TO MOST investors, Venezuela looks less like a market than a mess. The IMF expects output to shrink by 10% this year and inflation to exceed 700%. As the bolívar’s value has plunged, multinational firms have announced billions of dollars of write-downs. For much of this year, however, some strong-stomached investors have scented an opportunity. They rushed to buy bonds issued by the government and by the state-owned oil company, PDVSA.
They have been rewarded handsomely. Venezuelan government bonds have outperformed other emerging-market sovereign bonds tracked by JPMorgan (see chart). The government, led by Nicolás Maduro, boasts it has never missed a debt payment. Indeed he has given priority to debt service over other urgent needs, such as importing food. Mr Maduro is keen not to scare off the foreign creditors sorely needed by PDVSA.
However, Venezuela looks increasingly stretched. Two big PDVSA payments, of $1 billion and $2 billion, are due on October 28th and November 2nd. Last month the company proposed a bond swap to ease a looming payments crunch: investors holding PDVSA bonds maturing in 2017 (which are not…Continue reading