Kiev flirting with selectively defaulting on its obligations
This article originally appeared at True Economics
An interesting and far-reaching article on Ukraine’s attempts to restructure some of its debts via Bloomberg:
In the nutshell, Ukraine needs to restructure its debt per IMF three targets for debt ‘sustainability’:
generate $15 billion in public-sector financing during the program period;
bring the public and publicly guaranteed debt-to-GDP ratio under 71% of GDP by 2020; and
keep the budget’s gross financing needs at an average of 10% of GDP (maximum of 12% of GDP annually) in 2019–2025
Note, these are different than what Bloomberg reports.
Key difference, however, is the matter of Russian debt. S&P note from February 2015 addressed this in detail: see more here. In simple terms, Ukraine’s debt to Russia is not, repeat: not, a private debt. Instead it is official bilateral debt. As such it is not covered by the IMF programme condition for restructuring privately held debt regardless of whatever Ukrainian Rada or Government think. Full details of the IMF programme are linked here.
As I noted in March: “IMF has already pre-committed Ukraine to cutting USD15.3 billion off its Government debt levels via private sector ‘participation’ in the programme”. Once again, Bloomberg ‘conveniently’ ignores this pesky fact about only private debt being covered.
Now, it appears we have the first private sector offer for restructuring. It is pretty dramatic, as Bloomberg note linked above outlines. But it is clearly not enough, as it involves no cuts to the principal. This is the sticking point because the proposal front-loads notional savings to the amount of USD15.8 billion, but it subsequently requires Ukraine to repay full principal - a point that is not exactly in contradiction to the IMF plan in letter, but certainly risks violating it in spirit. The chart below shows that beyond Q2 2017, Ukraine is facing pretty steep repayments of debt and there is absolutely no guarantee that by then Ukraine will be able to withstand this repayments cliff.
To further complicate issues, Ukrainian Parliament (Rada) passed a law last week that would hold off repayments of debt until there is an agreement with private holders on haircuts. This presents three key problems for Ukraine:
The law can be used to hold off on repaying Russian debt, which is not private by definition and as such will constitute a sovereign default on bilateral loans. This will be pretty much as ugly as it gets short of defaulting on IMF.
The law, if implemented, will also halt repayments on genuine private debt. Which will also constitute a default.
If Russia refuses to restructure its debt (for example, citing the fact that it is non-private debt), Rada law will have to be applied selectively (e.g. if Rada suspends repayments on Russian debt alone), which will strengthen Russian position in international courts.
In case of default, be it on Russian debt or on private debt, or both, Ukraine will see its foreign assets arrested. Which involves state enterprises-owned property, accounts etc. The reason for this is that Rada has no jurisdiction over laws governing these bonds, which are issued under English law. In addition, Ukrainian banks - big holders of Ukrainian Government debt - will be made insolvent overnight as the value of their assets (bonds) will collapse.
Final point is that ex-post application of the law, there will be no possibility for achieving any voluntary restructuring of debt as all negotiations will be terminated because Ukraine will be declared in a default.
While Greece continues to attract much of the media attention, the real crunch time is currently happening in Kiev and the outcome of this crisis is likely to have a significant impact across the international financial system, despite the fact that Ukraine is a relatively small minnow in the world of international finance.
Here is Euromoney Country Risk assessment of Ukrainian credit risks:
Ukraine score is 26.30 which ranks the country 147th in the world in creditworthiness.