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12/27/08

Ecuador: Rafa sez; "Pssst! Wanna sell me your bonds.....cheap like?"

Highlight of Radio MUFN today was the part when President Studmuffin said to his nation, "We are going to make a proposal at the beginning of January to buy back the debt, but obviously at values substantially cheaper than the nominal value." He backed up that statement later when saying that the proposal won't be based around the face value of the bonds but a price that compares to the price currently paid by the market.

"The debt" referred to is, of course, the Global 2012 and 2015 bonds that were defaulted due to non-payment of interest in December. The 2030 bonds have an interest payment coming up in February and it's to be seen whether they are part of the defaulted basket. The likelihood is yes; the 2012s an 2015s currently trade at 22.5c on the dollar and the 2030s are marked at 23.25c, so the 30s are assumed defaulted by those that trade them.

Studmuffin's plan seems pretty simple, in fact. The $3.8Bn of bonds out there get bought back by the state for U$1Bn or so, and with U$5.2Bn tucked away in international currency reserves the country has the means to pay the massive haircut in cash. So why do I think he's in for a rude awakening? As Correa himself admits, many of the bonds are in the hands of the "international speculators" who are surely going to take the matter to court to try to get the bonds prepaid at full face value. As long as the vulture funds have a sufficient block of bonds and their holders on their side, the plan to take Ecuador to the NY courts will surely move forward. And if their case prospers and if Ecuador has to pay up that will slurp away the lion's share of those international reserves that would probably be compounded by net withdrawals from the country's banking system. From there, one holds one's breath and just hopes Ecuador can get through the shitstorm. And that's just one manifestation of the nasty scenario that awaits Ecuador.

As registered on this blog, I didn't think Correa would go down the defaulting path. That was my mistake but it was based on the fact that if Ecuador did default it would be putting itself in great financial danger. Correa's brinkmanship style might have worked up to now with oil companies, telephone companies etc, but bond holders have a lot of law on their side on this issue. It feels strange to be siding with the vulture funds on this one, but side with them I must; Correa has basically decimated the market price for Ecuador's sovereign debt and then said "look, that's the market price, we're willing to pay that to buy back the debt," which is every bit as dirty a tactic as the vulture funds snapping up the cheap debt and then aiming for legal recourse. Why Studmuffin is trying to convince his public that defaulted bonds holders will just lie down and take this is beyond me. Also, the offer to pay a haircut on the bonds kinda goes against his whole "the debt is illegal" argument. If it's illegal, then cancel it unilaterally and pay 0% of it, right? How can he say that Ecuador is willing to pay 25% or 30% on the dollar? Does that mean the debt is only 3/4 illegal or something?

The point here is that Correa might well have a point about the usury nature of these Global bonds but unless there's some deeper strategy that this analyst (and the wider financial community) hasn't seen, he's being very naive about it all and is likely to get his ass handed to him on a plate by the NYC courtroom that will decide this matter.