Central African Economic and Monetary Community: Selected Issues

Central African Economic and Monetary Community: Selected Issues

Abstract

Central African Economic and Monetary Community: Selected Issues

Cemac—Developments in the Public Securities Market

In the wake of the sharp fall in oil prices since mid-2014, Economic and Monetary Union of Central Africa (CEMAC) countries’ issuance of public securities have significantly increased. This paper describes recent developments in the securities market in CEMAC and the risk premium hierarchy among member countries. It suggests the possible market mispricing and highlights challenges. The paper makes recommendations to develop CEMAC’s securities market.1

A. Background

1. The development of domestic public securities markets in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has been the subject of several studies. Sy (2007) focused on the primary market in the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) and the determinants of prices of local-currency denominated public securities. Diouf and Boutin-Dufresne (2012) studied the determinants of interest rates in WAEMU, identified challenges and prospective reforms that could help make the market more dynamic, and assessed the potential systemic risks that it may pose to the region’s banking system. Very few (if any) similar analyses have been made for CEMAC, which can be explained by the relatively recent establishment of this market (the first issuance of securities was done by Cameroon at the end of 2011) and limited data.

2. A specific analysis for the CEMAC market is particularly relevant in the context of the oil-price slump since mid-2014. The shock has had a massive impact on CEMAC’s public finances, forcing its member countries to seek additional financing sources. Indeed, after a gradual development after late 2011, CEMAC countries’ yearly issuances of public securities suddenly accelerated in 2015—that year issuances doubled, compared to the year before. A deeper and more liquid securities’ market would enhance monetary policy through possible open market operations, help fill fiscal financing gaps by providing more resources, and develop financial sector stability by offering more low-risk assets with differing maturities.

3. This study is supported by the creation of a dedicated database, drawn from the statements of each issuance published on the website of the regional central bank (BEAC). This database contains the following information: the issuer country; the date of the issuance; maturity; number of primary dealers as bidders; amount announced by the Treasury; amount of bids; amount auctioned off; and the interest rates or prices (minimum and maximum proposed by the primary dealers; ceiling rate or maximum price accepted by the Treasury; and the weighted-average interest rate).

B. Securities Market Developments

4. In the late 90s, the decision of a gradual phasing-out of direct central bank financing to governments in CEMAC paved the way for the development of the regional public debt market. The BEAC’s Board of Directors decided in 1999 to freeze its “statutory advances” to national Treasuries (i.e., the BEAC’s overdraft facility for budget financing) and approved the establishment of a domestic market for the issuance of Treasury bills and bonds. However, because of a lack of political support, the implementation of the decision was delayed by almost ten years. In March 2008, the BEAC’s Monetary Policy Committee decided to implement a transitional scheme providing for the coexistence of statutory advances (scheduled to be phased out) and the issuance of government securities.

5. CEMAC countries’ public securities issuances have grown since 2011 and reached their highest level in 2015 (Figure 1). After the success of their first issuances in late 2011 (CFAF 50 billion), the Cameroonian authorities almost doubled their issuances of Treasury bills in 2012. The only other country in the regional market at that time was the Central African Republic (CAR), with CFAF 1.56 billion issued in 2011 and CFAF 9.4 billion in 2012. Gabon joined the market in 2013, issuing CFAF 99 billion. The first auctions of Treasury bonds occurred in 2013, both by Cameroon (CFAF 23.5 billion with a two year-maturity) and Gabon (CFAF 25 billion with a three-year maturity). Auctions of public securities stagnated in 2014 at around CFAF 265 billion, despite Chad’s entry into the market. Finally, gross issuances more than doubled in 2015 compared to 2014, reaching CFAF 608 billion, in a difficult economic context characterized by a sharp fall in oil revenues.

Figure 1.
Figure 1.

CEMAC: Public Securities, 2011–15

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2016, 290; 10.5089/9781475535464.002.A005

Sources: BEAC; and IMF staff calculation.

6. The stock of auctioned public securities more than doubled in 2015 to reach CFAF 532 billion. This was the result of longer maturities for Treasury bills issued in 2015 and increased placements of Treasury bonds. One-year Treasury bill issuances surged in 2015 to CFAF 196.5 billion. In addition, Chad was very active in the Treasury bond market. At the end of 2015, Treasury bonds represented 43 percent of the stock of auctioned public securities.

7. The objective of replacing BEAC direct financing by public securities remains a long- term endeavor. Until recently, the BEAC was taking steps to reduce budget financing and promote market-based financing in it stead. However, in early August 2015, in response to the oil-price shock faced by the region, statutory advances were reactivated with the approval of a 52.4 percent increase in their ceilings. On top of this, the BEAC approved in late September 2015 additional “exceptional advances” of CFAF 140 billion to Chad, and in May 2016, CFAF 9.2 billion to the CAR.

