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Indications and Summer Forecasts for the Angolan Economy

Indications

The latest figures available from the National Institute of Statistics on the Angolan economy point to a decrease in GDP in the 1st quarter of 2021 in the order of -3.4%, an unemployment rate in the same quarter of 30.5%, and a annual inflation rate for the month of July 2021 of 25.72%[1]. None of these figures that reflect macroeconomic magnitudes are encouraging in the short term.

However, there are other economic and financial realities to consider in order to have a global view of the movement underway in the Angolan economy, and which allow for a more optimistic perspective.

To begin with, in terms of the budget balance and public debt, essential elements of the support program of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the expectation is that the 2021 budget balance will be positive, possibly above 2% of GDP (further on we will present our prediction). In relation to public debt, as we had predicted in previous reports, its sustainability is consolidated, as recognized by the IMF representative in Angola very recently (see our forecast below)[2].

In terms of exchange rate with reference to the month of July 2021, the Kwanza has already appreciated 1.8% against the dollar and 6.1% against the euro, since January 2021, breaking a strong period of strong devaluation started in 2018. Furthermore, 3.5 years after exchange rate flexibility, the gap between formal and informal market rates is below the 20% target announced by the central bank at the time of liberalization, between 7% and 8% for the dollar and euro respectively. Note that at the time prior to liberalization, the same gap was 159% and 167%.

Figure 1 – Kwanza Exchange Rate Variation against the Dollar and Euro (July 2021)

Currently, some sectors are already announcing an increase in the profitability of exports due to the favorable exchange rate policy. This is the case of cement, where Pedro Pinto CEO of Nova Cimangola assures that “To boost exports, the devaluation of the currency helped, because all the costs that the company has in national currency, in dollars, were lower and, in this way, the competitiveness of the company to place products on the international market. In other words, all those products that we continue to buy in Kzs and that have not suffered large price variations in dollars were lower and, therefore, allowed the company to have greater profitability with exports.[3]

Also a reference to PRODESI (Program to Support Production, Diversification of Exports and Substitution of Imports), which has generated more than USD 29 million since the beginning of the year. As the main exported products, emphasis is placed on cement, beer, glass packaging, bananas, juices and soft drinks and sugar[4].

These movements are reflected in the trade balance. Angola’s trade balance recorded, in the 1st half of 2021, a surplus of USD 8,381.9 million[5], an increase of 40.2 % compared to the results recorded in the 2nd half of 2020 (USD 5,978.8 million)[6]. Within this framework, there was an increase in exports of 25%, naturally still influenced by the increase in exports from the oil sector of 28.4%.

Figure 2 – Angola’s Trade Balance and Trade Relations with China

But there is also a significant increase in trade with one of Angola’s main trading partners, China. “Trade between Angola and China increased 23.9% in the first half of 2021, to US$10,550 million (€8,985 million), compared to the same period last year”[7]. According to Gong Tao, Chinese ambassador to Angola, despite the adverse effects caused by the covid-19 pandemic, Chinese companies remain interested in investing in Angola, highlighting the recent construction of factories, one dedicated to the production of tiles and another qualified for the production of energy and water meters.

2021 Summer Forecasts

In modeling the perspectives we present here, several factors are taken into account, among which we highlight the main ones. The first element is the calculation of the oil price (always a determining factor in the Angolan economy). We assume that the price of Brent will maintain a slight upward trend, standing at a level between USD 65 to USD 75 per barrel. A relative stabilization or possible appreciation of the Kwanza against the dollar and the euro is also part of our model, which makes it possible to reverse some of the falls in the past that were merely nominal due to the more flexible exchange rate. We anticipate that the post-Covid-19 world recovery will boost the Angolan economy’s exports, as is already happening with China. Finally, we anticipate that the environment for foreign investment will gradually improve as a result of legislative reforms and the commitment of political power. We have as a recent example the several advertisements coming from Turkey. At the end of July 2021, Angola and Turkey signed 10 cooperation agreements, in the fields of economy, trade, mineral resources and transport, having already announced an increase in the trade balance with Angola to a value of around USD 500 million[8].

From the point of view of obstacles, it is worth mentioning the immense lack of capital. This is the main element for any sustained recovery, and also the inexistence of economic diversification[9] and the persistence of administrative bureaucracy.

All things considered, our model predicts that by the year 2021 the Angolan economy will come out of recession, and GDP growth will reach between 1.4% and 1.75%.

Our model points to a budget surplus between 2.3% and 2.75%, depending on the evolution of the oil price until the end of the year. And considering the evolution of the Kwanza exchange rate, our forecast is that in 2022, the public debt/Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio will be below 100%, achieving greater consolidation.

Figure 3 – CEDESA Model – Forecasts for the Angolan Economy

Consequently, the initial period of strong adjustment and contraction of the Angolan economy is expected to come to an end this year, with no more shocks and global control of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The special case of Unemployment

We understand that unemployment is a special case that should be treated differently, both statistically and in terms of public policies. In terms of statistics, it should be better ascertained who is occupied with informal productive paid activities and who cannot effectively obtain any paid work they want. We should avoid statistical biases that disturb the proper understanding of reality.

On the other hand, it is clear that it will not be the market or the private economy that will solve the problem of lack of employment in the short term, especially for young people. To that extent, the authorities are urged to develop a Keynesian-type employment promotion program, if necessary using available capital from the fight against corruption, as we have advocated in other reports. The state has to spend money on job creation.


