WAEMU Currency Reforms Unlikely to Affect Sovereign Ratings

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Friday, January 10, 2020 /02:57 PM / Fitch Ratings / Header Image Credit: DW

 

The currency reforms in the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) announced by Cote d'Ivoire's President, Alassane Ouattara, on 21 December 2019 are mainly symbolic, as the peg to the euro will be maintained and the currency will continue to benefit from a convertibility guarantee, says Fitch Ratings. As a result, the changes to the currency do not fundamentally alter the external liquidity risks of the two Fitch-rated WAEMU members, Benin (B/Positive) and Cote d'Ivoire (B+/Positive).

 

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The reforms will take effect once agreements are formally signed, which is planned later in 2020. They comprise three elements: the West African CFA franc will now be called the 'eco' in the WAEMU; the regional central bank, Banque Centrale des Etats d'Afrique de l'Ouest (BCEAO), will no longer have to deposit at least 50% of its international reserves on its 'operations account' at the French Treasury; and France will no longer be a member of the board of directors or the monetary policy committee at the BCEAO, or of the regional banking commission.

 

The agreement will maintain the peg to the euro at the same parity level (ECO655.957 per EUR1), and the convertibility to the euro guaranteed by the French Treasury. It is likely that there will be minor technical changes to the set-up of the convertibility guarantee, without changing its purpose or core functioning. Fitch believes the convertibility guarantee helps limit external liquidity risks. However, as under the previous system, the guarantee does not protect against a sustained deterioration of external solvency, for example due to excessive region-wide current account deficits.

 

The transfer of all of the WAEMU's foreign-exchange reserves to the BCEAO does not fundamentally change the region's liquidity risks. Fitch considers the BCEAO's reserve reporting as credible, and expects economic policies to continue to support the current level of international reserves. There is, nonetheless, a risk that the BCEAO may be affected by the loss of its current access to preferential interest rates on its deposits at the French Treasury. We believe that more substantial changes to the exchange-rate regime, such as a departure from the peg, are only a long-term possibility.


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