| 20 April 2024, Saturday |

Zambia’s bondholders see debt restructure deal in coming weeks

Zambia’s international bondholders anticipate to reach a debt restructuring agreement with the government “in the coming weeks,” a key member said on Tuesday, putting an end to the country’s almost three-year default.

Hakainde Hichilema’s administration struck an agreement last week to restructure $6.3 billion in debt to foreign countries, notably China, and now has to negotiate an arrangement with the holders of its $3 billion in bonds.

“The fact that we have an official sector deal is a real positive,” said Kevin Daly, an emerging market fund manager at Abrdn, who chairs the committee of bondholders estimated to hold almost half of the $3 billion worth of debt.

“So I think we (bondholders) can now reach a deal in the coming weeks.”

Sources close to the bondholder group had said earlier that it would engage constructively with Zambia, which is one of the world’s largest copper producers and has some of Africa’s most expansive national parks.

One reason for the optimism is that last week’s deal saw the government pledge to speed up its repayments if its economy performs well enough for the International Monetary Fund to upgrade its assessment of the country’s debt carrying capacity.

Daly said that was something bondholders themselves had called for when restructuring talks became stalled last year over how much debt relief would be required. They now want authorities to provide a list of possible options to finalise the deal.

The sudden progress in Zambia after nearly three years of difficulties has sparked hopes that other stricken countries such Sri Lanka and Ghana could finalise there own restructurings by early next year at the latest.

Addressing parliament on Tuesday, Zambian Finance Minister Situmbeko Musokotwane said the key assessment on its finances and economy would be done jointly by the IMF and the World Bank in 2026.

“The adjustment mechanism provides for an accelerated repayment schedule and higher interest rates if Zambia’s debt carrying capacity improves from the current ‘weak’ classification to ‘medium’ classification,” he said.

While China has rejected writing off some of the debt altogether, bondholders could still do that, Daly added.

“We are OK for a principal haircut,” he said.

The group’s other main stipulations are an “acceptable” level of coupon payments on the restructured bonds and a realistic “duration” or time frame on them which could be around 10-years and also some repayment step-up over time.

“We just want to see a menu of options,” Daly said.

  • Reuters