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Tsinghua report exposes Africa's bond crises

By JIANG XUEQING | China Daily | Updated: 2022-08-05 09:22

'Reckless operations' by European, US institutions triggering financial woes

Following Asia and Latin America, Africa is likely to confront a bond crisis caused by the "reckless operations" of European and US financial institutions, according to a Tsinghua University report issued on Wednesday.

The report is the outcome of a project conducted by a research team led by Tang Xiaoyang, a professor in the Department of International Relations at Tsinghua. It said from 2023 to 2025, African countries will enter a bond repayment peak with hundreds of billions of dollars in bonds maturing and could face default risks, affecting dozens of low and middle-income bond-issuing countries.

Such risks were brought by the "reckless operations" of large European and US investment institutions in African countries. If the latter fails to refinance, they will face a chain reaction of defaults, rating downgrades, foreign exchange shortages and currency depreciation, which may lead to further economic recession. Under the current global economic downturn, the default crisis is likely to develop into a comprehensive challenge to economic conditions, currency values and even political stability of dozens of low and middle-income bond-issuing countries, said the report.

The bond problem of developing countries has become an immense threat to global economic recovery since 2020. Sri Lanka, Zambia and Argentina have successively defaulted on their bonds, triggering serious economic and social unrest. This trend may soon spread to Ghana, Suriname, Angola, Ethiopia, El Salvador and other developing countries, Tang said.

This round of bond crises was mainly caused by an excessive increase in international bond issuance. The stock of sovereign bonds, mainly Eurobonds, of all low and middle-income countries rose significantly from $484.3 billion in 2009 to nearly $1.74 trillion in 2020, accounting for more than half of their external debt. Moreover, high bond interest rates and interest payments that account for 63.2 percent of the total interest expenses have become the main contributors to debt pressure on bond-issuing countries, he said.

The volume of sub-Saharan African countries' sovereign bonds has grown particularly fast, with the value rising drastically from $22.6 billion in 2009 to $136.6 billion in 2020, and more than 20 African countries have issued Eurobonds. At the same time, most international bonds are denominated in US dollars. During the interest rate hike of the greenback, the double rises of the exchange rate and interest rate significantly increased repayment pressure facing bond-issuing countries, Tang said.

The surge in bond issuance and bond crises in African countries stems from international financial capital's provision of loose and convenient measures to developing countries during their economic downturn, which encouraged these countries to issue Eurobonds so that the international financial capital-mainly well-known investment institutions in Europe and the US-can reap high yields from the rapid growth of emerging markets. However, as developing countries have vulnerable economic structures and lack financial risk management experience, they have had difficulties dealing with the superimposed impacts of multiple adverse factors engendered by the global economic downturn. Many countries have been forced to issue new bonds with higher interest rates in order to repay old debts, forming a vicious circle in the medium and long term, according to the report.

The rules of bond issuance and circulation formulated by financial institutions in developed countries prioritize the commercial interests of financial institutions and the needs of developed economies while failing to fully account for the characteristics of developing countries, such as a single revenue source, weak capacity for risk management and need for long-term infrastructure construction. The pro-cyclical, market-oriented behavior of issuing Eurobonds has amplified economic fluctuations in developing countries. The sharp reduction in public expenditures caused by the bond repayment peak and refinancing difficulties may bring an abrupt end to the economic structural transformation of developing countries over the past decade, said the report.

It calls for the international community to cooperate, take timely preventive measures, create an international financial environment that nurtures sustainable development of developing countries, and avoid the spread of sovereign bond defaults.

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