HILARY JOFFE: Weight of government debt could be what crushes the economy

15 September 2019 - 00:19 By Hilary Joffe

Ask a narrow question, and you get a narrow answer. Ask rating agency Moody's if it plans to downgrade SA's rating, and its analysts will reply that the rating agency has SA's outlook on "stable", and that means it doesn't see itself changing the rating up or down over the next 12-18 months. But we knew that already. The big question is: will the outlook still be stable after the next Moody's update on November 1? Most economists put the chances at less than 50%.

The rating agency isn't telling if it will downgrade its outlook on SA to "negative", which would set the clock ticking on junk status. But Moody's has always looked at SA with a different lens, and it seems as keen as ever to avoid being the one to pitch SA over the edge. A downgrade could become a self-fulfilling prophecy in that the rand could become cheaper, our debt more expensive, our economy weaker and our public finances even harder to fix...

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