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UPDATE 2-Hungary raises EUR 4.4 bln in FX debt as EU row threatens recovery funding

(Updates with details of eurobond sale, Finance Minister comments)

BUDAPEST, Sept 15 (Reuters) - Hungary sold 1 billion euros in seven-year eurobonds on Wednesday as Budapest sought to shore up its finances in case a row with the European Union over gay rights and media freedoms leads to an EU funding freeze.

The issuance, announced by Finance Minister Mihaly Varga, took new foreign currency borrowing to the equivalent of 4.4 billion euros this week.

Refinitiv news service IFR reported on Monday that Hungary would launch a multi-tranche deal including both euro and dollar-denominated bonds, marking Hungary’s first dip back into dollars since a $3 billion bond issue in early 2014.

Debt agency (AKK) overhauled its 2021 financing plan on Monday, saying it would raise the equivalent of up to 4.5 billion euros ($5.3 billion), far more than expected, to help cover a likely delay in European Union COVID recovery fund money.

The AKK said Hungary sold $2.25 billion worth of 10-year bonds with a 2.125% coupon and $2 billion worth of 30-year bonds with a 3.125% coupon on Tuesday, at 100 basis points and 150 basis points over corresponding U.S. Treasuries.

Varga told a news conference that pricing of the eurobond was still being finalised but could end up between 0.3% and 0.35%, based on current indications.

He also said that, barring any lockdowns due to the fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic, economic growth this year could reach about 7%, well above previous expectations.

POLITICAL BATTLE

Hungary and Poland have both been at loggerheads with the bloc’s executive over issues ranging from LGBT rights to press freedoms. In July, the Commission launched legal action against the two over measures it says discriminate against the gay community.

The European Union’s chief executive on Wednesday vowed no let-up in battles with Poland and Hungary over democratic standards, threatening to take more legal action and block off funds.

“We are convinced of the efficiency and strength of our recovery plan so we should launch it,” Varga said. “We cannot wait for the decision of the European Commission to start these projects and investments in 2021 and 2022.”

Last November, Varga said Hungary would not issue more foreign currency bonds until at least the beginning of 2023 as Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government pursued a strategy of curbing its reliance on foreign investors.

“Hungary’s unexpected rush to Eurobond markets shows the limits of its HUF-ization strategy, especially when EU fund disbursements are at risk,” Raiffeisen economist Stephan Imre said in a note, referring to a push to cut reliance on foreign investors.

“Despite the presumably win-win situation for the issuer due to cheap funding conditions and the still existent yield pick-up for (EUR based) investors, there remains a sour taste in that the Hungarian administration seems to be gearing up for a prolonged dispute with the EU,” he wrote.

1 euro = $1.1815 Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Jon Boyle

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