Exactly one week ago, we wrote that a "Venezuelan default is only a matter of time". We said that "while debt servicing has been a government priority, declining external liquidity and a deteriorating domestic situation (three-digit hyperinflation, shortages, and a political crisis between the government and the National Assembly) make it a daunting task. By 2020, the country must repay 30% of the external debt due to expire in the next 23 years."
Among other things we warned that "default seems inevitable in the medium term due to the prolonged period of low oil prices and increased US sanctions. President Trump's executive order of August 24, 2017, strengthened sanctions against PDVSA by prohibiting all transactions related to new debt with a maturity greater than 90 days and by forbidding Citgo from repatriating dividends in Venezuela."
Well, the default may have come in far sooner than even we expected as moments ago Bloomberg reported that according to sources, intermediaries tasked with processing Venezuela’s $185 million interest payment due Sept. 15 haven’t received the cash to do so.
It adds that "several holders of bonds due in 2027 haven’t received a payment", and that an "official at the public credit office in Caracas declined to comment on whether the funds have been transferred or when investors will receive them."
Further suggesting that Venezuela may have indeed entered its 30 day grace period, the country's National Office of Public Credit hasn’t made any public statements about transferring funds for the coupon. In the past, Bloomberg notes that the office has used its Twitter account to alert the market when the bond’s fiscal agent has been paid.
For now the bond market appears to not have noticed with Venezuela bond issues still trading at respectable levels.
That said, since 2009, Venezuela has borrowed at least $60 billion from China (through the Venezuelan-China fund) in exchange for selling oil at a discounted price. Loans were used to pay foreign manufacturers and repay external debt, such as in 2015. This exchange of good practices persisted as long as oil prices were quite high and Venezuela’s political situation was fairly stable. Since 2016, China has made a strategic move to reduce exposure to Venezuela which resulted in the repatriation of Chinese oil engineers (who filled local labour shortages), the end of financial aid, and reduced oil imports.
In this context, it may be unlikely that Venezuela will be able to count on China for repayment of its loans, which as we said last week, increases the probability of sovereign default in the medium term and may have manifested itself in what may be an event of default in just over three weeks if the Sept. 15 coupon payment grace period expires without the country transferring the required funds.