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UPDATE 2-Puerto Rico sees $1.2 bln a year in debt service spending
March 1, 2017 / 3:05 PM / 9 months ago

UPDATE 2-Puerto Rico sees $1.2 bln a year in debt service spending

(Adds detail from plan)

By Nick Brown

March 1 (Reuters) - Puerto Rico’s fiscal turnaround plan shows about $1.2 billion a year available to service debt, 50 percent more than an earlier projection by the federally appointed board overseeing the U.S. territory’s finances.

The plan, which the island’s government released on Wednesday, is meant to serve as a blueprint for Puerto Rico’s ascent out of fiscal crisis and as the basis for upcoming restructuring talks with holders of some $70 billion in debt.

The government is expecting higher baseline revenues and lower expenses than the board’s projection. However, it falls short of some spending cuts recommended by the board, such as on healthcare funding.

The plan cites the possibility of a debt restructuring that could include new tradable securities or a structure that ties creditor recoveries to economic growth.

The 10-year fiscal plan, which Governor Ricardo Rossello delivered to the board late on Tuesday night, is a requirement of federal Puerto Rico rescue legislation, known as PROMESA and passed last year.

The island is trying to fend off economic catastrophe, facing a 45 percent poverty rate and nearly insolvent public pensions and healthcare systems.

The plan needs approval by the board, which is under no obligation to rubber-stamp it and can develop its own plan. The board has said it wants to approve a plan by March 15.

Rossello would save as much as $550 million on healthcare and about $89 million in pension spending. While this is below the board’s targets, the governor has cited the need to protect Puerto Rico’s poorest residents.

The board had recommended $1 billion a year in spending cuts to healthcare and $200 million to pensions.

Rossello’s plan still manages to increase the projected figure available for debt service, to $1.2 billion from the board’s figure of $800 million, by using a higher forecast for baseline revenues and a lower one for expenses.

According to the plan, a debt restructuring could include creating additional tradable securities or series of cash flow notes. It could also rely on a structure that ties creditor recoveries to economic growth on the island.

Citing internal data, the governor’s plan said Puerto Rico’s COFINA bonds, which are backed by sales tax revenue, trade at about 69 cents on the secondary market, while general obligation bonds, guaranteed by the island’s constitution, trade around 67 cents. (Reporting by Nick Brown; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Lisa Von Ahn)

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