Romania: Romania on the brink
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Romania: Romania on the brink

Romania has quietly slid into a debt trap and there are fears that it could be allowed to go under as the IMF and World Bank play hardball.

The multilaterals, much criticized over recent bail-outs and for allowing funds to be advanced before reforms have been put in place, may decide that Romania should provide evidence of a new tough approach.

Unlike Brazil, it's too small to cause shock waves. Unlike Russia, its collapse wouldn't threaten regional political stability or even investment banks' balance sheets.

The Romanians have only themselves to blame, say foreign bankers, and the government will have to perform painful surgery before they'll get involved again.

Next year, Romania has to stump up $3.3 billion in foreign debt repayments. That includes $660 million of maturing bonds, about $900 million of syndicated and official loans due, and $581 million of interest payments. It won't be easy.

The currency, the leu, is sliding towards 11,000 to the dollar; in June 1996, when the central bank launched a $225 million Eurobond due next year, the exchange rate stood at around 3,000. Foreign reserves are falling steadily as the central bank intervenes to slow the leu's decline.

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