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Mongolia to issue $1 bln in bonds to help ease cash shortfall

ULAN BATOR, May 29 (Reuters) - Mongolia plans to issue a $1 billion debt offering to put its fiscal affairs back in order, it said on Thursday, as it tries to ride a wave of good will that arose from a $6 billion deal with global miner Rio Tinto (Xetra: 855018 - news) for its giant Oyu Tolgoi copper mine.

According to a statement from Thursday's Cabinet meeting, a deal for the launch of the crucial expansion project at Oyu Tolgoi has given investors reason to reassess risk in the country.

"International investors are keen to buy bonds of Mongolia," the statement said.

Mongolia is hungry for cash injections after an 84 percent decline in foreign investment last year, caused by a weaker commodities market and slowing growth in China.

The country faces the maturity in 2017 of state-backed bonds from the Development Bank of Mongolia worth $580 million and sovereign bonds worth $500 million in 2018.

Mongolia could use the proceeds to relieve debt pressures and stabilize its balance of payments, the cabinet statement said. But the country will have to be careful in spending the funds to avoid breaching debt restrictions that cap debt to about 58 percent of GDP.

"It looks like they'll use the proceeds to refinance some of their mid-term debt obligations, allowing them to avoid breaching the debt ceiling," said Badral Munkhdul, the head of the market-analyst firm Cover Mongolia.

Traders speculated earlier this month that Trade and Development Bank of Mongolia left value on the table in its government-backed $500 million debt offering. Mongolia's largest commercial bank may have found more favorable conditions than the 9.375 percent yield it settled on May 19, which was above the sovereign curve, had it waited for the resolution of Oyu Tolgoi.

Andrew Fennell, an analyst at Fitch Ratings, was on the fence about the idea while the government's plans on how to use the funds remained unclear.

"If the ultimate purpose is for refinancing purposes then we would view the proposal as credit neutral," Fennel said in an email. "However, if the debt issuance is intended to finance additional public expenditure and raise public debt levels significantly beyond current levels then we would view this as credit negative."

Fitch estimates that debt was at 63 percent at the end of 2014, which includes all debts explicitly guaranteed by the Mongolian government. (Reporting by Terrence Edwards; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)