8. The stock of statutory (and exceptional) advances is still almost 6 times larger than the stock of public securities. At the end of 2015, the stock of BEAC statutory and exceptional advances amounted to CFAF 1,984 billion relative to a stock of public securities of CFAF 330 billion. In fact, Cameroon is the only CEMAC country whose balance of statutory advances is lower than its stock of securities. Conversely, Congo and Equatorial Guinea, virtually absent from the securities market (only two issuances by Equatorial Guinea), are the biggest users of BEAC’s statutory advances.2

C. Risk Premium Hierarchy and Potential Market Mispricing

9. Risk premia for 3- and 6-month Treasury bills show a discrimination among CEMAC countries. There were a total of 142 Treasury bill issuances in the regional market between November 2011 and end-2015, and more than half of them (76) were undertaken by Cameroon. Using the interest rates obtained by Cameroon (the most active country in the regional market and the one enjoying the lowest interest rates) as benchmarks and comparing issuances undertaken at identical or close dates,3 the following observations can be made (Figure 2):

  • Gabon is the second “best” risk among CEMAC countries, with interest rates 30-40 basis points (bps) higher than Cameroon, but with a large standard deviation.

  • Interest rates for Chad are more than 100 bps higher than for Cameroon on 3- and 6-month Treasury bills, but with a low variance among issuances, which could be explained by the lumping of similar maturity issuances.

  • The CAR faces the highest interest rates, at around 5 percent a year for 3-monthTreasury bills and slightly more than 5 percent for 6-monthTreasury bills.

Figure 2.
Figure 2.

CEMAC: Weighted Average Interest Rates of 3-Month and 6-Month T-Bill Issuances, 2011–15

(Percent)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2016, 290; 10.5089/9781475535464.002.A005

Sources: BEAC; and IMF staff calculations.

10. Interest rates in CEMAC appear to be positively linked with governance and public management ratings, as well as public debt indicators (Figure 3). Although CEMAC countries’ securities issuances are not rated by the main international rating agencies, some trade credit insurers provide a country risk classification, with better ratings for Cameroon and Gabon than for Chad and the CAR.4 In the same vein, the World Bank’s Doing Business indicators show a better rating for Cameroon and Gabon. Public debt indicators follow along the same lines, as the ratio of public debt over GDP is significantly lower for Cameroon and Gabon than for Chad and the CAR.

Figure 3.
Figure 3.

CEMAC: Average Interest Rate on 6-Month Treasury Bill Issuances, 2014–15

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2016, 290; 10.5089/9781475535464.002.A005

Sources: BEAC; Countries authorities; World Bank; United Nations; and IMF staff calculations.1/ CPIA: Country Policy and Institutional Assessment.2 Distance to frontier score (http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/~/media/GIAWB/Doing%20Business/Documents/Annual-Reports/English/DB16-Chapters/DB16-DTF-and-DBRanking.pdf)

11. The risk premium hierarchy has been less obvious on 1-year Treasury bills. Cameroon had long been the only CEMAC country with regular issuances of one year-Treasury bills (Annex 2). The first 1-year issuance by Gabon was conducted in April 2015 and Chad followed with five such issuances between September and December 2015. While Cameroon has benefitted from lower interest rates on average, there is less clarity on risk premium hierarchy among CEMAC countries for this type of maturity. For instance, the 1-year Treasury bills issued by Gabon in the last quarter of 2015 had an interest rate of 4 percent on average, significantly higher than similar issuances by Chad (five issuances with an average interest rate of 3.4 percent). Even more surprising, the last auction of the year for Cameroon and Chad were done the same day (on December 23, 2015), with the same amount auctioned (CFAF 8.5 billion), and for the first time, the interest rate was higher for Cameroon (3.9 percent) than for Chad (3.5 percent). Similarly, the first ever issuance by Equatorial Guinea in September 2015 was done at an interest rate of only 1.36 percent (lower than any issuance by Cameroon for any maturity).

12. Although limited activity makes comparisons difficult, unusual interest rate dynamics suggest the presence of possible market mispricing. Only Chad and Gabon had Treasury bond issuances in 2015—the interest rate on Gabon’s 2-year Treasury bonds (4.6 percent) was higher than the interest rate on Chad’s 5-year Treasury bonds (4.1 percent) resulting in an inversion of the yield curve. One potential explanation could be that, despite the auction mechanism, the limited number of primary dealers (spécialistes des valeurs du Trésor) involved (only one or two dealers making a bid) favors a prior agreement between the Treasury and the dealers involved, as in the case of syndication, resulting in possible market mispricing.

