Moody’s boosts Eskom’s ratings outlook to positive after budget

1st November 2022 By: Bloomberg

Moody’s Investors Service improved its outlook on Eskom Holdings’s debt ratings to positive after South African Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana announced last week the government could take over a substantial portion of the power company’s debt.

Moody’s boosted the outlook from negative, signaling that the next ratings action may now be an upgrade instead of another downgrade. It affirmed the utility’s long-term corporate family rating at Caa1, seven levels below investment grade.

The government expects to shift between one-third and two-thirds of Eskom’s debt of about R400-billion onto its own balance sheet, Godongwana said in the mid-term budget last week. The loss-making state utility, that’s been surviving on government guarantees, is the biggest known risk to the economy and public finances, the Treasury said.

“The positive outlook recognizes the commitment to address Eskom’s unsustainable capital structure,” Moody’s said in an emailed statement on Monday. “A partial debt transfer to the government will improve the company’s balance sheet and reduce pressure on cash flows through lower interest payments.”

While Godongwana said there will be strict conditions attached to the debt transfer, he provided few details. The swap is also not accounted for in updated fiscal metrics published last week, which show the government’s ratio of debt to gross domestic product will peak two years earlier and at a lower level than expected.

A partial transfer will be complex, requiring careful management given the diverse creditor base and varying provisions across the debt documentation, Moody’s said. Also, relief can’t of itself solve Eskom’s problems that include poor operational performance, the lack of cost-reflective tariffs and increasing overdue liabilities from municipalities, it said.

Eskom’s ratings could still be downgraded if there are concerns about the company’s ability to meet its debt serving obligations or it appeared likely that any reorganization will lead to creditor losses higher than those implied in the current ratings, according to Moody’s.