As Talks Falter, Bond Default by Argentina Appears Likely

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

c.2014 New York Times News Service

Barring a last-minute deal, Argentina will default on billions of dollars of bonds on Wednesday.

It would be Argentina’s second default in 13 years. But unlike the last time, when scores of unhappy Argentines took to the street as unemployment rose to 25 percent and inflation soared, this default would look decidedly different.

Argentina’s equity, bond and currency markets, which have been volatile in recent days, would certainly feel a jolt. The government and Argentine companies, which have been largely locked out of global markets since the last default in 2001, would find it even harder to raise money. And the economy, which has struggled with stagflation for years, would most likely slow further.

But the reaction will probably be muted because this default is not a surprise.

“This is kind of a chronicle of a default foretold,” said Arturo Porzecanski, director of the international economic relations program at American University, referring to the novella by the Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez, “Chronicle of a Death Foretold.”

A default has been in the making since a group of New York hedge funds gained significant victories in U.S. courts, where they are demanding that Argentina pay them in full on government bonds that defaulted in 2001.

As in García Márquez’s books, the hedge funds’ battle against Argentina is full of unusual twists.

In a pivotal ruling, Judge Thomas P. Griesa of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan said that Argentina could not continue to make regular payments on its main class of bonds — whose investors had agreed to accept a lower amount than they were owed — without paying the hedge funds. A payment is scheduled for the main class of bondholders on Wednesday. Argentina, however, has insisted that it will not cave into the demands of the hedge funds, which it has called vultures.

“It would be a shocking surprise,” Porzecanski said, “if Argentina pulled out their pocketbook and paid” the hedge funds.

But even as it fights the hedge funds, which are led by Paul E. Singer’s NML Capital, Argentina also risks angering its main debt holders and prolonging its legal and financial woes.