200213 Lebanon
Lebanon faces the tricky question of whether to pay off a $1.2 billion bond that is due next month. Tensions on the streets are just as intense. A protester holds a placard denouncing the government during a protest against a parliament session to vote of confidence for the new government. Image Credit: AP

Dubai (Bloomberg): Lebanon’s foreign debt has sank to a record low as speculation mounted that the government may not repay a $1.2 billion Eurobond due in less than a month.

Investors are pondering the possible shape a default might take, with the crisis-ridden nation’s government wrangling over whether to continue servicing its debts.

The $1.2 billion of notes, due on March 9, plunged 12 cents to 70 cents on the dollar in London. Lebanon’s $2.1 billion bond maturing in April next year fell 8 cents to 38, with the yield climbing above 100 per cent for the first time.

The government should restructure its debt as soon as possible to prevent Lebanon’s economic and political crisis from worsening, according to Franklin Templeton, which oversees about $690 billion of assets worldwide.

The nation’s Eurobonds, most of which trade at less than 50 cents on the dollar, and its credit-default swaps already reflect expectations of a default within the next 12 months, said Mohieddine Kronfol, the firm’s chief investment officer for Middle Eastern and North African fixed income.

“The reality is whether they pay this March Eurobond or not, the market is saying that Lebanon will default,” Kronfol said. “The longer you wait, the more pressure you’re going to put on the country.”

Bondholders unite

On Wednesday, distressed-debt investor Greylock Capital Management announced it and other bondholders had formed a group to talk to the government about its options. “This group will facilitate communication between disparate creditors and stands by to engage with the Lebanese Republic in any discussions,” Hans Humes, chief executive of Greylock, said.

Lebanon will ask the International Monetary Fund for technical assistance to draw up a stabilization plan for its financial and economic crisis, including a plan to restructure public debt.

“The bonds are cheap, but without having the right political construct, a credible structural reform plan and the right partners in place, it will be very difficult for anyone to have confidence,” Kronfol said.