[1] Cfr. https://www.ine.gov.ao/

[2] Cfr. https://www.sapo.pt/noticias/atualidade/representante-do-fmi-em-angola-afirma-que_611bf099d1bccf29fd83b48c

[3] https://mercado.co.ao/grandes-entrevistas/a-desvalorizacao-da-moeda-permitiu-que-a-empresa-tivesse-maior-rentabilidade-com-as-exportacoes-XJ1038347

[4] https://www.angonoticias.com/Artigos/item/68811/prodesi-rende-mais-de-usd-29-milhoes-em-exportacoe

[5] https://www.bna.ao/Conteudos/Artigos/lista_artigos_medias.aspx?idc=15419&idsc=15428&idl=1

[6] https://www.angonoticias.com/Artigos/item/68824/balanca-comercial-regista-superavit-de-usd-83819-milhoes

[7] https://www.rtp.pt/noticias/economia/comercio-entre-china-e-angola-recupera-24-no-1o-semestre-apos-forte-quebra-em-2020_n1343994

[8] https://www.angop.ao/noticias/economia/angola-e-turquia-reforcam-balanca-comercial/

[9] Cfr, the most recent elements on the sectoral participation in the GDP that demonstrate the immense and reinforced weight of the oil sector. https://www.bna.ao/Conteudos/Artigos/lista_artigos_medias.aspx?idc=15907&idsc=15909&idl=1

Flashes of optimism in the Angolan economy at the beginning of 2021

0-Introduction. A different focus for Angolan economic analysis

The consulting companies that are dedicated to the study of the Angolan economy follow a conjunctural methodology in which the predominant narrative is based on the negative numbers about the macroeconomic aggregates and their possible perspectives.

However, a more detailed analysis of the evolution of the Angolan economy suggests that behind the numbers of inflation, unemployment, GDP growth and public debt, which are not very encouraging[1], a series of public political reforms are taking place together with the reinforcement of certain economic trends that will indicate the construction of a new, more positive economic reality for Angola.

This study deals with the positive elements that point to the correction of the direction of the Angolan economy in a sense more consistent with the necessary prosperity.

A-Positive trends in the Angolan economy

1-The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and public policy reform

A first element that allows to shed a different light on the perspectives of the Angolan economy lies in the recent assessment carried out by the IMF. In fact, on January 11, the IMF Executive Board concluded the fourth review of the Extended Fund Mechanism Agreement for Angola and approved the disbursement of an additional USD 487.5 million[2].

The important thing in this decision is the IMF’s positive assessment of the reform of Angolan public policies. The IMF states that: “The [Angolan] authorities achieved a prudent budgetary adjustment in 2020, which included gains in non-oil revenues and containment of non-essential expenses, while preserving essential spending on health and social security networks. The approval of the 2021 budget in December consolidates these gains. The authorities have also allowed the exchange rate to act as a shock absorber and have begun to implement a gradual shift towards monetary restraint to face increasing price pressures [3]”.

According to what the IMF explains, the economic policy followed by the Angolan government is developed in the following vectors:

-The stabilization of public finances, which is the cornerstone of the authorities’ strategy. In this regard, the government achieved a strong fiscal adjustment in 2020. In addition, its budget for 2021 consolidates non-oil revenue gains and the containment of budget expenditures for 2020, while protecting priority social and health expenditures.

These advances help to reduce the budget’s dependence on oil revenues.

– Reformulation and management of public debt. The government has implemented debt profile reform agreements, in addition to benefiting from the extension of the Debt Service Suspension Initiative until the end of June 2021, which will provide significant debt service relief and help reduce risks related to debt sustainability. We will elaborate below on the reformulation and management of public debt.

-Restrictive monetary policy and exchange rate easing. After easing the monetary constraint to mitigate the shock of COVID-19, the National Bank of Angola (BNA) began, once again, to face the increase in inflationary pressures through the tightening of monetary policy. A more gradual tightening of monetary policy is needed to reduce inflation. Exchange rate flexibility served as a valuable buffer during the crisis. Efforts are underway to develop a liberalized foreign exchange market.

-Reform of the financial sector. Continued progress in financial sector reforms was critical, especially the completion of the restructuring of the two struggling public banks. The timely adoption of the revision of the BNA Law and the revision of the Financial Institutions Law is the key to continuing this progress.

Finally, the IMF highlights the fundamental aspect that underlies all political reform, which is the maintenance of the fight against corruption.

What can be seen clearly from this IMF assessment is that the government is pursuing a reformist policy based on the assumptions made by this international organization, and is implementing difficult reforms.

It is known that many of these IMF policies have an initial recessive effect, especially fiscal consolidation when it involves raising taxes and cutting wages and subsidies, as well as restrictive monetary policy to fight inflation. It is therefore no wonder that the first result of adopting IMF policies is recession and not growth.

What is expected is that this “housekeeping” creates the conditions for a sustained and virtuous growth of the Angolan economy.

Fig. Nº. 1 – Economic policies of the Angolan government celebrated by the IMF

2-Management and careful reformulation of public debt

The executive followed an appropriate strategy when initially negotiating with China the issue of public debt. As we described in previous reports, the Chinese debt is key to Angola, as it represents about 50% of external commitments[4]. Consequently, it was important, first of all to ensure the appropriate terms with China, although they are not public knowledge, apparently imply a three-year suspension of payments agreement. The adherence already mentioned to the IMF’s debt suspension program allowed the government room for maneuver. It should be noted that the Eurobonds on which a lot has been written and pointed out various dangers, has a smaller weight in the total Angolan debt, around USD 8 billion, thus not having, on the contrary, what one could think of exaggerated pressure on Angolan finances in this area.

