[NEW YORK] Investors praised the speed with which new Argentine President Mauricio Macri made a cash offer to holders of defaulted bonds aimed at ending a long and bitter dispute that has strangled government finances.
A financial markets pariah since defaulting on a record $100 billion in 2002, Argentina proposed on Friday a US$6.5 billion payment to settle the legal battle and said two of the leading six "holdouts" in the case had already accepted the discounted terms. "We're very encouraged by the pace with which Argentina is finally resolving the outstanding disputes with all of its holdouts," said Shahriar Shahida, co-chief investment officer at New York-based Constellation Capital Management, which holds Argentine securities. "We're hopeful this government will have a much more conciliatory relationship with all of its creditors," Mr Shahida said.
As Mr Macri sought to woo multinational chief executives gathered at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month, the center-right leader told Reuters he wanted a "fair agreement"with the bondholders early this year.
Finance Minister Alfonso Prat-Gay said negotiations were continuing with creditors still pushing for an improved deal. They include billionaire Paul Singer's Elliott Management and Aurelius Capital Management. "There might be a chance that in the next few days they come on board," Mr Prat-Gay told Radio Mitre. "They're looking at the offer. They've been getting closer to our position."
Mr Macri's pursuit of a swift settlement contrasts with the defiant position of his leftist predecessor, Cristina Fernandez, who refused to offer better terms than the steep writedown accepted by most creditors in earlier bond restructurings.
She labeled the holdout investors "vultures".
Mr Macri needs a quick settlement to restore foreign investors'battered confidence and return Argentina to global debt markets. Foreign credit is sorely needed to bolster Argentina's thin central bank reserves and to finance a gaping fiscal deficit.
Obstacles to a final deal remain, however.
Argentina's offer represents a roughly 25 per cent discount on what they claim, and debt strategists expect the remaining holdouts to demand better terms.
Mr Macri will also need approval from Congress, where he lacks a majority.
If negotiations were to drag into the second half of the year, it might make it more difficult for Mr Macri to make good on election promises to revive the spluttering economy.
But for now, many investors are optimistic. "A deal will totally change the outlook. It will be extraordinary for this country," Cristiano Rattazzi, president of Fiat Argentina, told newspaper La Nacion, welcoming the prospect of lower sovereign and corporate borrowing costs.
Mr Alejo Costa, chief strategist at Buenos Aires-based brokerage Puente, said he expected bond prices to stage a modest rally of up to one cent on the dollar on Monday following news of the offer. More sustained gains would come with a final deal, he said. "We expect a three to four points once Elliott and Aurelius accept, and five more points at least once Congress approves it," Mr Costa said.