Eighth time unlucky
Cristina Fernandez argues that her countrys latest default is different. She is missing the point
ARGENTINAS first bond, issued in 1824, was supposed to have a lifespan of 46 years. Less than four years later, the government defaulted. Resolving the ensuing stand-off with creditors took 29 years. Since then seven more defaults have followed, the most recent this week, when Argentina failed to make a payment on bonds issued as partial compensation to victims of the previous default, in 2001.
Most investors think they can see a pattern in all this, but Argentinas president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, insists the latest default is not like the others. Her government, she points out, had transferred the full 539m it owed to the banks that administer the bonds. It is Americas courts (the bonds were issued under American law) that blocked the payment, at the behest of the tiny minority of owners of bonds from 2001 who did not accept there structuring Argentina offered them in 2005 and again in 2010. These “hold-outs”, balking at the 65% haircut the restructuring entailed, not only persuaded a judge that they should be paid in full but also got him to freeze payments on the restructured bonds until Argentina coughs up.
Argentina claims that paying the hold-outs was impossible. It is not just that they are “vultures” as Argentine officials often put it, who bought the bonds for cents on the dollar after the previous default and are now holding those who accepted the restructuring (accounting for 93% of the debt) to ransom. The main problem is that a clause in the restructured bonds prohibits Argentina from offering the hold-outs better terms without paying everyone else the same. Since it cannot afford to do that, it says it had no choice but to default.