So, for now, the issue of public debt pressure seems to be eased and within the government’s management capacities.

3-Meridian oil price recovery

As we had also anticipated, after an abrupt drop in the price of oil at the beginning of the pandemic (March 2020) there would be a rise[5], which is gradually happening.

The reality is that following a trend that was already very clear at the end of the year, the barrel of brent finally reached a price above $ 55, a value that had not been reached since the end of February 2020, the month before the start of the pandemic.  Still being the most relevant indicator for the Angolan economy, and considering that the budget for 2021 was calculated based on USD 33 per barrel, we have a financial margin of more than USD 20. This is an additional “cushion” in the management of Angolan public finances.

It is clear that it is not known for how long this rise in the price of oil will continue. The commitment of the new Biden administration to the Paris Agreement, the evolution of the Chinese economy, the decision to cut or increase production by Saudi Arabia and the maintenance of the restrictions resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic are factors that may imply a further decline in the oil price.

Therefore, movements in the oil price are always unknown and these moments of increase must be used by the government to reinforce its reserves for future reproductive and social investments.

Fig. No. 2- Evolution of the Brent price since February 2020

4-Decrease in imports of food basket and agricultural production with continental relevance

The diversification policy combined with the promotion of the national industry through the substitution of exports has been another “motto” of this government. This policy allows in one fel swoop to reduce external dependency and create a thriving national industry.

While it is still untimely to draw any definitive conclusions about the results of this policy, some figures emerge that can be encouraging, at least in relation to the dependence on imports and foreign exchange spending on foreign trade.

According to data provided by the Ministry of Industry and Trade, Angola managed to record a reduction of almost US $ 100 million in the import of products from the basic basket and other essential goods in the last month of 2020, compared to the same period in December 2019. In December 2019, the Government disbursed US $ 250 million for imports, while in the same period of 2020, it only spent US $ 152 million[6].

In particular, it is worth noting the reduction in sugar imports, which went from 2.1 million tons in 2019, at the cost of 17.6 million dollars, to 1,472 tons, at the cost of 831,121 dollars. Regarding the importation of current rice, in 2019 Angola imported 136,985 tons in the amount of US $ 37.2 million and in 2020, only 59,505 tons, in the amount of US $ 10.5 million. In what concerns chicken (the most consumed meat in Angola), it is also worth mentioning a considerable reduction, compared to 2019. In that year, 46,385 tons were imported, for US $ 51.5 million, whereas last year, only 32,447 tonnes were acquired, for a value of just over US $ 25 million.

Fig. Nº. 3- Comparison of annual imports of basic basket products (Dec.2019 / 2020 in USD million)

These are just some of the products highlighted in the considerable reduction in imports, however this trend has proved to be general in the remaining products that make up the basic basket.

For these numbers to be considered a success, it is necessary to compare them with the internal consumption of the same goods, and understand if the decrease in imports was due to a substitution by domestic products or only reflects a decline in demand as a result of the economic crisis.

In the latter case, although they represent savings in foreign exchange, they do not mean a success in politics, but a decrease in the quality of life of the population. However, even in this situation, national investors should be alert to proceed with investments in these areas in order to correspond to future demand growth.

Statistics published by the Angolan Ministry of Industry and Trade and released by the Portuguese news agency Lusa show the enhanced sustainability of some Angolan agricultural production.

Angola asserts itself as a continental-level agricultural producer. Angola is the largest African banana producer and the seventh in the world with an offer of 4.4 million tons, according to the latest table of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Fund (FAO). It should be noted that the banana continues to be the most produced and consumed fruit in the world. Angola, in particular, has declared itself self-sufficient in banana production for more than six years, with emphasis on the provinces of Bengo and Benguela. In these provinces, private companies already export the fruit to countries such as Portugal, Zambia, Democratic Congo and plan to bring the fruit to the United States, the world’s largest consumer[7].

In relation to cassava, Angola has an annual production estimated at more than 11 million tons of cassava, being today the third largest producer in Africa, after Nigeria and Ghana, and wants to bet on its transformation into starch[8].

5-New investments and exports. Two examples: Rio Tinto and Gold

The finance minister recently told Reuters: “We are building a future (through our reform program) that prioritizes direct investment (not just with China, but with other partners). We want to add value for our economy to create jobs. We want the money to stay. Borrowing is an option, but we are trying to change the way we relate to our partners [9]”.

Thus, it appears that the government is betting on direct investment to revive the economy and also to increase exports.

There are two recent examples that are important to underline in this context. The first is the entry of the powerful multinational Rio Tinto into the Angolan market. Apparently, such a perspective will materialize this year[10].

Also important is the first export of gold mined in Huíla in 2020, in the amount of sixteen hundred and ninety-six ounces sent to Portugal and the United Arab Emirates, which corresponds, at the current price, to more than three million dollars. Obviously, what is relevant is not the amount of gold exported, but the beginning of a trend. As with the entry of Rio Tinto, it is important to mark a trend that brings other big investors like Anglo-American or DeBeers.

None of these investments is very firm yet. Their reference is important because they can represent future axes for the development of the Angolan economy, now in the beginning.

Fig. nº 4 – Signs of optimism in the Angolan economy

B-Necessary policy adjustments

The foregoing demonstrates that the Angolan government pursues an economic reform policy based essentially on the IMF’s revenues: i) budgetary balance and debt control, considering financial solvency as a sine qua non for economic growth; ii) restrictive monetary policy to control inflation; iii) flexible exchange rate policy, allowing for a devaluation of the currency that encourages exports and hinders imports; iv) investing in investment and the private sector as engines of the economy.

