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Ukraine missed its shot

By Lewis McLellan
14 Mar 2019

Ukraine drew attention for all the wrong reasons this week, tapping a November 2028 line for $350m, allegedly well below the market value.

There was great debate about whether JP Morgan took down the whole lot and at what price — it certainly got the market gossiping.

But that hides a deeper problem. Ukraine has some big maturities this year — $1.4bn of external debt in May and another $3.3bn or so by the end of the year. It needs to be back in the bond market, but might have missed its best shot.

Emerging market bonds have had a superb first quarter. New issue premiums are down, risk appetite is up, and investors are flooded with cash.

It would certainly have had to pay an eye-watering yield. That consideration seemed to keep it back from a full benchmark — until an amortisation payment for a state-owned bank’s bonds forced its hand this week.

But will things get any better? Ukraine’s finance ministry appears to be making a bet that conditions will improve after the presidential election at the end of this month. That is far from assured if actor and comedian Volodymyr Zelensky, the frontrunner, is victorious.

Ukraine needs cash. If it can’t stomach the yields on offer so far this year, then it may well be forced to rely once more upon the surely finite generosity of concessional funding from Western international institutions.

By Lewis McLellan
14 Mar 2019