Treasury now seeks solace in new Eurobond as debt crisis deepens

National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Njuguna Ndung’u

National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Njuguna Ndung’u on December 6, 2022. The National Treasury targets to issue a new Eurobond to manage next year's maturity of a Sh270 billion ($2 billion) 10-year bond, exposing a deepening debt trap as the government continues kicking the can down the road.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The National Treasury targets to issue a new Eurobond to manage next year's maturity of a Sh270 billion ($2 billion) 10-year bond, exposing a deepening debt trap as the government continues kicking the can down the road.

Faced with the stark reality of handling the large maturing loan amid highly ballooned debt-servicing costs in recent years and the country's highly weakened local currency against the US dollar, the Treasury has opted for another Eurobond—yet again putting off a chance to confront the worsening debt situation.

“The government of the Republic of Kenya, through the National Treasury, is considering accessing the international capital markets before the end of the fiscal year 2023/24 (July 1, 2023, to June 30, 2024) to issue a sovereign bond,” the Treasury said in a tender call for lead arrangers to express interest in the new Eurobond plans.

This comes when the government is about to conclude a deal to raise a slashed $500 million (Sh67.44 billion) from a syndicate of banks over the next few weeks, down from the $600 million (Sh80.99 billion) initially targeted, as part of the planned $900 million (Sh121.49 billion) commercial borrowing for the current financial year.

Sources told the ‘Nation’ last week that Kenya settled on a dual currency option for the debt to ease the pressure of the US dollar on its economy.

Debt servicing

Kenya’s debt crisis has seen the government delay salaries of public servants, with nearly seven out of every 10 shillings collected in tax revenue going towards servicing debt. The country’s total debt hit Sh9.182 trillion in January and is projected to reach Sh9.41 trillion by June, just Sh590 billion shy of the Sh10 trillion debt ceiling.

The Treasury will also spend Sh1.36 trillion to service debt in the current financial year, which is 63 per cent of the tax revenue targeted for collection by the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) by June.

This may be worsened by the weakening of the shilling that has raised foreign currency debts by at least Sh350.6 billion since the beginning of the year, as the local currency yesterday stayed at a historic low of Sh134.73 against the greenback.

A weak local currency means Kenya requires more shillings to pay back the same amount of debt, translating into higher foreign loan repayment costs.

By the end of January this year, slightly more than 51.2 per cent of Kenya’s Sh9.18 trillion public debt constituted external public debt.

Straight months of steep depreciation of the Kenyan shilling will see the country spend more to service the debts when the government purchases the respective currencies to pay back its creditors.

To illustrate the debt crisis, President William Ruto’s top economic adviser, Dr David Ndii, barely two weeks ago said the Treasury had the tough choice of delaying civil servants’ salaries or defaulting on maturing debt obligations.

The issuance of the Eurobond comes during Dr Ruto’s first Budget of Sh3.663 trillion in 2023/24, which has a financing deficit of Sh720.1 billion. This deficit will be plugged through a mix of Sh198.6 billion in net external financing and net domestic borrowing of Sh521.5 billion.

This means Kenya’s total public debt, excluding the planned Eurobond, is poised to hit a record Sh10.13 trillion by June 2024. The Treasury has not disclosed the sum of the new Eurobond, but should it be an estimated Sh270 billion, this would see public debt jump further to Sh10.4 trillion.

This comes at a time when the Treasury has kicked off public participation in the proposed changes to the law to remove the nominal debt ceiling in favour of a debt anchor of 55 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP).

A Treasury analysis shows that under Kenya’s fiscal consolidation programme, it will take at least four years (2023-26) to revert the present value of public debt to the sustainability threshold of 55 per cent of the GDP. 

The public debt stood at 60 per cent of the GDP at the end of last year, the Treasury said, citing a debt sustainability analysis prepared by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

The Treasury has also doubled down on its efforts to swap the country's short-term debt with longer-term issuances as uncertainty in the movement of interest rates lead to a contraction of new debt on short-term maturities, thus increasing the refinancing risk.

The proceeds from the latest Eurobond will be used to refinance the Sh270 billion Eurobond, which was Kenya’s first-ever, that the country is expected to pay in June next year.

Kenya issued the bond on June 24, 2014, with a coupon rate of 6.875 per cent annually. That is, however, not the only Eurobond that will fall due during Dr Ruto’s first term. Another Eurobond of Sh121.5 billion ($900 million) will mature on May 22, 2027. The eight-year bond with a coupon rate of seven per cent per annum was issued on May 22, 2019.

The other Eurobonds, totalling Sh567 billion, will mature in February 2028, May 2032, January 2034 and February 2048. The latest Eurobond will be Dr Ruto’s first since he took office in September last year. He has announced his first Budget of Sh3.663 trillion for 2023/24 but faces multiple headaches. First, tax revenue collection by KRA is lagging behind the target. KRA was handed a target of Sh2.108 trillion in tax revenue in the current financial year but has collected just Sh1.393 trillion in the nine months to March.

This has left KRA in a tough race to fill the Sh714.97 billion deficit in the next three months. To meet the target, it must collect an average of Sh238.32 billion per month between April and June.

Despite this below-target performance, the Treasury expects KRA to increase tax revenue collection to Sh2.571 trillion or 15.8 per cent of the GDP in 2023/24.