• Default day looms for cash-strapped Venezuela

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    Venezuela slipped inexorably towards a formal debt default Friday, with analysts saying a credit event was all but inevitable for the sinking OPEC state.

    “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, comprised of 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,” said Edward Glossop of Capital Economics in a note.

    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.

    The only bright spot is Russia saying it had agreed to ease debt repayments for over $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.​

    And the situation worsened on Thursday, when the United States slapped more sanctions on Maduro’s government, targeting 10 officials it said engaged in election irregularities to perpetuate what Washington called a dictatorial regime. AFP 

    AFP/CC

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