Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro García Padilla announced this week that the U.S. territory would not be paying most of the $422 million in debt that was due on Monday. However, it did pay $23 million in interest. As the Puerto Rican government had swapped $33 million of debt for new debt that matured at a later date, the principal it missed on its Government Development Bank-issued bonds was $367 million.
This was a significant development in the stand-off between the Commonwealth and Washington DC, as well as investors in Puerto Rican debt. Moreover, there are much more significant sums due this summer and, if this week’s failure to pay is an indication, investors could be in trouble.
Puerto Rico currently owes more than $70 billion to bond holders. Over $2 billion in bond payments are due this summer, including $805 million in Puerto Rico general obligation bonds. In the wake of this latest default there is growing concern that there will be more defaults in the future.
One significant Puerto Rico bond issuer, the Puerto Rico Government Development Bank (“GDB”), says it has arrived at a tentative deal with a group of hedge funds holding $900 million of the bank’s debt in which the funds would agree to a possible reduction on the dollar of their original securities’ face value. This group of institutional investors, which is being called the “Ad Hoc Group of bondholders," include Claren Road Asset Management, Avenue Capital Management, Fir Tree Partners, Brigade Capital Management, Solus Alternative Asset Management, and Fore Research Management. The GDB arrived at a similar deal with credit unions that are holding about $33 million in debt. Regardless, according to Bloomberg, analysts at Moody’s Investors Service said that even if creditors agree to a non-payment, it would still be a default.
Mutual funds, bond insurers, hedge funds, and individual investors are among those still holding the Commonwealth’s debt. Many of them got involved with Puerto Rico closed-end bond funds because of the high yields and tax benefits. When the securities plunged in value a few years ago, thousands of investors lost a significant portion of their savings. Retail investors, retirees, and small business owners were hit especially hard.