With its economy hammered by the pandemic and plunging oil and gas prices, which account for 90 percent of government revenue, Iraq was unable to pay government workers for months at a time last year, the New York Times reported. Last month, Iraq devalued its currency, the dinar, for the first time in decades, immediately raising prices on almost everything in a country that relies heavily on imports. And last week, Iran cut Iraq’s supply of electricity and natural gas, citing nonpayment, leaving large parts of the country in the dark for hours a day.
Sovereign default risks are on course to rise further in 2021, with Iraq, Sri Lanka, Angola and Gabon at high probability of default, say Goldman Sachs analysts, Reuters reported. Five sovereign debt defaults or distressed debt exchanges - in which investors swap their debt for new bonds, often with longer maturities and a reduced value - have already happened in 2020 in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis, the most in around two decades.
Glencore Plc has restructured a $500 million oil-for-cash loan to Kurdistan in northern Iraq, reducing payments for 2020 as the semi-autonomous region struggles due to low petroleum prices, Bloomberg News reported. The pre-payment deals have been popular among some African and Middle Eastern producers with few others ways of raising funds. But they have also proved controversial, in some cases creating an opaque form of debt that puts governments’ finances under strain when oil prices drop.
As Iraq inches toward the formation of a new government, the risks are stacking up for OPEC’s second-biggest crude producer, Bloomberg News reported. Beyond the country’s long-standing sectarian tensions, frayed relations with the Kurdish north, a bloated public wage bill and endemic corruption, new Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi now has to grapple with a collapse in oil revenue and the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic. Little wonder that the country is seeking financial aid from the U.S.
Investing in small-cap oil and gas explorers has never been for the faint-hearted. But few companies have experienced as much drama in the past five years as the international energy groups with assets in the autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, the Financial Times reported. Once described by Tony Hayward, the former chief executive of BP and a co-founder of Kurdistan-focused Genel Energy, as “the last big onshore ‘easy’ oil province”, operating in the region proved to be anything but simple.