Basically, the policy followed corresponds to what was once called the Washington consensus[11]. This is the standard reform package adopted by the IMF, World Bank and the US Treasury Department since the late 1980s and which corresponds to a liberal model of the economy, based on fiscal prudence and the free market.

Naturally, this model has potential for Angola, but it is not enough. There are not  strong enough institutions in Angola yet to guarantee the functioning of a free market in which some do not end up dominating others and creating oligopolistic and inefficient situations, as there is not a private sector strong enough to become the engine of the economy.

Making Angola’s economic reform dependent on reforms inspired by the Washington Consensus is not enough, a broader view is needed.

This broader view should imply structural institutional reform. This means that property rights must be clarified by abandoning the confusion that the collectivization of property has generated and still generates, courts must be put in place, bureaucracy is no longer an obstacle, and obviously great corruption must be eradicated. In addition to structural institutional reform, it should be realized that the State has a role to play in this new phase. There is no robust private sector in Angola, nor can everything be delivered to foreign investors with short-term perspectives. A mix should be found between the state and the private sector. In fact, this is how the most advanced Western countries work, despite rhetoric. It is important to adopt the concept advanced by Mariana Mazzucato of Entrepreneurial State[12].

The point to consider in economic reform in Angola is that the role of the government, in the most successful economies, went far beyond creating the right infrastructure and setting the rules. The State is a fundamental agent to achieve the type of innovation that allows companies and economies to grow, not only by creating the “conditions” that allow innovation. Instead, the state can proactively create a strategy around new areas of high growth before the potential is understood by the business community by financing the most uncertain phase of research in which the private sector is risk-averse, seeking new developments, and often even supervising the marketing process.

In addition, the IMF’s recessionary policies, while necessary, must be offset by other types of policies that alleviate the socially depredating burden of those. In short, there must be a mix of reformist policies that is more comprehensive and adequate to Angola, so that in the end the first flashes of success have sustained results.

C-Conclusions

It is necessary to look beyond the negative conjuncture numbers of the Angolan economy and understand that there is a reformist economy policy that is beginning to bear fruit and to mark some new trends. This policy has been applauded (and possibly advised) by the IMF, and here lies its strength and weakness. Strength because it contains some indispensable measures to clean up the Angolan economy and launch it on the path of growth. It also strengthens because its adoption and implementation brings the praise and support of the IMF and sister organizations. However, this policy also has weaknesses, including the lack of attention to institutional reform, the weakness of the private sector in Angola, the recessive effects of contractionary policies, among others.

Consequently, with signs of optimism in the medium-term perspectives of the Angolan economy, it is necessary to improve the economic policy that is being followed, including the intensification of institutional reforms that ensure that the judiciary works, bureaucracy does not hinder, corruption does not divert resources. In addition, the role of the State as an entrepreneurial partner in the private sector should be reviewed.


[1] See the most recent figures: Unemployment 34% (III quarter 2020), Annual inflation 25.19% (December 2020 / December 2019), GDP growth -5.8% (III quarter 2020) at https: // www. ine.gov.ao/

[2]  https://www.imf.org/en/News/Articles/2021/01/12/pr216-angola-imf-executive-board-completes-4th-review-of-the-eff-arrangement-approves-disbursement

[3] idem

[4] https://www.cedesa.pt/2020/05/05/porque-a-china-deve-reduzir-a-divida-de-angola/

[5] https://www.cedesa.pt/2020/06/03/angola-petroleo-e-divida-oportunidades-renovadas-2/

[6] https://www.noticiasaominuto.com/mundo/1663059/angola-importou-menos-100-milhoes-de-dolares-de-produtos-da-cesta-basica

[7] https://www.plataformamedia.com/2020/12/15/angola-e-o-maior-produtor-de-banana-em-africa-ha-seis-anos/

[8] https://www.noticiasaominuto.com/economia/1663123/angola-e-terceiro-maior-produtor-africano-de-mandioca

[9] https://www.minfin.gov.ao/PortalMinfin/#!/sala-de-imprensa/noticias/8787/angola-prioriza-investimento-directo-nao-apenas-com-a-china

[10] https://mercado.co.ao/negocios/diamantifera-endiama-quer-concretizar-entrada-da-rio-tinto-em-angola-HC1004823

[11] https://piie.com/commentary/speeches-papers/what-washington-means-policy-reform and https://web.archive.org/web/20170715151421/http://www.cid.harvard.edu/cidtrade/issues/washington.html

[12] See  https://www.wook.pt/livro/the-entrepreneurial-state-mariana-mazzucato/19312561

Angola: Oil and Debt. Renewed opportunities

Abstract:

Although Angola is suffering several economic shocks due to Covid-19 and the drop in oil prices, in addition to the nominal increase in public external debt, the truth is that the situation does not present the seriousness indicated in some studies.

Oil: The country is well prepared to benefit from the recovery that is already taking place in the oil price, and which is likely to accelerate with the global unlockdown.

Debt: The debt problem results essentially from the depreciation of the currency and its solution lies in a political negotiation with China, which holds about half of the external public debt.

Diversification: The present difficulties are a real incentive, and not merely rhetorical, for the beginning of the diversification of the economy, made possible by the liberalization measures of the economy.


In recent times, a lot has been written about the Angolan oil crisis, presenting catastrophic forecasts for the country’s economy and the evolution of oil exploration. To the pressure of oil, it has been added strain on public debt, all in the Covid-19 packaging.

The situation being serious, it is not desperate, and several data must be considered analytically with sufficient distance.

