Venezuela's unpaid debt just grew to nearly $600 million, days before a make-or-break bill

Key Points
  • Venezuela failed to make payments on $237 million in bond coupons this past weekend.
  • That brings the petrostate's unpaid bills to $586 million this month, just days before the nation must make a critical principal payment.
  • Fund managers say Venezuela appears to be blowing the lower-stakes payments to shore up its cash ahead of two big debt deadlines.
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro gestures as he talks to the media during a news conference at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela October 17, 2017.
Carlos Garcia Rawlins | Reuters

Venezuela blew past another two bond payments this past weekend, adding hundreds of millions of dollars to a growing pile of unpaid bills just days before the first of two can't-miss debt deadlines.

The beleaguered petrostate has now missed $586 million in payments tied to the debt of the government; state oil giant Petroleos de Venezuela, SA; and the utility Electricidad de Caracas, three investment firms focused on developing and frontier markets confirmed.

"I don't see how any person who's involved in Venezuelan debt can be anything except concerned, except for those who have credit default swaps," said Russ Dallen, managing partner at Caracas Capital Markets. Holders of the swaps benefit in the event of a debt default.

As of last Friday, Venezuela had racked up $349 million in unpaid bond interest. This weekend, it failed to make payments totaling $237 million due on another two sovereign bonds.

There is some consensus forming around the idea that Venezuela is squirreling away its pennies to make sure it is able to pay the $841 million in principal, plus interest, due on Friday on a bond issued by PDVSA, the state oil company. The collateral against the bond is Citgo, PDVSA's Houston-based refining and retail subsidiary.

Santelli Exchange: The "bitcoinization" of Venezuela
Santelli Exchange: The "bitcoinization" of Venezuela

The following week, on Nov. 2, a nearly $1.2 billion PDVSA bond is maturing. Unlike the interest payments Venezuela has missed this month, the two major principal payments do not have grace periods.

"This weekend, there's either going to be a lot of bond holders and traders drinking champagne, or there's going to be a lot of stressed fund managers," Dallen said.

One school of thought says that recent U.S. sanctions may be making it more difficult for Venezuela to transfer payments through the international financial system.

However, Dallen says that Venezuela has been able to complete other transactions. Further, if sanctions were the issue, the combative government of President Nicolas Maduro would likely make a statement saying as much, he added.

If Venezuela is concerned about the Friday and Nov. 2 payments, it would not make sense to make pay the interest, said Ignacio Davila, assistant vice-president at investment bank and broker-dealer Torino Capital.

"So far, they're in their grace period, so they have some time to muddle through and make the payments," he said.

Davila believes Venezuela will make good on the PDVSA bond this Friday. In that event, Venezuelan bonds of varying maturities should perform well in the following days.

Venezuela is in the midst of a full-scale economic crisis and has been rocked by severe food shortages, runaway inflation and street protests. A default is seen hastening the demise of the Maduro regime.