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Cash-strapped Venezuela slips toward debt default

CARACAS―Venezuela slipped inexorably towards a formal debt default Friday, with analysts saying it was all but inevitable for the sinking OPEC state which owes about $150 billion.

“With Venezuela’s state-owned oil company having reportedly failed to make a principal payment on a bond that has now matured, credit default swaps are likely to be triggered on Friday,” market analysts Capital Economics said.

A group of creditors assembled under the aegis of a global financial body, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA), will meet in New York at 11:00 am (1600 GMT) to review whether an overdue $1.1 billion payment on a bond issued by Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA has triggered a “credit event.”

“They can either make a decision at this meeting or vote to have another meeting to discuss the question further,” an ISDA spokeswoman told AFP by email.

President Nicolas Maduro’s cash-strapped socialist government must repay at least $81 million on another PDVSA bond by this weekend, at least $1.47 billion interest on various bonds by the end of the year, and then about $8 billion in 2018.

That’s a tough prospect, as the country has less than $10 billion in hard currency reserves.

Some analysts say Venezuela will try to stave any decision off beyond Monday, when foreign creditors have been invited to Caracas to hear Maduro’s proposals on how he intends to restructure his country’s debt.

The owed funds comprise at least $60 billion in tradable sovereign paper and an estimated $90 billion more held by China, Russia and creditors to state oil company PDVSA.

Major credit rating agencies Fitch, Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s have all downgraded Venezuela’s standing.

“One way or another, the government and PDVSA will default. We are in the end-game and it’s now become a matter of days, not weeks, until default is confirmed,” Edward Glossop of Capital Economics said in a note. AFP

A default would immediately cut Venezuela off from international financial markets, removing its capacity to borrow. Greatly complicating its situation, Washington has banned it from any new debt transactions in the US market.

On Thursday Washington upped the economic pressure by sanctioning 10 officials it said engaged in state election irregularities last month.

The sanctions named government ministers and members of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council and the new, all powerful Constituent Assembly which has replaced congress.

“As the Venezuelan government continues to disregard the will of its people, our message remains clear: the United States will not stand aside while the Maduro regime continues to destroy democratic order and prosperity in Venezuela,” US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

The sanctions effectively freeze those named out of much of the global banking system, requiring most international banks not to process transactions on their behalf, and block their access to any assets under US jurisdiction.

Sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump’s administration in August banned US trade in any new bonds issued by the Venezuelan government or PDVSA―a needed step in any restructuring of the oil-rich country’s debt.

The only bright spot is Russia saying it had agreed to ease debt repayments for more than $3 billion that Venezuela owes it, with a formal accord to be signed within a week.

However, that amount is just a fraction of Venezuela’s total debt mountain.

For a country with the world’s largest oil reserves―which the country estimates at nearly 300 billion barrels, worth more than $15 trillion―such debt should be bearable.

But decades of mismanagement, destruction of Venezuela’s private sector, lack of infrastructure investment, rigid currency controls and the fact that oil exports are now essentially debt repayments rather than income all leave Venezuela at the edge of the precipice.​ AFP

Topics: OPEC
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