La articulista sostiene con razón que el gobierno argentino no cederá a la presión de los denominados fondos buitres. Aconseja que se debe negociar por separado con los pequeños tenedores de bonos que engloba la demanda. Sin embargo, augura que será un largo conflicto.
Argentina's Creditors Overreach in Seizure of Warship in Ghana
Argentina’s legacy of debt default is back in the headlines this week after a Ghanaian port detained an Argentine navy ship, executing a court order on behalf of the country’s creditors.
The bondholders who seized the ship said they do not plan to release it until Argentina repays at least $20 million of the $300 million they are owed on defaulted debt.
This is the latest example of creditors -- often vulture funds that purchased discounted bonds discarded by investors after Argentina stopped honoring its debts during its economic free fall 10 years ago -- trying to seize the country’s assets.
But Mark P. Jones, Joseph D. Jamail Chair in Latin American Studies and chair of the political science department at Rice University, said that while Argentina had not been under sufficient pressure to make compromises, the seizure of the frigate Libertad will make it even less likely that the government will yield to the creditors.
“Cristina Fernández de Kirchner will not yield,” he said, explaining that in the Argentine press, any compromise would be seen as surrender. “She particularly won’t yield under pressure, and she especially won’t yield under public pressure.”
NML Capital Ltd, which obtained the court order to detain the Libertad in the Ghanaian port of Tema, has two goals, Jones said. One is to win the $20 million payment. But even if it fails to do so, its other aim is to keep the pressure on Argentina to eventually accept a broader settlement with a larger payout.
“They realize that they need to put the pressure on [Kirchner] to provide some incentive for the Argentine government to yield, but when it gets too public like this, it has this boomerang effect,” he said.
The more political that the disputes with creditors become, the more difficult it will be for Kirchner or anyone in her administration to reach a settlement, Jones said, explaining that this could also affect other debts.
In addition to larger funds like NML Capital Ltd and billionaire investor Kenneth Dart, smaller bondholders, such as pension funds for New Jersey teachers, also hold defaulted Argentine debt, Jones said.
The fact that these smaller bondholders are also holding out for repayment provides the larger creditors with cover, so “they can present themselves not as greedy hedge funds, but as part of a larger group that includes retired teachers.”
Jones said it would be in Argentina’s interest to come to an agreement with some of these smaller groups in order to isolate the hedge funds. He explained that “to the extent that judges view these asset seizures as efforts by these vulture funds to take advantage of a situation and get an unjust profit, they are going to be less sympathetic.”
But the Libertad dispute, which is already causing “heads to roll” in Argentina, will make behind-the-scenes negotiations much more difficult.
In the meantime, Jones said, these major hedge funds, which “bought assets for pennies on the dollar” when Argentina was in major financial trouble, “have the resources to make Argentina’s life very difficult.” And the more Argentina nationalizes certain companies, the more opportunities vulture funds will have to seize resources or assets abroad, he added.
Jones said the Argentina example provides a signal to other countries that default brings risks, such as aggressive attempts at asset seizure.
On the other hand, he said, Argentina was in large part “able to get away with it,” unilaterally defaulting when it had an unsustainable debt burden and then restructuring its debt on very favorable terms. Some countries may have drawn the lesson that “defaulting on your debt is not the end of the world.”
“One of the lessons [Argentina] learned is that intransigence pays off,” he said. “You just keep pushing for a better and better deal, and eventually people will bend and buckle for you.”
But when it comes to the country currently facing the gravest risk of default, Greece, Jones said there are two important differences. First, Greece’s membership in the European Union makes a unilateral default trickier. Second, Argentina was able to survive without access to the international debt market because of the demand for its exports.
“Soybean experts have been so robust that [Argentina] hasn't needed to take money from the international debt market,” he said, attributing much of the demand for soybeans, which Argentineans call green gold, to an increase in consumption in China. “The Greeks aren’t going to be able to export themselves out of their current predicament without access to the international debt market.”
As for the fate of the Libertad, unless the Ghanaian courts decide to modify their position, which remains a possibility given the diplomatic pressure to release the warship, Jones said he does not expect Argentina to pay the $20 million bond. “The ship may be there for a while.”