Worse-Than-Cyprus Debt Load Means Caribbean Defaults to Moody’s

Three bond restructurings totaling about $9.7 billion in the Caribbean this year are failing to ignite economic growth and may not help the region avoid more defaults, according to Moody’s Investors Service, Bloomberg reported. The bond swaps this year didn’t go far enough to fixing the Caribbean’s “unsustainable” mix of debt and deficits, Warren Smith, the president of the Caribbean Development Bank, said May 22. Jamaica and Belize, which restructured about $9.5 billion in local and global bonds this year for the second time since 2006, face a “high probability” that they will default again, Moody’s said in a May 20 report. Among Caribbean island economies, only the Bahamas is expected to grow more than 1.5 percent this year compared with 4 percent for Latin America, Moody’s said in an earlier report. Without faster growth, repeat defaults may become common as Caribbean governments find it easier to cut bond payments than spending, said Arturo Porzecanski, a professor of international finance at American University in Washington. “These countries are exhibiting an increased unwillingness to pay,” Porzecanski said. “We may be seeing the birth of a region of serial defaulters.” The average debt for a Caribbean nation compared with the size of its economy stands at 70 percent, with Jamaica, Antigua & Barbuda and Grenada above the 93 percent ratio that forced Cyprus to seek a European Union-brokered March bailout, according to the International Monetary Fund and Moody’s. Jamaica’s debt-to-GDP ratio reached 140 percent last year. Read more.