Category Archives: Ukrainian debt

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.

16/3/15: Ukraine’s Government Debt Projections: Smiling IMF, Whinging Private Lenders

Few weeks ago I covered in some details the implications for Ukraine of the latest IMF-led lending package: My projection was for the debt/GDP ratio reaching over 100% in the medium term (2016-2017) based on the timing of disbursal of the new loans package and the composition of the package at the time.

The latest IMF forecasts ( show debt/GDP ratio peaking at 94.6% of GDP in 2015. IMF latest estimate is based on the assumption that, having posted primary deficit of 1.15% of GDP in 2014, Ukraine will return a primary surplus of 1.1% of GDP in 2015. As IMF notes, average primary balance in 2004-2013 in Ukraine was -2.4% of GDP, so, as some would say... 'good luck' with that.

And the programme is also anchored to the private sector-held public debt restructuring. Here's MOU from the Ukrainian authorities on this: "To secure adequate public sector financing in the coming years, while also putting public debt firmly on a downward path, we intend to consult with the holders of public sector debt on a debt operation to improve medium-term debt sustainability. To facilitate this consultation, and in line with international best practice, we have hired financial and legal advisors (prior action). While the specific terms of the debt operation would be determined following our consultations with creditors, it would be guided by the following program objectives: (i) generate US$15 billion in public sector financing during the program period; (ii) bring the public and publicly guaranteed debt/GDP ratio under 71 percent of GDP by 2020; and (iii) keep the budget’s gross financing needs at an average of 10 percent of GDP (maximum of 12 percent of GDP annually) in 2019–2025. The restructuring is expected to be based on the program baseline macro framework applicable at the time the debt operation is launched. The debt operation is expected to be finalized by the time of the first review." Or in more simple terms, the IMF has already pre-committed to Ukraine cutting USD15.3 billion off its Government debt levels via private sector 'participation' in the programme. Something that is (a) questionable in terms of Ukraine's ability to deliver on, and (b) making a number of very powerful lenders quite unhappy (see

And outside the baseline scenario, here is IMF's assessment of risks to Ukraine's debt profile: "Under a growth shock, entailing a cumulative growth decline of over 9 percentage points in 2016–17, the debt-to-GDP ratio reaches nearly 119 percent in 2017. A real exchange rate shock not dissimilar to the one in 2014 would also keep the debt ratio above 100 percent of GDP throughout the projection period. The combined macro-fiscal shock, an aggregation of the shocks to real growth, interest rate, primary balance and exchange rate, produces unsustainable dynamics, sending debt above 200 percent of GDP in 2017. The contingent liabilities shock highlights the risk of a further deterioration of the banking sector and associated higher fiscal costs. Its impact is mitigated by the buffer embedded under the baseline for larger-than-expected bank restructuring costs. By imposing a large associated shock to growth (14 percentage points below the baseline in 2016–17) and given the resulting deterioration in the primary balance together with an increase in interest rates, under the contingent liabilities shock debt peaks at 116 percent of GDP in 2017."

So in simple terms, I will largely stick with my original estimates that around 2016-2017, we are likely to see Ukraine's government debt around 100% of GDP marker.