South Africa's Land Bank Warns Expropriation Could Trigger Default

(Bloomberg) -- South Africa’s Land and Agricultural Development Bank has warned expropriating farm land without compensation could cost the government 41 billion rand ($2.8 billion) if it’s forced to repay the state company’s debt immediately.

The lender has approximately 9 billion rand of debt that includes a standard market clause on expropriation as an event of default, the Land Bank’s Chairman Arthur Moloto said in the company’s annual report on Monday. If expropriation without compensation happens without protection of the bank’s rights as a creditor, it would be required to repay that at once. If it can’t, a cross default clause would be triggered.

“This would make our entire 41 billion rand funding portfolio due and payable immediately, which we would not be able to settle,” Moloto said. “Consequently, government intervention would be required to settle our lenders.”

The nation’s ruling African National Congress decided in December to change the constitution to allow seizure without payment to speed up giving black people more land. Access to land is one of the symbols of inequality in the nation of about 56 million where wealth and poverty are largely divided along racial lines.

Higher Risk

The purpose of the amendment is to promote redress, advance economic development, increase agricultural production and food security, the ANC said last month.

South Africa’s commercial banks had almost 90 billion rand of farm debt on their balance sheets at the end of 2016, according to the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

If expropriation without compensation is poorly executed it could result in the Land Bank’s main sources of funding drying up as investors might not be willing to continue lending to the company in particular, or agriculture in general, Moloto said. Funders who remain willing to lend, would require an increased premium due to perceived higher risk levels, he said.

Poor execution would include commercial land being taken out of production, no protection for creditors, no effective institutional processes, poor and undefined processes for the selection of beneficiaries, corruption and the lack of comprehensive support for beneficiaries, according to the Land Bank.

If that happens “downward pressure would be exerted on our thin interest margins and levels of profitability,” Moloto said. “Over time, this may further contribute to a deterioration of our financial sustainability.”

The Land Bank’s profit fell to 254 million rand in the year through March, from 367 million rand in the previous 12 months.

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