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Puerto Rico power company forced to sell bonds amid crisis

Published:Friday | July 3, 2015 | 12:00 AM
In this January 28, 2015 photo, street signs provide directions to Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. The US territory is weighing options to deal with its US$72-billion debt.

Puerto Rico's troubled power company has been forced to sell bonds once again to obtain capital and avoid defaulting on a US$415-million debt payment that was due on Wednesday with a worsening economic crisis in the United States territory.

The Electric Power Authority said in a statement that it paid US$153 million in cash and the remainder from its debt service reserve accounts. In turn, creditors agreed to buy US$128 million worth of new bonds to provide liquidity, and those bonds have to be paid in full by December.

"We are pleased we were able to reach an agreement that allowed us to make the payment to our bondholders today and avoid a default," said Lisa Donahue, the company's chief restructuring officer.

A bondholders' group said it agreed to extend a debt payment deadline to September 15. But it warned that the agreement will automatically end if a deal to restructure the heavily indebted power company is not reached by September 1.

The group said it would take legal action if bondholders are treated unfairly or if negotiations derail with the power company, known as PREPA.

"We ... are hopeful that we have established a foundation for reaching an equitable deal for all PREPA stakeholders, which will help the island in its revitalisation," said Stephen Spencer, a managing director with Los Angeles-based investment bank Houlihan Lokey, an adviser to bondholders.

US$9 billion in debt

Puerto Rico's power company has some US$9 billion in debt and has obtained several extensions this year to avoid default and make payments.

The new deal comes just days after Governor. Alejandro Garcia Padilla said the island's US$72-billion public debt is unpayable and that he would seek to postpone payment of it.

Puerto Rico-based economist Vicente Feliciano, president of Advantage Business Consulting, said in a phone interview that the deal shows the critical situation the power company faces with its liquidity.

"To be able to pay its creditors, it required a loan from those same creditors," he said. "Negotiations have become quite tense."