13. More generally, the low interest rates obtained by CEMAC countries in their auctions indicate possible mispricing of securities, which could be an obstacle to market development. Governments do not seem ready to pay significantly more than the current relatively low rates (currently the tender rate—taux d’intérêt des appels d’offres—is at2.45 percent a year), and thus accept only low cut-off rates in their auctions. A comparison with the few international bond issuances made by Cameroon and Gabon reinforces the sense that interest rates on CEMAC public securities are unusually low.5 The mispricing of CEMAC countries’ securities is an obstacle to market development, as it discourages the emergence of a secondary market.

D. Challenges for the Development of the CEMAC Public Securities Market

A comparison with the WAEMU market

14. A comparison with the WAEMU public securities’ market is useful to identify challenges and make recommendations for the development of CEMAC’s market. Although both markets have quite similar legal and regulatory frameworks, WAEMU’s market development significantly accelerated in the mid-2000s.

15. While the stock of Treasury bills is five times larger in WAEMU than in CEMAC, the progression of the Treasury bills’ market in the latter is comparable to that of the early years of the WAEMU market (Figure 4). At end-2015, the stock of Treasury bills in CEMAC was equivalent to 0.6 percent of GDP. This is significantly below the level in WAEMU (3 percent of GDP). That said, at the end of 2005 (more than four years after the first issuance), the stock of Treasury bills was comparable in WAEMU (0.6 percent of GDP). The WAEMU market took off only in the second half of the 2000s, and experienced a great leap forward in 2010–11, paradoxically as a result of the political crisis in Ivory Coast.6

Figure 4.
Figure 4.

CEMAC and WAEMU: Stock of Public Securities, 2001–15

(Percent of GDP)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2016, 290; 10.5089/9781475535464.002.A005

Sources: BEAC; BCEAO; and IMF staff estimates.

16. The Treasury bond auction market remains underdeveloped in CEMAC compared to WAEMU. Chad, and to a lesser degree, Gabon, are the only two countries in CEMAC to have used the Treasury bond auction market. Cameroon favors Treasury bill issuances, having resorted to the auction of Treasury bonds in only three occasions, the last time in August 2014, for a cumulative amount of CFAF 33.5 billion. However, Cameroon has also issued a total amount of CFAF 430 billion in regional bonds since 2001, with three issuances through syndication. Even taking into account the issuance of regional bonds by syndication,7 the stock of Treasury bonds in CEMAC stood at 1.2 percent of GDP at end-2015, compared to 7.7 percent of GDP in WAEMU.

17. A larger banking system with more appetite for government securities is an explanation for a more developed market in WAEMU. In terms of assets, WAEMU’s banking sector is twice as large as that of CEMAC. In addition, the stock of public securities held by banks established in WAEMU represents about 8 percent of their combined assets against less than 2 percent in CEMAC. This could be partly explained by a more flexible regulation in the WAEMU market that makes government securities a risk-free alternative to the accumulation of unremunerated reserves at the central bank.

18. Auctions of public securities by CEMAC countries are generally oversubscribed, but at significantly lower ratios than in WAEMU. For Treasury bill issuances in 2015, WAEMU countries recorded an average coverage ratio of 1.94, compared to 1.5 in CEMAC. Furthermore, in 11 of 64 auctions by CEMAC countries, the bids were lower than the amounts offered by Treasuries.

19. Despite lower coverage ratios and higher country risk rankings, Treasury bill yields in CEMAC were significantly lower in 2015 than in WAEMU (Figure 5). The CAR’s issuances carried similar interest rate than issuances by Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire. This somewhat paradoxical result would suggest a possible mispricing in CEMAC securities, but also differences in terms of auction strategies, leading to lower cut-off prices in CEMAC. On average, for each Treasury bill issuance in 2015, a CEMAC country raised only CFAF 7.2 billion at an annual interest rate of around 2.7 percent, while a WAEMU country raised CFAF 32.5 billion at an interest rate of 5 percent.

Figure 5.
Figure 5.

