZAR exchange rate to the USD/EM currency basket, weakened significantly in December 2015, when Finance Minister Nene was so surprisingly and ignominiously sacked. However as may be seen in the figure, the rand in a relative and absolute sense did very much better in 2016. Perhaps because the decision Zuma made under pressure from colleagues and the business community to immediately reappoint Pravin Gordhan, indicated less rather than more power to the President. A sense perhaps that the market had gained of Zuma overreach and a degree of vulnerability.   Just how vulnerable remains to be determined- hence market volatility.

Fig 2; The ratio of the USD.ZAR to the USD/EM currency basket (January 2017=1) Daily Data

a2Source; Bloomberg and Investec Wealth and Investment

 

The indicators derived from the Bond market make the same statements about SA risk. As shown in figure 3 below the spread between RSA and USA government bond yields, the so called interest rate carry that reveals the expected depreciation of the USD/ZAR exchange rate widened sharply as the rand weakened in late 2015. They then narrowed through much of 2016, stabilized in 2017 until the Budget disappointment pushed them higher. In figure 4 it may also be seen how the RSA sovereign risk premium has behaved in 2017. Sovereign risks are revealed by the spread between the yield on a USD denominated RSA (Yankee)  Bond and its US equivalent. As may be seen this spread has been variable in 2017 – that it increased by 40 b.p. in October – and then declined sharply in the week ending on November 17th.  These spreads indicate that SA debt is already being accorded Junk Status by the market place, ahead of any such ruling by the rating agencies. The spread on the lowest Investment Grade debt would be of the order of 1.6%.

In figure 5 we show the interest carry- the rate at which the USD/ZAR is expected to weaken over the next ten years and inflation expectations. These are measured as the spread between a vanilla bond that carries inflation risk and an inflation linker of the same duration that avoids inflation risk. As may be seen more inflation expected is strongly connected to the rate at which the ZAR is expected to weaken. It should be recognized that the weaker the rand the more it is expected to weaken further. It will take a stronger rand to reduce inflation expected- a welcome development that is beyond the influence of interest rates themselves.

 

Fig.3; The USD/ZAR and the Interest Rate Spreads. Daily Data 2015-2017

a3Source; Bloomberg and Investec Wealth and Investment
Fig.4; The RSA sovereign risk premium and the interest carry. Daily Data 2017.

a4Source; Bloomberg and Investec Wealth and Investment 

Fig.5: The interest rate carry and inflation compensation in the RSA bond market. Daily Data 2017.

a5

The market place, as well as the bookmakers, will continuously update the odds of one or other candidate for the Presidency of the ANC ( probably) being determined in December 2017.  The odds offered by Sportingbet at 13h00 on November 20, 2017 are shown in the Table below. (www.sportingbet.co.za ) As they say in racing circles- the favourite does not always win- but don’t bet against it.

Lower South African risks and the stronger rand and lower interest and inflation rates associated with rand strength are good for the economy and all the businesses and their stakeholders dependent on the economy. One prediction can be made with some degree of conviction. That is without less SA risk any cyclical recovery in the SA economy is unlikely.

a6

 

[1] Our construct for Emerging Market exchange rates that exclude the ZAR  is an equally weighted nine currency basket of the Turkish Lire, Russian Ruble, Hungarian Forint, Brazilian Real, Mexican, Chilian and Philippine Pesos, Indian Rupee and Malaysian Ringit

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