Finance Minister Tito Mboweni on Wednesday pleaded with detractors to stop attacking the independence of the SA Reserve Bank. Photographer:Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)
JOHANNESBURG - Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said on Thursday South Africa had to act swiftly on its debt levels to avoid having to turn to the International Monetary Fund for help, a day after his bleak medium-term budget speech rattled markets.

Mboweni predicted wider budget deficits and cut growth forecasts in his medium-term budget policy statement on Wednesday, as Africa’s most industrialised economy faces a recession, revenue shortfalls and ballooning debt.

“Whether or not you like the IMF, ideologically or practically, it doesn’t matter. When you get into a debt trap that’s where you end up,” Mboweni told lawmakers.

“That low economic scenario has reduced tax revenues. We clearly have a problem.”

The Treasury expects government’s gross debt to stabilise at 59.6 percent of GDP by 2023/24 from an estimated 55.8 percent in the current year. Tax revenue is expected to underperform significantly in the three years to 2020/21.

The rand slumped 2 percent after Mboweni’s budget speech on Wednesday and yields on government bonds jumped, though the market reaction on Thursday was more muted.

Analysts say ratings agencies are likely to take a dim view of the Treasury’s latest budget projections.

Moody’s, the last of the “big three” agencies to rate South Africa at investment grade, is expected to review South Africa’s rating in the coming weeks.

S&P Global Ratings and Fitch already rate South Africa’s foreign-currency debt as “junk” status.

REUTERS