Should Venezuela Default?

CAMBRIDGE – Will Venezuela default on its foreign bonds? Markets fear that it might. That is why Venezuelan bonds pay over 11 percentage points more than US Treasuries, which is 12 times more than Mexico, four times more than Nigeria, and double what Bolivia pays. Last May, when Venezuela made a $5 billion private placement of ten-year bonds with a 6% coupon, it effectively had to give a 40% discount, leaving it with barely $3 billion. The extra $2 billion that it will have to pay in ten years is the compensation that investors demand for the likelihood of default, in excess of the already hefty coupon.

Venezuela’s government needs to pay $5.2 billion in the first days of October. Will it? Does it have the cash on hand? Will it raise the money by hurriedly selling CITGO, now wholly owned by Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA?

A different question is whether Venezuela should pay. Granted, what governments should do and what they will do are not always independent questions, because people often do what they should. But “should” questions involve some kind of moral judgment that is not central to “will” questions, which makes them more complex. 

One point of view holds that if you can make good on your commitments, then that is what you should do. That is what most parents teach their children.