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Fitch downgrades Gabon to CCC on debt repayment risks

Fitch Ratings downgraded Gabon's long-term foreign-currency issuer default rating to CCC from B, citing higher risks to the oil producer's debt repayment capacity amid liquidity pressure stemming from plummeting oil prices.

The rating agency expects Gabon's total financing needs to reach $1.6 billion in 2020. It warned of particularly high liquidity pressures in June, when $228 million of domestic and external debt is set to mature.

Facing a financing crunch, Gabon's public revenues are projected to contract nearly 32% due to lower oil prices and weak global trade, Fitch said, leading to a fiscal deficit of 4.6% of GDP in 2020, compared with an estimated surplus of 2.0% in 2019.

"The shock to oil revenues and fall in tax collections amid an economic contraction offset a revenue boost from a strengthening of tax enforcement in 2019 and cuts in capital expenditure," said Fitch, which forecasts Gabon's public debt level to hit 73% of GDP in 2020, up from about 60% in 2019.

Gabon's GDP is projected to fall by 2.1% in 2020, as a decline in production and investment in the oil sector drags down oil-related GDP, according to Fitch. Non-oil GDP is expected to drop by 1.6% due to weaker international demand and measures taken to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

The domestic economy is expected to rebound with a 1.9% growth in 2021, although oil production would continue to contract as Gabon's oil fields mature, Fitch said.