The public debt

The issue of public debt, which we have already addressed in a previous report with regard to China (https://www.cedesa.pt/2020/05/05/porque-a-china-deve-reduza-a-divida-de -angola /), does not have the danger that is attributed considering only a formal analysis of the numbers.

If we look at the most recent data from the BNA[1], Angola’s big creditors are China, Great Britain and International Organizations.

The sum of these creditors equals approximately US $ 39.4 million and is equivalent to almost 80% of the external public debt.

Figure No. 1-Stock of Angola’s public external debt by countries. Source: BNA (bna.ao)

Obviously, the debt to China is eminently political and cannot be seen as an ordinary debt. It should be noted that the Angolan Foreign Minister is already in talks with his Chinese counterpart on the subject[2]. Therefore, there is an effective development in this area.

In some ways, the same is true for International Organizations. It is public that International Organizations, led by the International Monetary Fund, are proposing several relief measures regarding the debt burden of the most fragile economies and emerging markets[3].

However, there is still Britain’s debt. Part of this debt comes from companies based in London, but with privileged relations with Angola and which have a long-term perspective, as is the case with Gemcorp[4], so here too we will have to handle with some caution the overly general statements about the severity of the weight of the Angolan debt.

Furthermore, the International Monetary Fund itself recognized in December 2019 that about four-fifths of the nominal increase in Angolan debt was due to the depreciation of the kwanza and not to new liabilities[5]. Hence, any analysis of the Angolan public external debt that does not disaggregate its elements is wrong.

Clearly the external public debt is concentrated in a few creditors that have several considerations to take apart from those strictly financial, and depends a lot on the attitude of China.

In short, unless an additional extraordinary event occurs, the issue of Angolan foreign public debt is not as serious as it might appear to be a mere nominal observation, and should not become an obstacle to development. The key is in talks with China on the topic. And obviously, China will not want to appear as a negative agent in Angola.

Oil

The same analytical exaggeration has occurred with regard to oil and Angola. Obviously, Angola has an excessive dependence on oil, and that, at this moment, the price of crude is subject to two negative pressures: the fall in demand due to Covid-19 and an apparent secular tendency to decrease oil consumption, replacing it by alternative sources.

Two of the most renowned analysts of these issues in relation to Angola, Agostinho Pereira de Miranda and Jaime Nogueira Pinto[6], have, however, devalued the excess of anguish in relation to this issue in what concerns Angola. We tend to subscribe to this position.

The shock of oil in the Angolan economy has persisted since 2014 (see fig. No. 2) and is a problem for which the government since 2018, has taken several measures that focus on two strategies: i) modernization and opening of the oil sector and ii) promoting the diversification of the economy.

Regarding the first element, it is worth mentioning, among others, the creation of a regulatory agency different from Sonangol, allowing this company to focus on its core business, the privatization of Sonangol’s secondary subsidiaries and the signing of agreements with several foreign companies to increase investment. In fact, the big companies, including Total, Exxon, Chevron, BP, ENI, planned to operate more drilling vessels in Angola than anywhere in the continent to explore new discoveries. In relation to diversification, there has been more rhetoric than practice, but the need, as we will see below, will force it to be put into practice, provided that the government effectively liberalizes the economy.

Meanwhile, Covid-19 made oil prices dip and foreign companies stopped their activity in Angola[7]. However, despite the immediate bad news, the situation will tend to stabilize at a higher level. Moody´s at the end of May announced that it foresaw a future generic level between USD 45-65. It is not a question of relying on the accuracy of these figures, but only of noting that there will be an upward trend.

Consider the price of Brent. At the moment, it stands at USD 36.6 (May 22nd, 2020[8]). Therefore, it has already risen from the minimum number reached on April 21, 2020, USD 19.33. The value of USD 36, 6 is already above several levels reached after the abrupt fall in 2014. For instance, in the beginning of 2016, the value ranged between USD 29 to 32. This means that the price of oil seems to enter, at the present moment, again in some normality, besides that since 2014, the country is already used to dealing with a great oscillation in the markets.

Figure No. 2- Brent USD Peak / Barrel Price Peaks and Lows (Nasdaq and Oilprice.com source)

Figure no. 3 – Price evolution of Brent 2020 (Sources in fig. No. 2)

It also should be pointed out that a good part of Angolan contracting is reversed in long-term contracts, so price fluctuations do not necessarily affect public treasury immediately.

In addition, very soon, there will be a time when economies close when the demand for oil has decreased substantially, to a relaunch of economies. Whether this recovery in V, U, W or another letter, the truth is that it will imply an increase in the demand for oil, which will probably increase the price of oil as long as the “wars” between Russia or Saudi Arabia do not restart. or other similar events.

In addition, the low value of oil will be an incentive for its use in an economic recovery phase in which concerns about clean but more expensive energies will, in the short term, be replaced by the need to put companies to work and people with a job.

Even if concerns about the climate emergency persists in Europe, it is difficult to see that the major engines of the world economy, such as the United States, China and India, do not prefer a cheap source of energy that quickly gets plants up and running.

Angola has already started to anticipate and still in the week of 25-29 May, the National Agency of Petroleum, Gas and Biofuels (NAPGB) made available, a data package for oil exploration of the terrestrial basins of the lower Congo and Kwanza, for nationals and internationals companies. These are the blocks CON1, CON5, CON6, KON5, KON6, KON8, KON9, KON17 and KON20, whose official announcement, for the start of new bids, will be made in the coming days.

