IMF sees no ‘substantive’ Zambian aid-deal talks this month

The Zambian government and the International Monetary Fund won’t be holding meaningful discussions on a proposed $1.3-billion aid program at the Washington-based lender’s annual meetings this month after talks were put on hold in August. The nation’s Eurobond yields climbed.

“IMF staff will be meeting the Zambian delegation at the IMF-World Bank annual meetings to discuss next steps,” Alfredo Baldini, the fund’s resident representative in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital, said in reply to emailed questions. “No substantive program discussions will be held at the annual meetings.”

The southern African nation had hoped to resume talks over the planned program this month and reach a deal by the end of the year.

Africa’s second-biggest copper producer has been in talks about an economic-aid program from the fund for at least three years.

In 2016, it sought help from the institution after metal prices fell and a drought plunged the country into a power crisis. The kwacha was as much as 50 percent weaker against the dollar in 2015, and the budget deficit soared to about 10 percent of gross domestic product as foreign-exchange reserves rapidly dwindled.

“No agreement has been reached on an IMF-supported program for Zambia,” Baldini said. Talks over a program were put on hold in August, and the fund’s staff prepared a so-called Article IV report on the country that it presented to the board on Oct. 6, he said.

Debt Balloons

The country’s ballooning debt levels are key to negotiations with the fund. The rise, especially in external borrowings, “has increased and now put Zambia at high risk of debt distress,” the IMF said in a statement published later on Tuesday.

Yields on Zambia’s $1 billion Eurobond due 2024 rose as much as 15 basis points before retreating to 7.06 percent by 7:43 p.m. in Lusaka On Tuesday. The kwacha strengthened 0.4 percent to 9.6485 against the dollar.

Zambia’s economy will probably expand 4 percent in 2017 and 4.5 percent next year, according to the fund.

The country probably won’t reach a deal with the IMF until the first half of next year, Bank of America analysts Rukayat Yusuf, Jean Michel Saliba and Gabriele Foa said in a note to clients in September. Still, Finance Minister Felix Mutati is aiming to have one by the end of 2018.

“We remain confident that we will secure a deal,” Mutati said in an interview Oct. 5. “Our target is that we need to reach a deal as quickly as possible, and preferably before the end of the year.”