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Bondholders “shooting themselves in the head” with “hardball” tactics: P.M.

Posted: Monday, June 7, 2021. 5:42 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: “Surprise, surprise” – bondholders have refused the current iteration of Belize’s plans to renegotiate the so-called “Superbond.”

And count Prime Minister John Briceño as “unsurprised,” because the bondholders, he revealed on Open Your Eyes this morning, have very limited options.

The P.M. noted that from 50 cents on the dollar in November of 2020, when his administration was elected, the price of the bond in the markets has gone down about 11 cents.

And that, he said, is bad news for the men who control the billion-dollar instrument due thirteen years from now.

While he ascribes some blame to the former administration for “kicking the can down the road,” the bondholders knew the score from the moment Briceño became Prime Minister, as he sent them his proposals and economic plan, which they have essentially ignored.

Reminding that it was with a heavy heart that he agreed to cut the salaries of teachers and public officers, not to mention his own Cabinet, he lauded their – admittedly reluctant – sacrifice and the support of Taiwan and the other international financial institutions (IFIs) and said that now it is the bondholders’ turn “to do their part.”

Belize cannot be sued, as it has no foreign assets to attach; we do not currently have the money to pay interest, never mind principal, on the debt; and its value has gone down and may, it is implied, continue to do so until the bondholders are prepared to negotiate and give Belize a proper “haircut” or reduction of the principal.

Thus, said the P.M., the bondholders are only shooting themselves in the head by playing hardball: “It is in their best interest [to negotiate]; they have no other choice.”

The bond is 28 percent of Belize’s total debt of $4.2 billion, but accounts for 45 percent of interest payments due to the high rates, Briceño revealed.

On the matter of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) program, Briceño said the institution has for the most part agreed to Belize’s plan, having monitored local consultations with the unions and others, but a standby arrangement is not on the table, as Belmopan will not countenance a reduction in the public workforce by 3,000 as suggested by the IMF – which would hurt more recent hires – nor increase General Sales Tax (GST) to nearly 20 percent.

Briceño projects a deficit of about $100 million for this year but if the economy recovers fast enough, Belize could reach primary surplus by early next year. There is an overall five-year plan in place to guide that recovery.


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