Zambia says ‘must have’ $1.3 bln IMF loan in place in 2018

LONDON, Nov 28 (Reuters) – Zambia expects to host a mission of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) before the end of the year and hopes to have a $1.3 billion loan deal in place in early 2018, Treasury Secretary Fredson Yamba said on Tuesday.

Speaking to Reuters on the sidelines of a mining conference, Yamba also said Africa’s No. 2 copper producer was on a mission to cut debt, and would consider additional borrowing to plug financing gaps only if terms were favourable.

“Come 2018, we must have a final (IMF) programme. It has taken a long time because the parameters have been changing,” Yamba said, adding the IMF wanted the government to provide more details on debt stock, creditors and servicing costs .

“Our debt has accelerated too much. They wanted us to come up with action plans,” he said.

Zambia and the IMF agreed in October to chart a new path towards debt sustainability after the IMF delayed the conclusion of talks, saying it was at high risk of debt distress. The finance minister said last year that almost 20 percent of gross domestic product was being spent on debt servicing.

Asked if a deal could be reached in early 2018, Yamba replied in the affirmative.

Part of Zambia’s debt problem stems from $2.8 billion in Eurobonds, issued from 2012 to 2015. Yamba said the government would “operationalise” a planned sinking fund next year, aiming to accumulate cash for repayments, but was also looking at refinancing.

This may include swapping existing bonds for longer-dated issues, Yamba said, detailing plans earlier outlined by finance minister Felix Mutati, but he added this would be done only if favourable terms are achieved.

He declined to say what yield level could be considered favourable.

“We need to see how we can refinance them … Looking at the (2022) $750 million bond is critical. It’s a bullet payment,” he said, referring to an issue whose entire face value is paid upon maturity.

He said a Chinese loan was a possible option but there were no discussions on that yet.

The IMF loan delays have triggered a slide in the kwacha currency to around 10 per dollar, the lowest level since January.

Yamba predicted the kwacha would stabilise, helped by stronger copper prices and rising exports. He described the current exchange rate as “comfortable”.

Inflation, seen at 6 percent this year, would likely fall under that level next year, he added.

Copper accounts for 70 percent of Zambia’s foreign exchange earnings and the country expects to up copper output to 740,000 tonnes this year, increasing to more than 750,000 tonnes in 2018, Michael Chibonga, acting director of the mining cadastre department at the mines ministry told Reuters.

Zambia is also emerging as a producer of cobalt, expected to be in strong demand for use in batteries for electric vehicles, and Chibonga said its output was expected to rise alongside increasing copper production, although he did not give figures for cobalt.

The government has based its 2018 budget on a $6,000 per tonne price, Yamba said, but added this could be revised upwards. Copper prices were quoted around $6815 on Tuesday (Reporting by Sujata Rao; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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