Puerto Rico and a group of investors in February agreed to a debt-cutting deal that would allow them to recover as much as 77.6 cents on the dollar from their investment in the island’s bonds. But that deal may have to be revisited as the coronavirus darkens the outlook for the economy.
While the commonwealth estimates its economy has been growing after more than a decade of contraction, the coronavirus could exert a considerable drag on Puerto Rico’s economy over the next two quarters.
The tentative plan for how to slash nearly $18 billion of Puerto Rico’s debt is on hold after the judge overseeing the record bankruptcy canceled hearings set for early June as island officials work to slow the spread of the disease. They’ll also be working with Puerto Rico’s financial oversight board to assess the economic impact of the virus on the island’s ability to repay bondholders, the commonwealth’s Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority said in a court document filed Thursday.
“It may impact recoveries,” said John Ceffalio, municipal credit research analyst at AllianceBernstein, which manages $47 billion of debt, including Puerto Rico securities. “Our desired outcome from the board’s work is sustainability for the island — sustainable economy, sustainable budget, sustainable debt service — and given the uncertainty with the virus there are a lot of questions right now as to what is sustainable.”
While addressing Puerto Rico’s finances is a central task for the oversight board, the virus has become the main issue in the near term.