In a nutshell, the organizational reforms, of rationalization and increase of the oil market underway in Angola, combined with the gradual recovery of oil prices, in the context of the relaunch of the world economy in the post-Covid-19 period, allow us to believe that the oil sector in Angola has good conditions for recovery, and remove the most pessimistic scenarios.

Opportunity for diversification

A final note on the diversification policy that has been proclaimed constantly by Angolan leaders, but without success.

There are now two clear incentives to make it a reality. On the one hand, oil is no longer the reliable source of revenue that the state can rely on, on the other, there are measures to liberalize the economy and break the previous oligopolies. Still shy, but there are.

These two facts should make entrepreneurs feel more free and obliged to look for new areas of investment. These areas should not be civil construction, but others linked to natural resources, such as natural gas; agribusiness (Angola’s soils are some of the most fertile in Africa and its climate is manifestly conducive to agriculture. In the past, Angola was almost self-sufficient in agricultural terms, with wheat being the only exception); the forest economy (forests cover almost 18.4% of the country’s total area and form one of the country’s most critical natural resources), high-quality minerals (iron ore, manganese and tin) and solar energy, among others.

In this crisis, Angola’s great challenge is to seize the opportunity to transform itself, benefiting from its diversified wealth.


[1] BNA, External Debt by countries (stock): 2012-2019. Available online at: https://www.bna.ao/Conteudos/Artigos/lista_artigos_medias.aspx?idc=15419&idsc=16458&idl=1

[2] http://www.novojornal.co.ao/politica/interior/mirex-telefona-a-homologo-chines-com-foco-na-divida-e-em-investimentos-em-angola-87980.html

[3] https://www.imf.org/en/News/Articles/2020/05/28/sp052820-opening-remarks-at-un-event-on-financing-for-development-in-the-era-of-covid-19 

[4] Deeply involved in the construction of the new refinery in Cabinda, for example: https://www.africaoilandpower.com/2020/01/21/sonangol-gemcorp-sign-cabinda-partnership-deal/

[5] https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/CR/Issues/2019/12/18/Angola-Second-Review-of-the-Extended-Arrangement-Under-the-Extended-Fund-Facility-Requests-48887

[6] Cfr. Agostinho Pereira de Miranda, Setor petrolífero angolano está bem preparado para sair da crise – advogado. Available online:https://www.angonoticias.com/Artigos/item/64817/setor-petrolifero-angolano-esta-bem-preparado-para-sair-da-crise-advogado and Jaime Nogueira Pinto, Considerações sobre a crise petrolífera. Available online:  https://observador.pt/opiniao/consideracoes-sobre-a-crise-petrolifera/

[7] Noah Browning et al. Angola’s oil exploration evaporates as COVID-19 overshadows historic reforms. Available online:  https://www.reuters.com/article/us-global-oil-angola-insight-idUSKBN22W0OZ

[8] NASDAQ-Brent Crude (BZ: NMX). Available online at https://www.nasdaq.com/market-activity/commodities/bz%3anmx. See also https://oilprice.com/oil-price-charts/46. Note that these elements are merely informative of trends and do not necessarily reflect the exact price of Angolan oil transactions. However, they give an approximation to possible developments and perspectives.

Why China should reduce Angola’s debt

Angola’s public debt at the present

In its December 2019 report on Angola, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stated that: “Angola’s public debt is sustainable, but the risks have increased and the vulnerabilities remain. [1]”While forecasting a peak of 111% public debt/ GDP by the end of 2019, the IMF’s view was optimistic for several reasons, namely the mobilization of new non-oil revenues in the 2020-2021 budgets, the rapid implementation of structural reforms and the continuation of the privatization program.[2]

The percentage increase in public debt/ GDP forecasting was due to three factors: the depreciation of the kwanza in the fourth quarter of 2019 (about four fifths of the increase), the fall in prices and oil production, and the slow economic recovery. Therefore, the first point to be emphasized is the fact that 80% of the increase in the percentage of public debt/GDP derives from the depreciation of the kwanza.

Consequently, a policy favoured by the IMF (currency depreciation) would negatively influence another aspect considered important by the same organization (public debt / GDP ratio). This means that it was not too important to look at this relationship to calculate the possible fragility of the Angolan public debt, as it essentially reflected nominal and not real fluctuations. In December 2019, Angolan public debt was sustainable.

However, after four months, the state of affairs has become more difficult. Now, the real aspects of the economy may hinder debt service. However, Angola is not in that situation yet, and proper action can avoid any problem. The Covid-19 economic shock has consequences for Angola, adding  pressure on the two material elements that are important for the sustainability of debt payments: the price of oil and the economic recovery. As we already know, oil has seen its price drop sharply, and the prospects for the recovery of the Angolan economy are weak.

Consequently, in April 2020, the same IMF predicted a 1.4% recession for the Angolan economy and a debt value equal to 132% /GDP. The IMF’s forecast is just that, and it does not yet correspond, in terms of public debt, to any new reality. In fact, 2019 closed with a public debt of 109.8%/ GDP and not 111%, slightly better than expected.[3]

It should also be noted that the share corresponding to the external public debt will be 85.4% of GDP, which is what we are interested in analyzing.

The several elements considered so far, leads us to two conclusions: the first: the Angolan public debt was evolving in a sustainable manner, and the nominal degradation of the country’s public debt as a percentage of GDP reflected, above all, the nominal depreciation of the currency and not some absurd lack of control that would have occurred in recent times ath the  public finances. Between 2017 and 2019, in an epoch  of recession, the stock of external debt increased only 14%, whereas it was previously, between 2012 and 2016, that it increased 100%. This means, politically, that the government of José Eduardo dos Santos doubled the external public debt in four years, while João Lourenço has tried to stop this exponential increase. [4]A detailed analysis of the figure below shows the great boost in the Angolan external debt ocurred between 2012 and 2016. There was an attempt to stabilize in 2017 and only a modest increase in 2018 and 2019.

