Category Archives: Ukraine default

12/6/15: IMF Tells Kiev: "Default"

Things are getting really testy Friday night in Ukraine. As I noted earlier today (see here:, IMF gave Kiev a bit of strong-man-behind-me support in negotiations with private sector bondholders.

Later today, IMF head had the following to say on the subject: "To ensure economic and financial stability, [programme] objectives need to be achieved in a manner consistent with maintaining a strong international reserves position over the medium term, in line with projections under the program. In this regard, the NBU’s international reserves cannot be used for sovereign debt service without the government incurring new debt, which would be inconsistent with the objectives of the debt operation. Ultimately, Ukraine’s debt repayment capacity is limited by its fiscal capacity."

De facto, Ms. Christine Lagarde means the following: forex reserves held by the National Bank of Ukraine will not be used to fund debt repayments or servicing. IMF loans cannot be used for debt redemptions or servicing. Which means Kiev can only pay out on bonds out of current revenues left or via new borrowing in the markets. Kiev has none of those funds available, so Ms. Christine Lagarde effectively gave Kiev an order to default, as "Ukraine lacks the resources under the program to fully service its debts on the original terms."

" the event that a negotiated settlement with private creditors is not reached and the country determines that it cannot service its debt, the Fund can lend to Ukraine consistent with its Lending-into-Arrears Policy."

Ms. Lagarde effectively said in Ukraine, IMF will act differently than it did in all European programme countries and differently from pretty much every other case in its history.

In addition, Ms. Christine Lagarde has gone as far as ordering the bondholders to accept Kiev deal or face a forced default. Ms. Lagarde qualified this order being in the interest of the bondholders, explicitly linking that interest to the IMF 'conviction'. This is a major point, because IMF is now indirectly dictating - via Kiev - to the private markets terms and conditions of their surrender.

Note: I tend to agree with Ms. Christine Lagarde on the necessity of a write down, but this is one of these rare (if not unique) occasions where the IMF is effectively ordering a default and expropriating private property of third parties.

Final note: private sector investors have based their proposal for haircuts on the premise that Ukraine will be able to use forex reserves at NBU as a source of repayments post-restructuring. Ms. Lagarde now cancelled that position in one go.

All of this means two things - beyond the immediate consideration of Ukrainian situation:
1) IMF is trying to hedge the risk of future (not current) slippage in the programme and insulate the funds it supplies from being exhausted on debt servicing and repayments. This means the IMF is seeing Ukraine as a huge risk engagement at this stage and is doing preemptive damage control. All the talk about debt sustainability under the IMF programme is a fig leaf of decorum: even if haircuts are delivered as planned, IMF sees big risk of programme being derailed and wants its money ring-fenced.
2) IMF is also trying to re-establish some sort of an independent agency reputation, post-European experience.

Ukraine's default is now a matter of days, unless private bondholders surrender. Prepare for a wild ride…

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.

15/4/15: S&P Ukraine Ratings and Reality Check on IMF Programme

S&P Ratings Services cut long-term foreign currency sovereign credit rating on Ukraine to CC from CCC- with negative outlook and held unchanged the long-term local currency sovereign credit ratings at CCC+.

Per S&P release: "The downgrade reflects our expectation that a default on foreign currency central government debt is a virtual certainty." S&P also warned that any 'exchange offer' - an offer mandated under the IMF latest loan package to Ukraine ( - will constitute default. "Once the distressed exchange offer has been confirmed, we would likely lower the foreign currency ratings on Ukraine to SD and the affected issue rating(s) to D".

Per S&P: "The Ukraine ministry of finance’s debt operation is guided by the following objectives: (i) generate $15 billion in public-sector financing during the program period; (ii) bring the public and publicly guaranteed debt-to-GDP ratio under 71% of GDP by 2020; and (iii) keep the budget’s gross financing needs at an average of 10% of GDP (maximum of 12% of GDP annually) in 2019–2025… The treatment of the eurobond owed to Russia (maturing in December 2015) is likely to complicate matters. The Ukrainian government insists it will be part of the talks, while the Russian government insists that the bond, although issued under international law, should be classified as "official" rather than "commercial" debt given the favorable interest rate and the fact that it was purchased by a government entity. …if Ukraine has to pay the $3 billion in debt redemption this year, it will make it very difficult for Ukraine to find the $5 billion in expected debt relief in 2015 that underpins the IMF’s 2015 external financing assumptions."

