Bonds News

UPDATE 2-Ecuador president hopeful Arauz would scrap IMF economic program

(Adds new bond prices, analyst quote)

QUITO, Jan 20 (Reuters) - Leftist Ecuadorean presidential candidate Andres Arauz said in an interview on Wednesday that he will not comply with the conditions of a financing package negotiated with the International Monetary Fund if he is elected.

Arauz, 35, has promised a return to the socialist policies of his mentor, former President Rafael Correa. Ecuadorean bonds have been trading lower for months on concerns that the election may swing the country’s policies back to the left.

“The agreement with the IMF under the current conditions... will not be complied with, because they undermine Ecuadorean families and a program of economic growth in Ecuador,” he said in a telephone interview with Reuters. The IMF did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

President Lenin Moreno agreed last year to an IMF package that required painful austerity measures, including cuts in government spending, personnel reductions, and a hike in value-added tax.

Ecuador on Feb. 7 holds elections for a new president and legislature.

An opinion poll conducted this month by Market showed Arauz as the front-runner, but that the vote would likely go to a run-off. Other leading candidates include conservative banker Guillermo Lasso and indigenous activist Yaku Perez. Moreno is not seeking reelection.

Ecuador in 2019 saw massive street protests after Moreno announced a fuel price hike meant to close the country’s fiscal gap, but later walked the measure back.

In 2020, the largest city, Guayaquil, suffered a brutal coronavirus outbreak that left bodies strewn in the streets and morgues overflowing with the dead. Coronavirus social distancing measures further weakened an already struggling economy.

Arauz said he would continue making payments to bondholders but that the country’s social spending would take priority over debt servicing.

“We have international commitments, but we will always seek first to defend Ecuadorian families before prioritizing international creditors,” he said.

Moreno’s government last year completed a $17.4 billion debt restructuring that was overwhelmingly accepted by creditors, a process Arauz described as overly favorable to creditors.

Ecuadorean bonds have been trading lower for months ahead of the presidential election and as the economy struggles through the pandemic.

Ecuador’s 2030 bond dropped to 54.375 cents on Wednesday from near 58 on Tuesday and 66 about a month ago, according to Refinitiv data, while the 2035 and the 2040 were trading in the mid-to-low 40s.

“The elections in February create a binary event,” said Ayman Ahmed, a senior fixed income analyst at Thornburg Investment Management, which oversees $46 billion in assets. “Fair value on the new restructured bonds is 60-70 cents on the dollar, but we’re trading closer to 40 today for that reason, which implies a near-bear scenario with the market repricing the going concern around the IMF, domestic politics, and solvency.”

If elected, Arauz would advocate borrowing from Ecuador’s own central bank if the country needed other sources of funding, he said.

He said he would respect existing mining concessions in Ecuador, a predominantly oil-producing country that has sought to develop its gold, silver and copper mining industry. But, he said, he would seek greater participation of local communities and would conduct a review to determine if mining companies were complying with environmental rules and investment plans.

Arauz said he disagreed with the terms of a $3.5 billion financing deal with U.S. development lender DFC because it was predicated on project development through concessions to private companies.

He said such projects should be managed directly by the state.

The DFC did not immediately respond to a request for comment. (Reporting by Alexandra Valencia and Brian Ellsworth, additional reporting by Rodrigo Campos, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)