CEMAC and WAEMU: Treasury Bill Issuances, 2015

(CFAF billions and percent)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2016, 290; 10.5089/9781475535464.002.A005

Sources: BEAC, BCEAO, and IMF staff calculation

20. Unlike in WAEMU, CEMAC countries do not have the option to raise more than the originally offered amount. WAEMU countries generally take the opportunity of bids exceeding the planned amount of the issuance to increase the amounts raised. In 2015, they did that in 24 of their 34 issuances, placing on average 10 percent more than their initial offers. This option is not allowed under the regulatory framework of the CEMAC public debt market. Conversely, national Treasuries in CEMAC have sometimes decided to allocate a lower amount than announced (5 times in 2015). This might be motivated by a desire to create excess demand for their issuances in order to obtain more favorable terms in subsequent auctions.

21. In addition, a limited number of buyers and potential bids seems to constrain CEMAC countries’ auction strategies (Figure 6). On average, CEMAC countries have received only 5.3 different bids for their Treasury bill issuances in 2015, against 47.5 for WAEMU countries. Even when demand from primary dealers exceeds the initial auctioned amounts, the room for maneuver of CEMAC Treasuries is severely restricted, especially regarding decisions on the cut-off rates. National Treasuries are often limited to a choice of “all or nothing,” while Treasuries in WAEMU countries can refine cut-off rates with limited risks of distorting markets.

Figure 6.
Figure 6.

CEMAC and WAEMU: Auction Strategy (Choice of Cut-Off Rate)

(Cumulative bids and rates offered; in CFAF billions and percent)1

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2016, 290; 10.5089/9781475535464.002.A005

1 Based on issuances in Mali (left panel) and Chad (right panel).Sources: BEAC; BCEAO; and IMF staff calculations.

Challenges ahead8

22. Promoting a market that better reflects the reality of risks is necessary to ensure its development. As already mentioned, one of the main dysfunctions of CEMAC’s public securities’ market is the mispricing of securities auctioned. It discourages new investors, other than current primary dealers, to enter the market and hampers the development of a secondary market. Improvements in terms of communication, planning, execution of auctions, and debt management would help develop the market.

23. Retail investors, including non-residents, need to be attracted to CEMAC’s securities’ market. There are no restrictions for retail investors, including non-resident investors, to purchase CEMAC government securities. The primary dealers have an exclusive right to participate in Treasury bill or bond auctions, but they have the obligation, at the request of any investor, to buy and sell public securities on behalf of the latter. In the same way, non-resident banks have the ability to transmit their orders to primary dealers. However, the dealers participate in the regional securities market almost entirely for themselves, and although other investors can purchase securities through them, in practice this happens infrequently. At the end of 2015, 95 percent of the Treasury bills issued in CEMAC (92 percent for Chad) were owned by primary dealers. The situation is similar for Treasury bonds, with an 88 percent ownership by primary dealers.

24. The secondary market for government securities needs to be developed. Treasury bills and bonds are dematerialized and are governed by a convention between the BEAC and primary dealers. The latter have the obligation to foster the secondary market by displaying at their counters the purchase and sale prices of government securities. However, dealers typically consider the government securities as an investment option for themselves or as a refinancing instrument (government securities are accepted by the BEAC for rediscount operations). More importantly, the mispricing may hamper the development of the secondary market, because dealers could incur losses if they had to sell the bills and bonds at higher “market-clearing” prices. At this stage, the secondary market is extremely limited, with only about twenty transactions on bills and bonds recorded between 2011 and 2014. The secondary market for Treasury bonds issued by syndication is slightly more active. For instance, according to AFRITAC Centre, 77 secondary transactions on Cameroonian bonds were recorded between 2011 and 2014, which represents on average 11 percent of securities sold. The secondary market should also benefit from the planned implementation in 2016 of the legal framework for the “repo” market (sale and repurchase agreements).

25. The unification of the Treasury bond issuances through auctions and by syndication could help stimulate the market. Currently, Treasury bonds issued by auction are exchanged over-the-counter (OTC), while bonds issued by syndication are traded on the Douala and Libreville stock exchanges. Eliminating this fragmentation, including encouraging domestic syndication could be beneficial. For instance, an agent could be designated by the authorities as leader to seeks to involve other banks in the operation through the auction market. This would require a modification of Article 9 of the BEAC regulation on public securities, as the price of the issuance with the agent will need to be determined for a domestic syndication.

26. The calendars for planned issuances should be better respected. As specified in the legal and regulatory framework of the CEMAC public securities market, national Treasuries have to publish annual and quarterly indicative calendars of issuances. Although this requirement is generally met, it is important to better respect these calendars to enhance the reliability of issuances among market participants. In fact, auctions are frequently postponed, while others are undertaken without a previous announcement.

