Javier Blas, Africa Editor
(FT.com) – Every country tapping the global sovereign bond market details the dangers investors face in its prospectus, often in a boilerplate section enumerating possible problems – such as fiscal deficits or taxation issues – that is largely ignored.
But the document sent by Ethiopia to international investors ahead of its foray into the global sovereign bond market is somewhat different. Far from a boilerplate, it includes a list of unfamiliar hazards, such as famine, political tension and war.
The document, seen by the Financial Times, is a sobering reminder of the risk of investing in one of Africa’s less developed nations. With gross domestic product per capita at less than $550 per year, Ethiopia is the poorest country yet to issue global bonds.
In the 108-page prospectus, issued ahead of its expected $1bn bond, Ethiopia tells investors they need to consider the potential resumption of the Eritrea-Ethiopia war, which ended in 2000, although it “does not anticipate future conflict”.
There is also the risk of famine, the “high level of poverty” and strained public finances, as well as the possible, if unlikely, blocking of the country’s only access to the sea through neighbouring Djibouti should relations between the two countries sour.
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, also warns that it is ranked close to the bottom of the UN Human Development Index – 173rd out of 187 nations – and cautions about the possibility of political turmoil. “The next general election is due to take place in May 2015 and while the government expects these elections to be peaceful, there is a risk that political tension and unrest . . . may occur.”
But the long list of risks is not deterring investors, as ultra-low interest rates in the US, the UK, eurozone and Japan push sovereign wealth funds and pension funds into riskier countries in search of higher-yielding bonds.
Instead, some investors are focusing on the danger of a currency crisis. Addis Ababa has devalued its currency, the birr, twice over the past five years – by 23.7 per cent in 2010 and 16.5 per cent in 2011 – in an effort to win export competitiveness. Since then, the Ethiopian central bank has managed to slow the currency’s depreciation by intervening regularly in the market.
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