Argentina slams U.S. judge, while holdout investors see no private debt deal

August 13

Prospects for a private-sector solution to Argentina’s sovereign-debt dispute deteriorated Wednesday after holdout investors said they entertained no realistic offers from bankers, while the Argentine government dashed hopes it might soon agree to restart talks.

Addressing rumors in the marketplace of offers from big international banks such as Citigroup, HSBC and Deutsche Bank to buy up its position in defaulted debt, one lead holdout investor said that after many meetings, nothing presented had made sense for a settlement on bonds dating back to a near $100 billion default in 2002.

“That engagement has convinced us that there is no realistic prospect of a private solution,” Aurelius Capital Management said in a statement.

Aurelius is run by Mark Brodsky, who, along with his former firm Elliott Management, has waged a decade-long battle in the U.S. courts to collect on the defaulted Argentine debt they have purchased at steep discounts over the past 12 years. The holdouts spurned two prior restructurings, holding out for better terms.

“No proposal we received was remotely acceptable. The entities making such proposals were not prepared to fund more than a small part, if any, of the payments they wanted us to accept. One proposal was withdrawn before we could even respond. And no proposal made by us received a productive response,” the statement said.

A second default occurred after Argentina missed a July 30 deadline for coupon payments on bonds restructured in 2005 and 2010. After the deadline passed, hopes turned toward proposals drawn up first by Argentina and then by large international banks to work out a solution.

By clearing up the default with the holdouts from the 2002 default, Argentina would be able service its restructured debt.

Argentina claims it cannot pay the holdouts on what would be better terms than the investors who exchanged their defaulted bonds under the so-called RUFO clause (Rights Upon Future Offers).

“Argentine officials hide behind the RUFO provision but make no effort to seek waivers from it (despite being offered them by many of the exchange bondholders),” Aurelius said in its statement.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Griesa, who has presided over the long-running legal battle, said Friday he would issue a contempt order unless Argentina stopped claiming it had met its obligations and was not in default.

Argentina came out swinging Wednesday against Griesa, defying the threatened contempt order.

Far from backing off, Argentine cabinet chief Jorge Capitanich said Griesa had not grasped the case’s complexities and that no new talks had been scheduled with the hedge funds.

“The proper conditions do not exist to negotiate,” Capitanich told reporters in Buenos Aires.

In June, Argentina deposited $539 million into the account of an intermediary bank to make a June 30 coupon payment. Griesa ruled the deposit illegal and ordered the money frozen.

Holders of the restructured bonds have asked Griesa to allow the intermediary bank to release the money, and Capitanich criticized the judge for not acting on those requests.

“His lack of decision clearly comes from not understanding the process, not understanding Argentina’s status as a sovereign country,” Capitanich said.

Argentina derides the holdout funds as “vultures” out to wreck the country’s finances in their pursuit of huge profits.

Economy Minister Axel Kicillof on Tuesday posted a drawing on his Facebook page of a beady-eyed vulture wearing a shirt with the letters “U.S.A.” and emblazoned with the U.S. flag. Next to the drawing are written the words “greed” and “cruelty.”

— Reuters

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