Law firm hosts investor conference on troubled Puerto Rico debt

NEW YORK Wed Jan 15, 2014 6:06pm EST

NEW YORK Jan 15 (Reuters) - Law firm Jones Day is hosting a conference for Puerto Rico bond holders and other investors on Thursday, focusing on the outlook for the indebted U.S. territory, including the potential for a restructuring of around $70 billion of its outstanding debt.

The speakers will include Timothy Coleman, who leads the restructuring and reorganization group at Blackstone, the world's largest alternative asset manager.

Jones Day Partner Bruce Bennett will also speak. Bennett is considered one of the top municipal bankruptcy lawyers in the United States. Bennett and his colleague, David Heiman, were in charge of Detroit's day-to-day legal strategy after that city filed for bankruptcy. Bennett also represented Orange County, California, when it filed for bankruptcy in 1994.

Around 200 participants, including hedge funds invested in Puerto Rico, will attend Thursday's event in New York, according to Jones Day partner Scott Greenberg. Greenberg declined to say who exactly would be attending.

Alfredo Salazar, a former head of Puerto Rico's Government Development Bank, as well as a former head of the Economic Development Administration, will also speak at the event.

The government in Puerto Rico said it was aware of the meeting but said that it was not attending, calling it "not unusual" and "part of the normal investment process."

"We made significant progress in implementing our fiscal and economic development plans in 2013, and are determined to continue that progress in 2014," the Government Development Bank and the Department of Treasury said in a joint statement.

"As we have stated publicly in the past, Puerto Rico will take every step necessary to continue honoring its obligations," the statement said.

Puerto Rico issued the statement after a Financial Times article, citing anonymous sources, said creditors would meet with debt restructuring specialists on Thursday as a moratorium on debt payments "appears increasingly likely." The Financial Times did not cite the Jones Day meeting by name.

Interest in Puerto Rico has grown exponentially since yields on its bonds soared last year amid concerns about its struggling economy and high debt loads. Cumberland Advisors held a similar meeting for investors on Tuesday.

Many speakers at the Cumberland event, including ratings agencies Moody's and Standard & Poor's, said a default was not likely in the short term but said there were concerns about the longer term outlook for the economy given high unemployment and a shrinking population.

"There is still some runway here, a decent amount of runway," said Greenberg, referring to the possibility of a default on the Puerto Rico's debt.

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