27. Communication before and after an auction should be improved. The statements published two or three days before an auction are typically insufficient, mentioning only the nature of the securities (bills or bonds), the maturity, and the desired amount. WAEMU countries are at a more advanced stage, with the pre-auction statement being accompanied by a pre-auction note including more comprehensive information (results of the previous auctions, planned auctions, amounts that will mature in the coming weeks, etc.), and often preceded (one or two weeks before the auction) by an information note on the issuance, the issuer, and the economic and financial context. All this information is published on the website of the UEMOA-Titres agency, while in CEMAC, the Unit for the Settlement and Conservation of Securities (Cellule de règlement et de conservation des titres) does not have its own website.

28. Good debt management practices should also help in developing the securities market. It is important that governments respect their planned issuance calendars and disclose comprehensive and timely information to investors. Furthermore, enhanced coordination can help avoid unnecessary competition among CEMAC countries, for instance by not issuing securities with identical maturities on the same day. More generally, sound debt management strategies should also help reassure investors about the government’s ability to repay their securities and facilitate the rollover of maturing debt.

29. Improved debt management should include a clearer decision-making process. Decisions on cut-off prices, through the “ceiling rate” in the case of a Treasury bills or “price limits” in the case of Treasury bonds, directly impact the amounts raised. In theory, in order to avoid market distortions, and as long as the bids are sufficient, the issuer should accept all the best offers by dealers up to the announced amount of the issuance, regardless of the proposed interest rates or prices. In reality, the national Treasuries may decide to auction a lower or higher amount than announced. In particular, when the bids exceed the planned amount by a large margin, it may be justified to get additional financing at favorable conditions, but the rational for this decision should be explained in the post-issuance statement, to avoid affecting dealers’ expectations for future issuances.

Annex I. Treasury Bill Issuances, 2011–15

(CFAF billions)

article image
Sources: BEAC, and IMF staff calculations.

Annex II. Interest Rates on Treasury Bills, 2011–15

uA05fig01
Sources: BEAC; and IMF staff estimates.

References

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  • Agence UMOA Titres http://www.umoatitres.org/en

1

Prepared by Gabriel Leost.

2

The Republic of the Congo has not yet issued Treasury paper in the regional market.

3

C. Soltani and B. Debergh found a seasonal effect in interest rates, with a significant increase in September-October when banks would be willing to buy securities only at higher interest rates in order to improve their annual profit figures. In this study, issuances of Treasury bills with the same maturity are comparable when auction dates do not differ by more than one month.

4

For instance, the Hermes-Euler rating for Cameroon and Gabon is at a “significant risk” level, while the CAR and Chad are at “high risk” level. Cameroon and Gabon have also a better risk rating than the CAR and Chad in the EKF (Denmark’s export credit agency) classification.

5

The interest rate on a 10-year Eurobond issuance by Gabon in June 2015 reached 6.95 percent, while Cameroon obtained 9.75 percent in its 10-year Eurobond issuance in November 2015.

6

Although regular auctions of Treasury securities were no longer possible in 2010 because of uncertainty on who constituted the legal government, the BCEAO agreed roll over maturing Ivoirian Treasury bills with maturities up to one year automatically. Finally, a stock of more than CFAF 600 billion was converted into new Treasury bills and bonds, with longer maturities, in November 2011 and March 2012.

7

CFAF 100 billion by Gabon in 2007 (6-year maturity); CFAF 200 billion by Cameroon in 2010 (5-year maturity); CFAF 107.6 billion by Chad in 2011 (5-year maturity); CFAF 80 billion by Cameroon and CFAF 85 billion by Chad in 2013 (both with 5-year maturities); CFAF 150 billion by Cameroon in 2014 (5-year maturity); and CFAF 84 billion by Gabon in 2015 (5-year maturity).

8

Most of the recommendations presented in this section are based on technical assistance reports by AFRITAC Centre, the IMF’s regional technical assistance center in Central Africa.

Central African Economic and Monetary Community: Selected Issues
Author: International Monetary Fund. African Dept.
  • View in gallery

    CEMAC: Public Securities, 2011–15

  • View in gallery

    CEMAC: Weighted Average Interest Rates of 3-Month and 6-Month T-Bill Issuances, 2011–15

    (Percent)

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    CEMAC: Average Interest Rate on 6-Month Treasury Bill Issuances, 2014–15

  • View in gallery

    CEMAC and WAEMU: Stock of Public Securities, 2001–15

    (Percent of GDP)

  • View in gallery

    CEMAC and WAEMU: Treasury Bill Issuances, 2015

    (CFAF billions and percent)

  • View in gallery

    CEMAC and WAEMU: Auction Strategy (Choice of Cut-Off Rate)

    (Cumulative bids and rates offered; in CFAF billions and percent)1

  • View in gallery