Beirut: Lebanon is delaying a planned Eurobond issuance of up to $3 billion due to unrest that has paralysed the country but will repay debt maturing in November, according to two people familiar with the matter.
The central bank will pay what amounts to a little over $2 billion that comes due November 28, according to one of the people. Before antigovernment protests engulfed the country two weeks ago, the plan was to raise up to $3 billion in fresh funding this month and use part of the money to repay the central bank.
The central bank and Finance Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Lebanon has never defaulted on its obligations despite straining under one of the world’s biggest debt burdens, but the country has seen its credit risk soar as confidence in the government’s ability to address its financial woes diminishes. The cost of insuring Lebanon’s debt against default has jumped about 75 per cent this year, the most in the world after Argentina, as political squabbles hampered the government’s ability to implement reforms needed to unlock some $11 billion in international aid.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned this week in the face of public demands for the ouster of a political elite blamed for entrenched corruption. No replacement has yet been named, however, and demonstrators remain in the streets, though their numbers have dwindled.
The central bank has already repaid a little over $3 billion in maturing bonds this year. Lebanon also has $2.5 billion of Eurobonds maturing in the first half of next year.
Before the deal was put on hold, Lebanon had mandated four banks to market its new Eurobond. Under the plan, local lenders and the central bank were to subscribe to an issuance, a person familiar with the plans said earlier this month. Banks, already the biggest holders of Lebanon’s sovereign debt, would cash out certificates of deposit at the central bank to buy the debt, with the central bank also subscribing to part of the bond sale but without directly putting up money.
Economists and bankers expect the same restrictions that were in place earlier this year to continue, including limits on dollar transfers and withdrawals and a longer process to transfer money abroad.