LONDON (Reuters) - Crisis-torn Ivory Coast has missed a coupon payment on its $2.3 billion Eurobond that was due on Friday, but a month grace period means it is not yet in default, the London Club of commercial creditors said on Monday.
The West African nation has been engulfed in a violent power struggle since a disputed November 28 election left two men each claiming to be president and setting up rival governments.
The interest due by Friday’s close was almost $30 million, but it has until February 1 before the contract is in default.
“The coupon was not paid on Dec 31. My feeling is that there is a willingness from the Ivorians to pay. There is a grace period of 30 days, they are not in default,” Thierry Desjardins, London Club chair and senior vice president of debt rescheduling at BNP Paribas, told Reuters by telephone.
Incumbent Laurent Gbagbo has refused to step down, despite U.N.-certified electoral commission results showing that he lost to rival Alassane Ouattara, who is internationally recognised as Ivory Coast president but remains trapped in a lagoon-side hotel guarded by U.N. peacekeepers and blockaded by pro-Gbagbo forces.
Gbagbo retains control of the security forces, state TV, government buildings, and the lucrative cocoa and oil sectors.
But he has been cut off from state accounts in the West African CFA franc monetary union, because he is not recognised by the region’s leaders, raising questions about which camp should make the payment.
Ivory Coast’s debt has already been restructured twice because of past defaults, and any repetition would leave it frozen out of international debt markets.
The yield on the Eurobond was trading at 15.4 percent on Monday, compared with under 10 percent before the election crisis flared up.
It is not clear whether the barring of Gbagbo from state accounts has taken effect yet — sources at the central bank in Senegal have declined to comment.
Ouattara’s government spokesman said on Friday that there was no money to pay it because Gbagbo’s camp had used it all to pay civil servants and soldiers their December salaries.
The conflict has left more than 170 people dead and led the World Bank to freeze aid of more than $800 million.
Creditors will start negotiations with Ivory Coast in January if it fails to pay, a debt negotiator said on Tuesday.
Some traders have suggested they would buy the bond in case of default if its price fell far enough — to under 40 percent of face value — because long term prospects for Ivory Coast’s economy are still good.