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Puerto Rico seeks bond swap in proposed restructuring deal

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Puerto Rico's government on Monday released details of a proposed restructuring deal with creditors as it struggles to find revenue amid a deepening economic crisis.

Officials said a proposed bond swap would help reduce a portion of the U.S. territory's $72 billion public debt and cap debt payments at 15 percent of government revenues.

The island's government would offer creditors two new bonds in exchange for those they hold. The deal would exchange $49 billion of debt into $26.5 billion of base bonds and $22.7 billion of growth bonds. The first would have a fixed interest rate and the other is payable only if government revenues exceed a certain level.

Officials said the deal also would give the government time to implement a five-year economic growth plan that would allow it to keep providing essential services, pay back suppliers and taxpayers and generate more liquidity.

"A crisis of this magnitude must be addressed in concert, otherwise we risk our ability and the opportunity to escape the spiral of a stagnating economy, endless deficits and increasing debt," said Victor Suarez, Puerto Rico's secretary of state.

The deal was presented Friday in meetings with creditors' advisers. It likely was a low-ball offer to help jump start discussions, said David Tawil, co-founder and portfolio manager of New York-based Maglan Capital.

The government faces more than $33 billion of debt payments in the next decade and has warned it doesn't have enough money to meet payments as early as May. The island is mired in its ninth year of economic stagnation and is pushing for a bankruptcy mechanism that would allow it to restructure a portion of the public debt that the governor has said is unpayable.

Economist Gustavo Velez said the deal also would inject badly needed cash into the government's pension systems.

"They have to do that now," he said. "The systems are depleting at a very fast rate. They will be left without money by 2018."

He said the proposed bond swap is not a bad deal, but noted that some creditors will lose more money than others because of so many different debt holders and issuers. Velez said he expects some creditors to welcome the deal.

"They would not benefit from a total fiscal meltdown," he said.

Puerto Rico officials released details of the deal a day before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs holds a hearing to talk about creating an authority to oversee Puerto Rico's finances. Republicans have demanded a federal fiscal control board, an idea some Puerto Rico officials have rejected.

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