Ukraine. While Iceland may have suffered the worst financial collapse of the global recession, Ukraine has also received a dubious honor: It had the priciest sovereign credit-default swaps for the first quarter of the year. It currently costs about $3.9 million to insure $10 million of Ukrainian five-year sovereign bonds. A year ago it cost just under $3,000. S&P rates them CCC—the seventh-best (out of eleven) rating, indicating that Ukraine is vulnerable to nonpayment.
As the government tries to solve the crisis, Ukrainians are getting squeezed. Kiev, one of the oldest capitals in Europe, has had to shut down free clinics, schools, and increase public transportation costs in order to close a deficit. The Institute for Economic Research and Consulting is forecasting a GDP contraction of 12 percent. The Ukrainian stock market has fallen 25 percent so far this year. The Ukrainian currency, the hyrvnia, is also plummeting, falling 35 percent against the dollar in the last six months. The Ukrainian government's efforts to shore up the currency, including setting a floor for which the hryvnia can be traded, have so far been in vain.
Venezuela. Hugo Chavez has inextricably tied the Venezuelan economy to oil, and that didn't look so bad before the financial crisis. Oil profits helped deliver massive economic growth, so much that 4.8 percent growth in 2008 was seen as a disappointment. But with oil prices having plunged due to the global slowdown, the fortunes for Chavez's strategy have changed. Many economists are predicting negative growth for Venezuela this year, such as the 4 percent drop predicted by Morgan Stanley.
From June to September, the cost for an investor to buy insurance against Venezuela's debt almost doubled. Right now, to protect $10 million in Venezuelan sovereign bonds against default, an investor would need to spend $1.8 million each year. S&P gives Venezuela's sovereign bonds a BB rating, meaning Venezuela faces "major ongoing uncertainties" that could lead to "inadequate capacity" to meet its obligations. S&P also has a negative outlook for the bond rating, meaning it could decline in the next six months to two years.
Argentina. The Argentine economy is notorious for its boom and busts. The country last defaulted on its debt in 2002, but enjoyed economic improvements through most of this decade. During that last financial crisis, citizens staged protests known as cacerolazos, which means "banging of pots and pans," but the demonstrations resulted in broken windows and fires. Argentina has not seen that kind of violence stemming from the current financial crisis yet, but foreign investors are worried the economy is back to "bust" mode. CMS Datavision ranks Argentina as having the third most expensive credit derivatives in the world. Right now, Markit composite prices show an annual cost of $3.2 million for an investor to buy protection against $10 million of Argentina's sovereign debt. Moody's rates Argentina's sovereign bonds as B3, meaning a high, speculative credit risk, and S&P as B-, meaning that more bad economic news for Argentina could lead to default. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development gives Argentina a seven, its riskiest classification rating.
Five Countries to Keep An Eye On
Latvia. Iceland isn't the only country that's seen massive protests against economic hardship. In January, a 10,000-strong demonstration in Latvia's capital, Riga, turned into a riot. Tremendous economic growth since the end of the Cold War earned Latvia its place as one of the "Baltic Tigers." GDP growth was 11.2 percent in 2006, for instance. But Latvia's Ministry of Finance forecasts a 14.9 percent drop in GDP this year. Latvia is getting a $7.5 billion emergency loan from the IMF, but the organization is sitting on part of the money because of the Latvian government's failures thus far to reform its budget. The past two years have seen the cost of Latvia's credit default swaps increase over one-hundred fold. Moody's rates Latvia's bonds as Baa1, or "moderate" credit risks, and projects that they could become riskier bets in the medium term.