Forbes labeled the new rating for Ukraine as "super-duper junk" (

Beyond the restructuring threat, there is economic performance that is not yielding much consolation: "The negative outlook reflects the deteriorating macroeconomic environment and growing pressure on the financial sector, as well as our view that default on Ukraine’s foreign currency debt is virtually inevitable,”

S&P forecast is for the economy to shrink 7.5% in 2015, following the decline of 6.8% in 2014. The S&P forecasts Ukrainian GDP to grow by 2% in 2016, 3.5% in 2017 and 4% in 2018. Inflation is expected to peak at 35% this year from 12.2% in 2014 and fall to 12% in 2016 and 8% in 2017. Government debt is set to rise from 40.2% of GDP in 2013 to 70.7% of GDP in 2015 and to 93% of GDP this year, declining to 82.6% in 2018.

Meanwhile, ever cheerful IMF is projecting Ukrainian GDP to shrink by 'only' 5.5% in 2015, and grow at the rates similar to those forecast by S&P between 2016 and 2018. IMF sees inflation rising to 33.5% this year. Government debt projections by the IMF are only marginally more conservative than those by the S&P.

Meanwhile, lenders to Ukraine have already pushed out a tough position on talks with the Government:

As I noted before, this an extraordinary 10th IMF-assisted lending programme to Ukraine since 1991. None of the previous nine programmes achieved any significant reforms or delivered a sustainable economic growth path. In fact, the IMF presided, prior to the current programme over nine restrcturings of the Ukrainian economy that produced more oligarchs, more corruption at the top of the political food chain and less economic prosperity, time after time.

Meanwhile, over the same period of time, world's worst defaulter, Argentina, has managed to have just three IMF-supported lending programmes. Argentine bag of reforms has been mixed, but generally-speaking, the country is now in a better shape than it was in the 1990s and is most certainly better off than Ukraine, as the relative performance chart of two economies over time, based on IMF WEO (April 2015) data, indicates:

Somewhere, probably in the basement of the 700 19th St NW, Washington DC, there exists a data wonk that truly believes that Ukrainian debt is 'sustainable' and that this time, things with 'structural reforms' will be different from the previous nine times. I would not be surprised if the lad collects Area 51 newspapers clippings for a hobby. He's free to do so, of course. But the Ukrainian economy is not free when it comes to paying for the IMF's bouts of optimism. And with it, neither are the Ukrainian people.

What the Ukrainian economy really needs right now is a combination of pragmatic political reforms to bring about real stabilisation, root-and-branch clearing out of corrupt elites, including business elites and not withstanding the currently empowered elites, assistance to genuine (as opposed to corrupt rent-seeking) entrepreneurs, all supported by assisted and properly structured FDI, direct development aid and a real debt writedown. The IMF-led package does not deliver much on any of these objectives. If anything, by passing the cost of reforms onto ordinary residents, it does the opposite - drains investment, saving and demand capacity from the economy, imperilling its ability to create new growth and enterprises.

27/3/15: Inching toward default: Ukraine CDS

Ukraine default scenarios (and debt restructuring) is now in the front line news, especially with IMF declaring then un-declaring its distaste for Russian position on EUR3 billion debt Ukraine owes Moscow that is due this year: So much so, even Reuters are confused...

But here's the markets absent any confusion: Ukraine CDS are now trading with implied probability of default of 98.2%.

Source: @Schuldensuehner 

Which is, at this stage, only a question of whether or when the ISDA call the default.

Whether you like it or not, Ukraine needs to restructure its debts. Its economy cannot carry the interest burden and it cannot sustain any sort of recovery absent a significant debt writedown. Lending to the country to repay some of these debts is madness of highest order - so much so that even the IMF knows it. Even if Ukraine gets a massive writedown of debt, it will have years of extremely painful reforms ahead of it, and its economic development model will have to be re-written in its entirety. But at least the Ukrainian people will be able to think of this pain as not going to fund foreign legacy lenders. A small consolation, but a necessary one.