Figure 1 – Angolan external public debt stock (2012-2019) [amounts in millions of dollars; BNA source]

However, and this is the second conclusion, if in the past there was confidence in Angola’s capacity to pay the debt, and its control by the current government, the truth is that the Covid-19 global crisis has launched a cloud of uncertainty over the public debts in global terms, obviously affecting perception in relation to Angola. Naturally, this post-Covid-19 perception requires governments to anticipate and take steps to avoid future problems.

 It is in this context that the possible adjustment of the Angolan external debt to the current reality brought by Covid-19 deserves attention, as well as the need to lighten its weight to guarantee the sustainability of the economic recovery.

The importance of debt to China

The current global situation brought about by Covid-19 implied the need that Angola has to ensure that its public debt is sustainable and do not to disturb the economic kick-start that is urgently necessary to mobilize.

Regarding the essential features of the Angolan public debt, the Cartesian method must be followed. This means that one should not look at the debt as a whole, but divide it into sections, addressing each one independently. It is wrong from a methodological point of view to perceive the Angolan external public debt as a whole due to the huge weight that China has in it.

Total Angolan public external debt (stock) was worth US $ 49,461 million at the end of 2019, according to data from the National Bank of Angola. [5]It turns out that $ 22.424 million is owed to China. [6]This means that China accounted for almost half of Angola’s external responsibilities, more precisely, 45.3%.

Figure 2-Weight of the Angolan external debt to China (in percentage; source: BNA)

It seems clear that the Angolan debt to China represents an enormous magnitude and obviously has the most important weight in Luanda’s public finances.

Given the historical features of Angola’s relationship with China, as well as its global positioning, especially with regard to the relationship with Africa, this is the time to propose a thorough negotiation of the Angolan debt to China, promoting its reduction and time-based rescheduling.

In simple terms, the negotiation of the Angolan public debt to China should lower the debt amount and increase the payment times.

It is easy to see that debt to China may become the main obstacle to Angola’s development.

Nevertheless, China in Angola  must be a factor of development and not of economic recession. At the outset, it should be noted that since 2017, the year when João Lourenço took office, the date on which the debt peaked, Angola has been lowering the stock value (see Fig. No. 3 below) thus demonstrating its capacity and good faith towards China.

There are three very strong reasons for carrying out China to renegotiate its debt with a view to reducing and prolonging it over time.

1-China’s global positioning, especially in Africa.

China is currently one of the great world powers, intending to engage with the United States in terms of projected influence in the world.

In that sense, with a new power comes new responsibilities, as happened  in relation to the United States at the end of the Second World War (1939-1945), in which it took on is shoulders  the European economic reconstruction through the Marshall Plan and actively promoted the creation of which became the EEC (European Economic Community), today the European Union. It was the American commitment that made this reality possible and brought prosperity and peace to Europe.

China has been taking a similar position in relation to Africa, using a rhetoric of friendship and solidarity. President Xi Jinping’s words at the opening ceremony of the China-Africa Cooperation Forum (FOCAC) in 2018: “China seeks common interests and puts friendship first in the search for cooperation. China believes that the right way to boost China-Africa cooperation is for both sides to leverage their respective strength; it is up to China to complement Africa’s development through its own growth, and it is up to China and Africa to seek cooperation for mutual benefit and common development. In doing so, China follows the principle of giving more and receiving less, giving before receiving and giving without asking for a return ” [7](emphasis added).

What is certain is that the current situation caused by the Covid-19 disease presents itself as the ideal one for President Xi Jinping to turn his speech into reality and move on to concrete acts of friendship, giving more and receiving less, as well as giving without ask for return.

In this way, it will build positive China’s image in Africa as a great world power that bets on the effective development of a continent and will show, from the geostrategic point of view , that it is a real competitor  of the United States in the creation of a more prosperous and secure world.

It is at this moment that China’s place in the post-Covid-19 world will be seen.

2-Pragmatism

Deng Xiaoping is attributed with the slogan “It doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white, as long as it hunts mice”. It is precisely this pragmatism that has brought so much success to China that it will justify the remission of the Angolan debt.

Angola has always been presented as the model for investment in Africa. The scientific literature even refers to the “Angolan model” that served as a basis for China’s contemporary performance in Africa.

Thus, it will be worrying for China to see that its model fails and becomes a burden on the economy.

If we look at the numbers, during 2019 Angola spent almost 43% of public revenues to pay debt, where, as already mentioned, China occupies the largest share. Consequently, the continuation of this situation may prove to be justified by the allegations that the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, made during his recent tour of Africa, that the Chinese debt is  becaming an unbearable burden for the development of the continent. In fact, to conclude that this is ocurring in Angola, will turn the whole of China’s African policy into a disaster, since its initial model failed badly.

In addition to this political pragmatism, there is an obvious economic factor. The most recent evaluations show that Chinese companies in Angola recorded a loss of 350 to 500 million dollars due to the COVID-19 pandemic[8]. And these losses can be widened if Angola’s economic situation does not improve. Therefore, it is of Chinese interest to create the conditions for a relaunch for the Angolan economy, as such a relaunch will  benefit in a massive scale Chinese companies. It is called the win-win situation.

