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UPDATE 2-Venezuela has funds for Friday $1.5 bln debt payment -sources
February 24, 2016 / 6:30 PM / in 2 years

UPDATE 2-Venezuela has funds for Friday $1.5 bln debt payment -sources

(Adds off-budget fund, Maduro quote, no government confirmation)

By Eyanir Chinea and Corina Pons

CARACAS, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Venezuela has resources to fully make a $1.5 billion payment due on Friday on its global 2016 bond, three sources close to government said, though maturities later in the year may be harder to meet.

Reeling from recession and low oil prices, the OPEC nation paid $10.5 billion of debt last year by reducing imports, withdrawing International Monetary Fund reserves, selling assets and engaging in gold swaps with foreign banks.

To guarantee Friday’s payment, President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government has squeezed imports further since December, despite shortages hurting his popularity.

“The problem is not February,” said one of the sources familiar with the government’s economic strategy.

“It’s October and November that are worrying.”

Venezuela has about $2.5 billion cash available for debt payments, the two other sources said, from its total $14.56 billion of international reserves.

Of about $10 billion debt due throughout 2016, more than $4 billion, mainly of state oil company PDVSA, must be paid in October and November. Credit default swaps show traders see a more than 70 percent chance of default in the next year.

Maduro says Venezuela will pay despite an “economic war” against him. “There is an international financial blockade against Venezuela,” he said in a recent speech.

Underlining the challenge, PDVSA is talking with international banks about a debt refinancing, while the central bank is negotiating a gold swap with Deutsche Bank to monetize reserves and sent 34 tonnes to Switzerland in January, according to customs there.

Venezuela hopes China may provide a financial lifeline for later in the year, although a source in the Maduro government said Beijing has cross-default provisions in its loans to Caracas, indicating it could turn the screw if repayment problems arise.

If Venezuela’s crude stays around $25 per barrel, it faces a total $32 billion financing gap for debt and imports this year, according to Bank of America.

In the run-up to Friday’s payment, Venezuela’s reserves received a $1.8 billion boost from off-budget funds totaling $4 billion and mainly financed by China, one source close to the government economic team said.

Also, state bodies hold about 35 percent of debt maturing on Friday. The government did not immediately confirm the cash was set aside for Friday’s payment, but markets have factored that in.

Later in the year, however, “there’s a close to 100 percent probability there will be a restructuring,” said Ruggero de Rossi, a portfolio manager for Federated Investors. “The question is will it be voluntary or not?” (Additional reporting by Tariro Mzezewa in New York; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by David Gregorio and Steve Orlofsky)

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