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Concerns build on Argentine economy

Aug 6, 2014

Economists and analysts study possibilities for Argentina to escape debt impasse after default

Amid uncertainty over Argentina’s debt, economists say the prolongation of the sovereign’s default could deepen the country’s economic problems.

The government’s efforts to maintain international reserves while boosting growth with expansionary public policy would be more difficult if default stretches on, said analysts at Morgan Stanley.

"A prolonged default, in our view, would make achieving these dual objectives increasingly difficult and heighten the risk of policy radicalization," they said in a report on Tuesday.

The country defaulted on July 30 when a payment on restructured debt was blocked by US courts, which have ruled that Argentina must pay holdout creditors before it services exchanged bonds.

Argentina’s international reserves, official and parallel foreign exchange rates and pressure on deposits were indicators to watch, Morgan Stanley analysts said: "Even if policy radicalization does not materialize, the economy’s ability to muddle through for another year may be constrained in several ways, although we agree that the outcome of the October 2015 election could provide a positive confidence shock."

Already there were signs that Argentine consumers were taking a more defensive stance, said Eduardo Levy-Yeyati, chief executive of Elypsis Partners and chief economic advisor at ACGM.

"Judging by the muted impact of the Aguinaldo [bonus salaries paid twice a year], which typically increases retail and credit card activity, people are already becoming more skeptical and risk averse, spending less and compounding the effect of external uncertainty on domestic demand," Levy Yeyati told LatinFinance.

Unclear path

The next steps for the sovereign to move out of default are unclear. Argentina says it cannot pay holdout creditors in full because it told investors that participated in previous restructurings that any better terms offered to other bondholders subsequently would be offered to all.

The country could ask creditors to waive the relevant clause, known as the Rufo. Such a move would require a supermajority of holders of each series.

"I would have expected the government to move forward with the Rufo waiver, which shouldn’t be hard to get given the disposition of many large holders to avoid a default," said Levy-Yeyati.

But it was unclear whether the government would accept the demands of holdout creditors after the Rufo clause expires at the end of the year, he said: "The key question is, will they pay in January? I think that’s the question that everybody is asking right now. Is the Rufo scare a reason, or an excuse? So far the evidence is consistent with both sides. They even argue that if they look for a Rufo waiver, the clause might be activated."

The government could choose not to settle with holdout creditors, said Jan Dehn, head of research at Ashmore, meaning the impasse could stretch on as long as the government stays in power.

Separately, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association ruled on Tuesday that a repudiation or moratorium event had not occurred in Argentina. That followed another request by law firm Shulte Roth & Zabel to consider the question, which had first been put to the organization in June when Argentina’s economy minister said it would be "impossible" to pay bondholders. ISDA ruled last week that a failure to pay credit event had occurred, however. LF



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