Russia’s ‘failure to pay’ bond interest triggers credit default swaps

Russia’s failure to pay a slice of interest on one of its bonds will trigger $2.5bn of insurance-like contracts used to protect against debt defaults, according to a panel of derivatives dealers and investors.

The ruling by the Credit Derivatives Determinations Committee that a “failure to pay” event has occurred pushes Moscow one step closer to a historic debt default, as western sanctions that followed President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine choke off its ability to make payments to US and European investors.

Moscow appeared to have dodged the long-expected default on its foreign currency debt when it belatedly repaid investors in early May, just before the end of a grace period on two payments originally due on April 4. But Russia did not include $1.9mn of interest accrued during the 30-day period, prompting some investors to ask the international committee to rule on whether a default had occurred.

Wednesday’s decision means holders of Russian credit default swaps will receive a payout, with the size to be determined by an auction process of Russian bonds. JPMorgan estimated last month that there was about $2.5bn of CDS to be settled, including deals tied directly to Russia and others based on a basket of issuers.

The small size of the accrued interest payment, along with the fact that Russia repaid the principal of the bond due in April, means the decision will not trigger a wider default on Russia’s debt. However, most investors think an official default is now only a matter of time after US authorities last week ended a sanctions exemption that allowed American investors to continue receiving Russian bond payments.

“It looks like we have a default, at least for the purposes of CDS,” said Marcelo Assalin, head of emerging markets debt at William Blair. “A broader default on Russia’s bonds is still an open question, but it seems likely that will be confirmed with upcoming interest payments.”

Once a default is confirmed, holders of Russia’s $38bn of dollar and euro- denominated bonds could potentially vote to demand immediate repayment and start legal action to try and recover their investment.

A default could be confirmed on June 26, when a grace period for two payments due last week expires. The Kremlin has revived an earlier plan to make payments on its foreign-currency debt in roubles after the change in US sanctions last week blocked it from paying investors in dollars.

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