A money changer counts Nigerian currency notes for a customer in Nigeria's commercial capital, Lagos, March 16, 2020. (Photo File/Temilade Adelaja)

African Regulators Urged to Supervise Global Credit Rating Agencies

ADDIS ABABA – Africa should develop regulatory mechanisms to supervise international credit rating agencies (CRAs) to avoid erroneous assessments that discourage investment on the continent, an experts’ report has urged.

“African regulators need to develop regulatory mechanisms to supervise the work of international CRAs operating within their respective jurisdictions to ensure proper conduct of business and enforcement,” African experts said in a report, African Sovereign Credit Review Mid-Year Outlook.

“It is imperative for regulators to ensure accountability on inaccurate rating opinions issued in Africa,” the report urged.

Poor ratings affect investment in Africa

The joint report by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) says despite positive economic projections, Sovereign Credit ratings in Africa are getting worse.

A sovereign credit rating is an independent assessment of the creditworthiness of a country. Sovereign credit ratings give investors insights into the level of risk associated with investing in the debt of a particular country, including any political risk.

The review report further recommended that African countries should regulate the publication of ratings and a rating calendar so as to curb impromptu rating announcements that disrupt financial markets.

“The recent downgrading of five African countries by the top three CRAs has reversed the optimism amongst investors on the international financial markets that African countries are recovering from the devastating Covid-19 economic shocks, ” the report said, citing that five African countries were downgraded by international credit rating agencies in 2023.

‘Lack of understanding and herding behavior’

In 2023, Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s Investors Service, and the Fitch Group downgraded Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt and Morocco citing increasing government financing needs and pressures from the upcoming ‘wall of Eurobond maturities combined with poorly structured terms of international bonds.

Besides, the global credit rating agencies based their downgrades on ‘weakening external liquidity position due to an unfavorable foreign exchange trajectory, the growth of debt service cost and the high yields on the Eurobond financial markets’.

However, Nigeria and Kenya rejected Moody’s rating downgrades, citing lack of understanding of the domestic environment by the rating agencies and that their fiscal situation and debt were not as bad as estimated in Moody’s review.

Moody’s and Fitch also downgraded Egypt in a move that has pushed up its borrowing costs to issue a sovereign bond at over 10 percent. Egypt currently has the highest sovereign bond value outstanding in Africa at US$37.5 billion.

The report says challenges were noted during the review period and these included errors in publishing ratings and commentaries and that analysts were located outside the African continent to avoid regulatory compliance, fees, and tax obligations.

Besides, the experts found that there were impromptu ratings and announcements that did not follow a rating calendar and there was a “herding behavior” amongst the rating agencies to follow other rating agencies’ actions, and there was increased rating analysts’ workload.

Improving Africa’s poor ratings

All these results in failures to adhere to applicable surveillance policies and procedures, the report says, calling on CRAs to acknowledge weaknesses in their institutional structures and to have more analysts in Africa to address challenges stemming from foreign-based assessments.

“Solution to these challenges lies in effective regulation and eliminating reliance on credit rating opinions,” the report noted, adding that, “Effective regulation should ensure that rating agencies stay independent, keeping up the integrity and quality of the rating process.”