The Friday payment is backed by a 50.1 percent stake in PDVSA's Houston-based refiner Citgo and has no grace period. That means Venezuela could lose control of a crown jewel of its lifeblood energy industry if it defaults. President Nicolas Maduro has clung to power despite a full-blown economic crisis, but a default is seen as hastening the demise of his regime.
Investors are doubly concerned about the Friday payment because PDVSA owes another $1.2 billion in principal and interest on another bond on Nov. 2.
"If they default, that means they're defaulting on everything," said Russ Dallen, managing partner at Caracas Capital Markets, which runs the Venezuela Opportunity Fund.
On Thursday, PDVSA's 2017N bond fell 5.1 points, to 89 cents on the dollar, while Venezuela's 2019 bond dropped 3.1 points, to 43 cents on the dollar, according to Reuters.
PDVSA has missed seven interest payments totaling $586 million this month, though they have 30-day grace periods. On Tuesday, macroeconomic research firm Ecoanalitica reported that PDVSA would make two interest payments for bonds maturing in 2027 and 2037.
Dallen said several of his firm's clients had been paid interest on the 2037 bonds but had not received the interest payments on the 2027 bonds. Several traders told Reuters the same.
That raised concerns that U.S. sanctions imposed earlier this year on Venezuela are creating technical problems getting money to bondholders.
However, PDVSA likely wouldn't have been able to make either payment if sanctions-related problems were the issue, according to Dallen. He said he was concerned because the interest payment PDVSA made was a relatively small $41 million.
"Of all seven bonds they had to pay, that was the cheapest," he said. "It's starting to look like there may be something else wrong."