Wednesday, December 6, 2023

ECONOMY | 16-04-2020 17:40

Argentina seeks to cut foreign bond interest payments by 62%

Investors are being asked to accept a three-year moratorium on payments and a 62 percent haircut on the interest they’re owed, Economy Minister Martín Guzmán told reporters.

Argentina has presented the broad outlines of a long-awaited restructuring offer to foreign bondholders as the recession-battered country seeks to put its finances on a sustainable path.

Investors are being asked to accept a three-year moratorium on payments and a 62 percent haircut on the interest they’re owed, Economy Minister Martín Guzmán told reporters Thursday. He said that complete details of the proposal will come tomorrow.

“The proposal means a greater cut in interest than in principal,” Guzman said.

The plan to restructure US$68.8 billion in overseas debt is part of the government’s efforts to shore up the budget and reignite growth. Just a few years after Argentina returned to international capital markets following a decade-long lockout, the country is headed toward the ninth default in its 200-year history. It comes with the economy forecast to shrink for a third straight year in 2020 and the currency down by more than half over the past 24 months.

Bondholders had been bracing for pain, with the country’s dollar-denominated notes recently trading at about 30 cents on the dollar. Prices collapsed in August last year when primary elections signalled strong support for candidates considered to be less friendly toward business and investors.

Since taking office in December, President Alberto Fernández has already pushed back bond payments for both peso- and dollar-denominated securities governed by local laws. While he made those moves unilaterally, backed by a friendly court system, the bonds covered by New York law present a new test.

Economy Ministry officials and bondholders were at odds earlier this month over how long the country might go without making debt payments. Officials from investment firms including Blackrock Inc, Pacific Investment Management Co, Ashmore Group Plc, Greylock Capital and Fintech Advisory Inc have been involved in the talks, held via video conference.

Robert Koenigsberger, the chief investment officer at Gramercy Funds Management, said on Bloomberg TV April 13 that a deal could be reached within a month.

The country has US$3.5 billion in payments on foreign-law bonds due in the remainder of 2020, according to Buenos Aires-based consultancy 1816 Economia y Estrategia, including US$500 million of interest due on April 22. Fernández’s administration has also been in talks with the International Monetary Fund to rework a record US$56-billion financing agreement signed in 2018.

Officials at the IMF said before the restructuring proposal was unveiled that a “meaningful contribution” will be necessary from private bondholders to ensure debt sustainability.

Fernández is looking to reach a negotiated settlement with creditors and avoid a hard default that would result in a costly and lengthy legal fight.

But the government must decide how confrontational it wants to be with the economy in such a precarious place. The country remains largely under lockdown through at least April 26 to halt the spread of coronavirus, and gross domestic product may contract 5.4 percent this year because of the pandemic, according to a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. forecast.

The country has a total debt load of more than US$323 billion, equal to 89 percent of GDP, and its foreign reserves have tumbled more than 40 percent over the past year to just US$43.9 billion.

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by Scott Squires & Jorgelina do Rosario, Bloomberg


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