WSJ: Mozambique approaches creditors for debt restructuring

Metical

IMF sees restructuring, audit of debt as prerequisites for new bailout program, sources say

Mozambique has approached international creditors to suggest that its debt is unsustainable and needs to be restructured, in a move necessary to thaw its relations with international donors and the International Monetary Fund and avert a financial collapse.

According to a document posted on the southern African nation’s ministry of finance website, debt will amount to more than double gross domestic product this year. Billions in hidden debt held by the small, gas-rich nation’s came to light when The Wall Street Journal revealed a number of state-owned firms had secretly borrowed up to $2 billion using the sovereign as a guarantor.

After the revelation, the International Monetary Fund suspended a bailout for the country which it had approved in late 2015. International donors such as the U.K. and the EU followed suit and suspended their budget support programs, dealing a huge blow to the country’s finances.

The IMF and donors have been demanding an international independent audit of the country’s debt and how it was spent.

A team of negotiators from the IMF will return to the capital Maputo in coming weeks to begin negotiations for a new program, people familiar with the matter said. A team was last there last month but didn’t announce a restarting of talks over a new bailout.

Starting the debt restructuring, which is bound to be long and litigation-heavy process, is a prerequisite for the IMF’s return, the people familiar with the situation said, adding that agreement on the details and parameters of the audit is another necessary precondition for a new IMF program to be put in place. According to Mozambique officials and international diplomats some progress has been made on agreeing those details of the audit, although it still isn’t clear whether it will be made public in full.

The surprise announcement of the restructuring sent prices of Mozambique’s bond’s tumbling to 67 cents on the dollar from 82 cents on Monday, a person familiar with the matter said.

The country’s financial needs have multiplied since the last IMF program, valued at under $300 million, was approved at the end of last year, according to people familiar with the matter. The old program, currently suspended, will need to be canceled, and a new one will be needed to address the deteriorating economic conditions, they said.

Several creditors who financed the bonds related to the state-owned businesses said they are considering litigation, they said on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to talk to the press. In their crosshairs aren’t only Mozambique but also Credit Suisse and VTB, the two banks that arranged the loans and are currently being probed by authorities in the U.K. and Switzerland for their conduct during the process. Both banks deny any wrongdoing, as does the Mozambican government, which blames its troubles on the delays in bringing its vast gas reserves online due to low global prices.

The presentation on the finance ministry’s website outlining the country’s dire situation and proposing the restructuring was prepared by government adviser, Lazard, and lawyers with White & Chase LLP. Lazard has a long record of guiding sovereign debt-restructurings, including Greece.

Matina Stevis, The Wall Street Journal