March 23, 2020 / 1:05 PM / 17 days ago

Emerging markets face $34 bln in maturing dollar debt as liquidity squeeze tightens

LONDON, March 23 (Reuters) - Emerging market countries have around $34 billion of U.S. dollar debt maturing in the next 12 months, with Bahrain and Ecuador facing the steepest repayment schedules relative to their foreign exchange reserves, Goldman Sachs said in a research note.

Battered by a global sell-off, emerging markets are striving to contain the spread of coronavirus by restricting the movement of people, while using monetary and fiscal firepower to soften the blow to their economies.

And with debt markets for new issuance largely shut, investors are closely watching whether countries have sufficient reserves to cover their maturing international obligations, particularly as dollar funding is squeezed.

Most countries have sufficient reserves to cover their international bond maturities over the next 12 months, assuming they were not spent on other financing needs, Goldman Sachs said in the note, published on Sunday.

Oil exporters Bahrain and Ecuador were more vulnerable, its data found. Bahrain had more than $2 billion maturing over the period, accounting for more than 50% of FX reserves, the data showed, while Ecuador had nearly $1.5 billion in debt maturing, just under 50% of FX reserves.

Bahrain is in talks with banks for a loan of about $1 billion, sources told Reuters last week. The state was bailed out by some of its wealthier Gulf allies in 2018 to stave off the risk of a credit crisis after a prolonged period of lower oil prices.

Citing the sharp fall in oil prices, loss of capital market access and the likely hindrance of disbursement of funds from the IMF and others, Fitch Ratings last week downgraded Ecuador’s long-term foreign currency issuer default rating to ‘CCC’ from ‘B-‘.

Goldman’s analysis excluded data from Argentina and Lebanon, both of which are looking to restructure their international debt. Kyrgyzstan on Monday became the latest country to seek repayment relief when Deputy Prime Minister Erkin Asrandiyev said it was in talks on restructuring its sovereign foreign debt.

Emerging markets faced a steeper maturity schedule in 2022, with around $60 billion of dollar debt coming due, Goldman said. (Reporting by Tom Arnold; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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