March 7, 2020 / 3:16 PM / 23 days ago

Exclusive: Lebanon bondholders stepping up efforts to form creditor group

LONDON (Reuters) - A set of Lebanon’s bond holders are to step up efforts to form a creditor group in the coming days after the country’s presidency signalled on Saturday it would default, one of the members of the group said.

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun heads a financial meeting with Prime Minister Hassan Diab, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Lebanon's Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon March 7, 2020. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS

The move from Lebanon will come just two days before a $1.2 billion (£919.75 million) bond payment is due to be made and could mark a defining moment for one of the world’s most financially distressed countries.

“We think it (creditor group) will come together soon,” the member of the group said, requesting anonymity.

“From what we understand the government wants to be reasonable and so do most creditors. They understand the country is in a difficult situation.”

So far the group had been more informal, with distressed debt veterans Greylock Capital and Switzerland-base Mangart Advisors facilitating discussions between bond holders and other interested investors.

The group member told Reuters that as the prospect of a default has neared, potential legal and financial advisors had been sounded out.

Lebanon’s government itself has hired investment bank Lazard (LAZ.N) and law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP to help steer its efforts.

“From what we understand the government wants to be reasonable and so do most creditors. They understand the country is in a difficult situation,” said the group member.

“We think if this is approached in a constructive way that something can be achieved.”

Prime Minister Hassan Diab will address the Eurobond issue and Lebanon’s wider economic crisis in a speech to the nation at 6:30 p.m. (1630 GMT).

On Saturday, Lebanon’s presidency said the country’s top leadership was against paying the debt in an announcement which followed a meeting attended by the president, prime minister, parliament speaker, central bank governor and head of the country’s banking association.

Editing by Frances Kerry

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