Category Archives: Sovereign default

18/12/15: Ukraine Inches Even Closer to a Default

So, we have this:

Which means that Ukraine and Russia - so far - have failed to agree terms of debt restructuring. As a reminder, over the last few days, Ukraine and Russia were involved in a 'last minute' dialogue (via Germany) to resolve the issue.

Does this mean that Ukraine is now in a sovereign debt default? Technically - no. Ukraine will only be in a default after 10 days grace period expires, which means the parties to the talks still have 12 days to reach an agreement and avoid default.

Does this mean that Ukraine is now in breach of IMF lending criteria? Technically - no. IMF amended its own rules allowing lending to continue for countries in official sector default, as long as these countries continue to engage in debt restructuring negotiations with the lenders.

Can the two countries reach a deal in time to avoid official default? Unlikely: any deal between Russia and Ukraine (except for a deal that treats Russia under the same terms extended to private lenders - a deal that is simply unacceptable to Russia) will require approval of other (commercial) lenders under the agreement between commercial lenders and Ukraine struck earlier. There is simply not enough time to achieve such an approval, even assuming, there is a deal and the deal can be approved (both assumptions are quite a stretch).

Do both parties show will to negotiate in good faith? So far - no. Russian offer (see here) has been to restructure debt by extending repayment period (a real haircut absent nominal haircut, as far as I read this). The offer shifted Russian position in negotiations in the direction of Ukraine's position: from the opening position that the debt is official sector debt and thus should be repaid in full and in time. Ukraine's position has been to treat Russian debt equivalent to private sector debt and Ukraine (as far as public record goes) did not alter its position to move closer to Russian offer. Ukraine also deployed consistent rhetoric of "Our way or the highway" variety. In other words (I am willing to be corrected on this), Russia made insufficient step toward Ukraine, while Ukraine made no step toward Russian position whatsoever.

Note: my view has been (consistently over time) that Russia should restructure loans to Ukraine to a longer term, say 10-year, bond extended at original interest rate and allow for 2-3 years interest payments moratorium. Financially optimal solution would have been to impose a haircut on principal and extend maturity of the remaining balance. But, given Ukraine's failure to secure stronger restructuring with private sector lenders, this option is not available and is politically infeasible.

30/5/15: Private Sector Counter-Proposal for Ukrainian Debt Restructuring

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 note, "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:

  1. 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.
  2. The law, if implemented, will also halt repayments on genuine private debt. Which will also constitute a default.
  3. 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.