Sub-Saharan Africa’s Subprime Borrowers

In recent years, a growing number of African governments have issued sovereign bonds, diversifying away from concessional debt and foreign direct investment. As a result, shortsighted financial markets, working with shortsighted governments, may be laying the groundwork for the world’s next debt crisis

NEW YORK – In recent years, a growing number of African governments have issued Eurobonds, diversifying away from traditional sources of finance such as concessional debt and foreign direct investment. Taking the lead in October 2007, when it issued a $750 million Eurobond with an 8.5% coupon rate, Ghana earned the distinction of being the first Sub-Saharan country – other than South Africa – to issue bonds in 30 years.

This debut Sub-Saharan issue, which was four times oversubscribed, sparked a sovereign borrowing spree in the region. Nine other countries – Gabon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Angola, Nigeria, Namibia, Zambia, and Tanzania – followed suit. By February 2013, these ten African economies had collectively raised $8.1 billion from their maiden sovereign-bond issues, with an average maturity of 11.2 years and an average coupon rate of 6.2%. These countries’ existing foreign debt, by contrast, carried an average interest rate of 1.6% with an average maturity of 28.7 years.

It is no secret that sovereign bonds carry significantly higher borrowing costs than concessional debt does. So why are an increasing number of developing countries resorting to sovereign-bond issues? And why have lenders suddenly found these countries desirable?

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