(Adds Ukraine bond price, other investors, paragraphs 5-6)
By Tim McLaughlin and Ross Kerber
BOSTON, April 9 (Reuters) - Templeton Global Bond Fund manager Michael Hasenstab, who has a multibillion-dollar bet on Ukraine bonds, says he is confident the country can flourish over the next decade and that the international community can put together a reform package to solve any short-term liquidity and solvency issues.
“I think the current government has done an exceptional job of tackling not just the short-term issues but really setting the stage for Ukraine to flourish over the next five to 10 years by putting in place very difficult, but very important structural reforms,” Hasenstab said in remarks released on Wednesday.
Hasenstab’s statements, which appeared in a video of him visiting Kiev, were his first extended commentary on Ukraine since the country plunged into crisis.
The $69 billion Templeton Global Bond Fund, which Hasenstab runs for Franklin Resources Inc, held $3.1 billion worth of Ukraine bonds at the end of 2013. He showed no signs of backing away from that big bet.
The yield on Ukraine’s 2023 bonds has risen in the past week to more than 9 percent amid growing uncertainty. The price of the bonds has fallen during that time to 88 cents from 93 cents on April 4, according to Reuters data. Bond prices move inversely to yields.
Franklin Templeton funds are the largest holder of that $1.25 billion bond issue, according to Reuters data. Other major holders of the 2023 bonds include funds run by Boston’s Fidelity Investments, BlackRock Inc and AllianceBernstein LP .
Last week, Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Ukraine’s outlook to negative, citing the country’s escalating political crisis and its stressed liquidity position after Russia withdrew financial support.
A video recorded on April 5 shows Hasenstab wearing jeans and a dark overcoat while walking in Kiev.
“Certainly there is a crisis,” Hasenstab said in the video, which was confirmed by Franklin Resources. “One only has to walk 500 yards to the left here and see the square and see the evidence of the challenges that this country has faced.”
Hasenstab further talked about how he has been encouraged by the international community’s response to Ukraine’s crisis.
“There has been a very cooperative and proactive relationship that has brought together the U.S., Europe, the (International Monetary Fund) and the World Bank in a very close dialog to come up with a reform package that has the potential to ensure both the long-term success as well as the short-term solvency or short-term liquidity issues,” Hasenstab said.
Last month, the EU said it was willing to provide $15 billion in loans and grants to Ukraine over the next several years. The International Monetary Fund announced a $14 billion to $18 billion loan for Kiev in return for tough economic reforms.
Hasenstab is a contrarian bond fund investor who has taken big bets on Ireland and Hungary, for example. He oversees a team that manages about $180 billion in total bond fund assets. The Templeton Global Bond Fund is the No. 2 U.S. actively managed bond fund behind the Pimco Total Return Fund.
Meanwhile, the tension in Ukraine remains high.
Pro-Russian protesters have seized control of public buildings in two eastern Ukrainian cities, leading to a war of words between Russia on one side and Ukraine and the West on the other. The takeovers intensified fears of Russian military intervention and further western sanctions against Russia.
Reporting By Tim McLaughlin; Editing by Steve Orlosky; Chris Reese and Tom Brown