The Lure of Local Bonds

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IFC announced yesterday that it will issue a $43m local currency bond in Central Africa, a first for the World Bank institution, and also a first for a non-local financial institution. This is IFC's second local currency bond in Sub-Saharan Africa, following its issuance of a West African Kola Bond in late 2006:

The 20 billion Central African francs ($43 million equivalent), five-year tenor bond will be listed on the regional exchange in Libreville and on the Doula Stock Exchange. It will be tax-exempt in all six countries in the Economic and Monetary Community of the Central African zone. The countries are Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon. All proceeds will be reinvested in the zone.

IFC's timing is quite prescient. As the recovery from the crisis continues to be lopsided, strongly favoring emerging markets, there should be substantial outside investor interest in these types local-currency bonds (see previous post).

Furthermore, increased dollar volatility will enhance the attractiveness of local currency bonds in two ways. First, judging by the market's negative reaction to Ben Bernanke's dollar reassurances, foreign investors should be more willing to take on local currency risk, as they remain convinced that dollar depreciation will continue for some time.

Second, while foreign investors seem sanguine about the dollar's weakness, local investors from fragile emerging markets, such as those in Central Africa, are more likely to recall the dollar's upside potential. Should another crisis occur, triggering a flight to safety along the lines of what we saw in the aftermath of last year's crisis, emerging market currencies will be the first to fall. Local currency bonds offer a layer of insurance against the damage that such a precipitous outflow of capital can cause, making them an attractive option for local businesses and investors alike. 

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