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ECONOMY | 04-03-2020 16:58

BlackRock, Pimco fly to Argentina for private talk on debt

Some of Argentina’s largest creditors flew to Buenos Aires for talks with Alberto Fernández’s government this week.

Some of Argentina’s largest creditors flew to Buenos Aires for talks with Alberto Fernández’s government, even as the global coronavirus outbreak forced counterparts to cancel trips.

Representatives from BlackRock Inc, Pacific Investment Management Co and Ashmore Group PLC met with Economy Minister Martín Guzmán this week, according to people familiar with the matter.

Guzmán also huddled with billionaire hedge fund manager David Martinez, the founder of Fintech Advisory Inc, as well as an investor from Gramercy Funds Management, the people said.

On Thursday, Guzmán is set to meet an investor from Greylock Capital.

Officials at Pimco and Fintech confirmed the meetings. Spokespeople at BlackRock, Gramercy, Greylock and Argentina’s Economy Ministry declined to comment. Ashmore didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Schedule

While these high-profile meetings stayed on schedule, other firms have scrapped visits. A spokeswoman at HSBC Argentina said that a scheduled investor trip this week was canceled as clients faced travel restrictions from their companies because of the virus. Meantime, some bondholders who intended to join visits led by BTG Pactual and Bank of America Corp have pulled out, according to people familiar with the matter.

A spokesman at Bank of America said its investor trip is still scheduled, while a representative at BTG didn’t respond to requests for comment. Both HSBC and Bank of America were hired by Argentina as underwriters for its debt restructuring, though these trips were geared toward investors, not bankers.

The meetings come at a critical time for Argentina as it attempts to persuade bondholders that it has a fair and reasonable plan for restructuring billions of dollars of foreign obligations. Guzmán has been holding a series of one-on-one meetings with key stakeholders, and the Fernández administration has said it wants to present a proposal to creditors by next week.

So far, Argentina has only one confirmed case of coronavirus. The cancelled travel to Buenos Aires is just a small part of the effect the virus is having on global finance. The International Monetary Fund and World Bank announced Tuesday that members have agreed to a “virtual” format for their April spring meetings.

CERAWeek, one of the world’s largest energy summits, also got cancelled before it was set to kick off March 9 in Houston.

Ever since Argentina announced last year that it wouldn’t be able to make all its debt payments amid a currency rout that spurred a deep recession, investors have been preparing themselves for what Guzman warned would be a “frustrating” restructuring process. The country has laid out an ambitious time-line for debt talks that officials aim to wrap up by the end of March.

Argentina is on the hook for US$38.7 billion in interest and principal payments this year, according to estimates from consulting firm Alberdi Partners.

The bondholders who flew to Buenos Aires have some company. A technical team from the IMF, which extended Argentina a record US$56-billion credit line in 2018, arrived Monday to meet with government officials. The mission is scheduled to stay until the end of the week, with meetings to focus on the country’s economic program and debt strategy.

by Ben Bartenstein & Jorgelina do Rosario, Bloomberg

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