Fitch sets Ghana outlook to negative over ballooning deficit

Fitch said Friday it had revised its outlook on Ghana's credit rating from stable to negative due to a ballooning deficit despite strong growth in the country, which has been seen as a model democracy in West Africa.

The agency however maintained its long-term foreign and local currency issuer default rating at B+ despite and affirmed its short-term issuer default rating at B.

Fitch named "the severe deterioration in the fiscal deficit to 12.1 percent of GDP in the run up to the December 2012 election" as a main factor in the decision.

"This is nearly double the government's target of 6.7 percent set in July's supplementary budget and well above the initial budget of 4.8 percent agreed at the start of the year. The deterioration suggests a serious loss of fiscal control and reduced credibility."

Ghana has seen strong growth in recent years, including more than 14 percent in 2011 after the start of commercial oil production and an estimated eight percent for 2012.

Fitch said it assumed GDP growth would remain in excess of seven percent and that the budget deficit would begin to be reduced since presidential elections won by incumbent John Dramani Mahama are now completed.

"Over the medium term, the new oil and gas sector has the potential to boost Ghana's economic output, diversify the economy and strengthen the country's public and external balance sheets," Fitch said.

"All these factors should eventually strengthen Ghana's creditworthiness."

Ghana, already a major producer of gold and cocoa, began commercial oil production in late 2010. It has held a string of successful elections since returning to democracy in 1992.