BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s debt has swelled to unprecedented levels due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the government faces a $ 112 billion refinancing gap early next year, with April funding needs the highest for one month.
Publicly, at least, Treasury officials in Latin America’s top economies insist there will be no problems getting investors to lend to them. The so-called liquidity cushion can cover at least three months of the loan.
In addition, nearly all of Brazil’s debt is denominated in reais and more than 90% of it is held by domestic investors, many of whom are forced to hold it by banking regulations.
Financial analysts also see little risk of a boycott by lenders, which is likely to trigger a serious crisis and wreak havoc on Brazilian financial markets.
But the likelihood that the Ministry of Finance may have difficulty repaying debts, due to sudden unfavorable political, economic or market conditions, is not zero. And it will likely pay a premium to shift so much debt at once, analysts say.
According to Treasury Department figures, about 605 billion reais ($ 112 billion) of domestic federal debt is due in the first four months of next year. That’s 14.1% of Brazil’s 4.82 trillion reais pile of domestic debt.
The month to watch is April, when the 283 billion reais of debt will need to be extended. That is 6.6% of Brazil’s debt and will be the largest single month of maturity debt on record, according to the Ministry of Finance.
Graph: April 2021 debt rollover – IIF,
Graph: Monthly debt maturity -% of GDP,
“It’s a big number, and if people want to reduce their exposure a little bit for whatever reason, that’s a significant amount,” said Sergi Lanau, deputy chief economist at the Washington-based Institute of International Finance (IIF).
“It’s not a good situation, but it would be much worse if it was foreign debt. We don’t really care about a bunch of maturity. If something goes wrong at that time, then you will be exposed, ”he said.
The IIF analysis shows that the government’s domestic debt maturing in April amounts to 3.7% of GDP, also an all-time high for a month.
Economy Minister Paulo Guedes said he saw “no problem” for the Ministry of Finance to reimburse the debt. About half of the 600 billion reais due early next year may already be covered by cash inflows from central banks and public sector banks, he said.
The government’s surprisingly aggressive fiscal response to the pandemic, particularly through direct income transfers to the poor, has driven its deficits and debt to records that are far above most other developing economies.
Brazil’s main deficit, excluding interest payments, is estimated at nearly 12% of GDP this year, with overall debt rising to around 95% of GDP, according to the government.
That has forced the Treasury Department to borrow more, more and more in short dated paper because it’s cheaper and as growing concerns around the fiscal outlook mean investors are reluctant to lend to the government long-term loans.
While reducing average long-maturity debt and posting low official interest rates has brought average interest costs down to a record low, the so-called “roll over risk” for the Treasury has increased sharply.
“The problem is if we can’t sell any bonds. But we don’t need to worry too much, there is money in the system, ”said an interest rate specialist at a hedge fund in Sao Paulo.
“The treasury won’t run out of cash: that’s not the case. But it will continue to pay higher rates and see a steeper curve, “he said.
The difference between long-term and short-term interest rates has widened sharply. Before the pandemic, the difference between the January 2022 and January 2027 futures rates was 180 basis points or less. That tripled to 460 basis points in September, and is now creeping back to that all-time peak.
Chart: Brazil interest rate spread,
The Treasury has failed to sell the full allocation of bonds offered at several auctions in recent weeks, both the fixed rate ‘LTN’ note and the floating rate ‘LTF’ note linked to the central bank’s official Selic rate.
To attract buyers, the Ministry of Finance has to pay a higher premium. It also relies on other sources of financing, including a recent transfer of 325 billion reais from the central bank.
Waldery Rodrigues, special secretary for the economy ministry, said last week that a central bank selling part of its foreign currency reserves to pay debt is “on the menu” for next year, although the decision is in the hands of the central bank.
Reporting by Jamie McGeever; Edited by Tom Brown