Unprepared investors will lose money in a likely historic Russian debt default: Legal expert
Russia would be in default if it doesn’t pay in U.S. currency the coupon payments that are due this Wednesday on its dollar debt within a 30-day grace period, according to credit assessor Fitch Ratings. The clock is also ticking with regard to some of the country’s ruble-denominated debt.
On the foreign-currency side, the nation has US$117 million in interest payments due on Wednesday, a key moment for debt holders who have already seen the value of their investments plunge since Russia invaded Ukraine last month. These payments are the first non-ruble debt obligations to come due since the Moscow-based government said it would treat differently creditors in countries that had joined sanctions against Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.
Separately, the country would be in default if it hasn’t, within 30 days of a March 2 payment due date, “cured” its obligations with regard to ruble-denominated bond coupons that were due earlier this month, Fitch said in a document Tuesday on how to understand potential sovereign default events. That sets April 1 as a potential key date for the country, which hasn’t defaulted on local currency bonds since 1998 and last failed to meet foreign-debt obligations back in 1918, following the Bolshevik revolution.
“The payment in local currency of Russia’s US dollar Eurobond coupons due on 16 March would, if it were to occur, constitute a sovereign default, on expiry of the 30-day grace period,” Fitch said. That kind of “forced redenomination of payment obligations” would be consistent with Fitch’s previous decision to cut Russia’s foreign-currency credit rating to the second-lowest level of C, “indicating that a default or a default-like process has begun,” the assessor said.
Fitch’s latest release Tuesday also noted Russia’s “failure to credit non-resident investors” with the coupons for Russian local-currency government bonds, known as OFZs, which were due on March 2.
“We understand that Russia’s Ministry of Finance made these coupon payments on the 2024 OFZs to the National Settlement Depository, but they were not paid on to foreign investors because of Central Bank of Russia restrictions,” according to Fitch. “This will constitute a default if not cured within 30 days of the payments falling due.”
Other rating firms have also slashed Russia’s debt ratings in the weeks since it invaded Ukraine. S&P Global Ratings scores Russia at CCC, while Moody’s Investors Service has the nation at Ca. Fitch, which has previously warned that a bond default is “imminent,” said that this latest statement by it Tuesday does not in itself constitute a new rating action.