Argentina's Supreme Court Loss (after its World Cup Loss)


Argentina's Supreme Court Loss (after its World Cup Loss)

Monday, 21 July, 2014

Argentina, known as a global power in soccer, lost against Germany in the World Cup. But this isn´t the only thing Argetina has lost. The ball also hit the back of the net in another scenario: the New York Supreme Court rejected Argentina’s request to hear an appeal of an earlier decision on June 16, the day Argentina’s soccer team began their World Cup campaign with a 2-1 win over Bosnia. The court´s decision requires the Argentinian government to pay USD 1.33 billion to their holdout investors until June 30. TIME’s Bill Saporito wrote on July 11, 2014 that “In financial circles Argentina is to a functioning economy what the Faroe Islands are to football."

Why is this an issue? In 2001, Argentina defaulted on its debts. Just as the economy was bottoming out, an investor purchased Argentine bonds at a low price (holdouts), and requested Argentina for repayment in full. At first, Argentina refused to negotiate with the holdouts. In 2005, and again in 2010, Argentina agreed to repay private bondholders at a lower face value (“haircut”). Still, the investor held out for a better deal. This non-renegotiated amount caused problems for Argentina because the investor speculated on this “distressed debt” by buying bonds that were not renegotiated at a cheap price. The holdouts sued Argentina in New York (as the bonds were issued under New York law). The bonds at issue had a so-called "pari passu" clause that obliged the Argentinian government to treat all bondholders alike. The holdouts claimed that, as the new bonds were being serviced in full, the holdouts should receive the full amount owed to them. Thus, equal treatment was required.

The US Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Argentina was bound to honor its obligations to the holdouts in the same manner as the holders of the exchange bonds. This ruling was upheld by the Supreme Court and Argentina may not pay the holders of the new bonds unless it also pays the holdouts. No US financial institution can serve as an intermediary to make payments for Argentina, which must either pay the holdouts in full or default on the new bonds. Again, the ruling raises international questions for issuers and holders of sovereign debt. Also, some European countries have to face situations in which their debt has become unsustainable. Help from the outside is needed to continue to meet the debt-service obligations. In most countries, procedures are well-defined by bankruptcy law as to what happens when a company goes bankrupt. In the case of sovereign debt, however, there is no binding international law.

Since the Argentine crisis, most new bonds have been issued with so-called collective action clauses (CACs), under which bondholders are obliged to accept restructuring if a specified share (usually around 70%) agree to it. However, a holdout position could be achieved by buying up the blocking percentage. Maybe new language will be found in future bond issues that replace the "pari passu" clause but provide sufficient assurance to bondholders to let the market function much as it did until this current ruling. The small group which held out for the full amount now hopes that Argentina is wealthy enough to resolve its debt problems, since Argentina is a country rich in resources.