Consequently, it is therefore of Chinese practical interest to reduce Angolan debt to show the world that its model of intervention in Africa works and is not predatory, and also help the countless Chinese companies established in Angola.

3-Combat corruption and odious debt

There is a fundamental and ultimate reason to reduce the Angolan debt to China. There is no doubt that part of this debt is what is doctrinally called “odious debt”, ie, debt whose purposes were not the public interest and the common good, but the private appropriation of sovereignty by members of the highest organs of the State . [9]More bluntly, it is a debt that was used in acts of corruption or served to finance the private interests of Angolan leaders and possibly of Chinese officials.

One can never forget the role that Chinese citizen Sam Pa, today, apparently imprisoned in China, played in several businesses in Angola. Names like the CIF-China International Fund, the Queensway Group, or China Sonangol, are paradigms of activities considered illegal that are or have been under close investigation. It is a fact that Chinese money was involved in diverse acts of corruption.

In addition to this, there is another one with undefined contours and that deserves a more careful investigation by researching journalists. The analysis of the disaggregated statistical series provided by the National Bank of Angola on the evolution of Chinese debt shows that in the second quadrimester of 2016 (May to August) this debt went from US $ 10,531 million to US $ 21,228 million. Debt to China doubled in 2016.[10]

Figure 3- Evolution of Angola’s external public debt (stock) to China-2012/2019 (Millions of dollars. Source: BNA)

This movement was relatively recent and it is, still,  badly explained. In terms of timing, this event coincides with an announced trip by José Eduardo dos Santos to China to negotiate a loan in July 2015, which was subsequently followed by several events such as the fall from grace of the Vice President of the Republic, Manuel Vicente, and the Sam Pa’s arrest in October 2015. After this, Isabel dos Santos assumed the presidency of Sonangol in June 2016, coinciding with the launch of the Chinese debt in the BNA’s accounts. Apparently, it was from this new Chinese debt that the Government attributed to Sonangol 10 billion USD. At the time the company was starting to be chaired  by Isabel dos Santos. Apparently from those 10 billion USD, Sonangol paid loans in the total amount of five billion dollars. This allowed the Sonangol`s debt to be reduced from 9.8 billion to 4.8 billion USD. The remaining five billion USD will have been channeled to investments in and from Sonangol.

In view of the judicial controversy that currently involves Isabel dos Santos’s appointment as President of Sonangol and the apparent simultaneity of her appointment with the doubling of the Angolan debt to China that may have served to finance Sonangol, perhaps there should be a suspension of payment of this debt until it becomes clear whether there was any illegality or not, namely in what refers to the 5 billion that were apparently allocated to investments in and from Sonangol.

It should be noted that this is what Chinese law, enforced by Xi Jinping, imposes. The Chinese President and his administration are taking a long and hard fight against corruption in their country. Current Chinese law on corruption is found in the Penal Code of the People’s Republic of China approved in 1981, revised in 1997 and enhanced  in 2015. According to this rule, all activities involving corruption related to foreign rulers are a crime for which Chinese courts have jurisdiction. In effect, since May 1, 2011, it is a crime to pay illegally to foreign officials. The truth is that, currently, the Chinese Penal Code acts beyond its borders, so corrupt payments, the “odious debt”, already has to be considered by the Chinese authorities when making their assessments of situations.

This means that for political reasons as well as for reasons of domestic law, China is obliged and must analyze the debt that may have been incurred for corrupt purposes or for illegitimate benefit. Angola’s debt must be thoroughly reviewed in this perspective.

Figure  4- Reasons for China to reduce Angolan debt

Conclusions

The reasons explained strongly advise China to proceed with a substantial unilateral reduction of the Angolan debt. It is an imperative of its current position in the world, its pragmatism and sinic law.


[1] IMF- Angola, IMF Country Report No. 19/371, p. 54. Available in: https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/CR/Issues/2019/12/18/Angola-Second-Review-of-the-Extended-Arrangement-Under-the-Extended-Fund-Facility-Requests-48887

[2] Idem, p. 54.

[3] IMF- World Economic Outlook, April 2020: The Great Lockdown, p. 24. Available in  https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WEO/Issues/2020/04/14/weo-april-2020 and also IMF-SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA.COVID-19: An Unprecedented Threat to Development, April 2020, p. 19. Available in https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/REO/SSA/Issues/2020/04/01/sreo0420

[4] BNA-National Bank of Angola, DÍVIDA EXTERNA PÚBLICA POR PAÍSES (STOCK): 2012 – 2019. Available in https://www.bna.ao/Conteudos/Artigos/lista_artigos_medias.aspx?idc=15419&idsc=16458&idl=1

[5] BNA-National Bank of Angola, idem.

[6] BNA-National Bank of Angola, idem.

[7] President Xi Jinping “Full text of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s speech at opening ceremony of 2018 FOCAC Beijing Summit”, XinhuaNet, 3rd September 2018. Available in http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2018-09/03/c_137441987.htm

[8] Francisco Shen (interviewed by Natacha Roberto), “Empresas chinesas em Angola com perdas de 500 milhões de dólares”, Jornal de Angola, 28 th April 2020. Available in http://jornaldeangola.sapo.ao/economia/empresas-chinesas-em-angola-com-perdas-de-500-milhoes-de-dolares

[9] Robert Howse, The Concept of Odious Debt in Public International Law, UNCTAD, 2007.

[10] BNA-National Bank of Angola, External data by Country, Quarterly Data. Available in https://www.bna.ao/Conteudos/Artigos/lista_artigos_medias.aspx?idc=15420&idsc=16460&idl=1