Panama Court Clears Presidential Frontrunner’s Candidacy, Sparking Bond Rally

(Bloomberg) -- Panama’s bonds rallied after the nation’s supreme court cleared the way for frontrunner Jose Raul Mulino to compete in Sunday’s presidential election, removing a key risk for markets.

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Judges on Friday rejected a challenge that sought to disqualify Mulino, a pro-business candidate who leads in polls, the Associated Press reported. The last-minute ruling was embraced by investors with Panama’s dollar notes leading gains across emerging markets.

Securities maturing in 2057 jumped as much as 2.8 cents on the dollar, according to indicative pricing compiled by Bloomberg.

There’s a “slight relief rally” as the court had little choice ahead of the vote, said Siobhan Morden, managing director for Latin America fixed income at Santander in New York. Investor focus now should shift to Mulino’s congressional support, Morden said. “It’s all about political capital: A majority legislative support is an important pre-requisite for a reform agenda.”

Mulino, an ally of the business friendly ex-President Ricardo Martinelli, holds an edge in opinion polls over a handful of other candidates, including former President Martin Torrijos.

Political opponents sought to disqualify his candidacy arguing he didn’t complete the necessary steps under electoral law to run. Analysts warned that barring him would damage institutions and add to political uncertainties.

The supreme court’s ruling is final as the attorney general and electoral tribunal had previously cleared Mulino’s candidacy.

Money managers have dumped Panama’s debt in recent months amid worries of the economic fallout from the closing of the controversial $10 billion Cobre Panama mine owned by First Quantum Minerals Ltd.

Read More: A $10 Billion Closed Mine Casts Shadow Over Panama Vote, Bonds

Fitch Ratings cut the nation’s credit score to junk in March. The ratings firm also said that a “tense” social backdrop and the expected slowdown in growth could limit the room for Panama’s next leader to implement fiscal reforms.

Shares in First Quantum were up 10% at 3:52 p.m. in Toronto, the best performance among large copper producers tracked by Bloomberg. While Mulino signaled he would respect the court’s decision on Cobre Panama, investors are betting that he may be more willing than some of his anti-mining rivals to entertain the possibility of reopening the giant mine.

Results from vote should be known Sunday evening.

While bond spreads already suggest Panama’s debt is being traded as junk, traders will keep an eye on the probability of the next administration tackling fiscal and growth challenges.

“In the medium term, the scenario remains challenging to implement much needed reforms,” said Fernando Losada, a managing director at Oppenheimer & Co. in New York.

--With assistance from Zijia Song and James Attwood.

(Adds move in First Quantum shares in 10th paragraph.)

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