Restructuring Argentina’s Sovereign Debts – Navigating the Legal Labyrinth
23 Pages Posted: 22 Nov 2019 Last revised: 4 Mar 2020
Date Written: November 12, 2019
On Feb. 19, 2020, the IMF declared that Argentina’s debts were no longer sustainable and called upon bondholders to help resolve the crisis. A schedule for the restructuring of Argentina’s external debt has been announced by the Argentina Ministry of Finance on Jan. 29, 2020. According to the Ministry, Argentina plans to launch a debt restructuring offer in the second week of March and execute the offer by the end of March.
This short essay provides an overview of the intricate challenges that Argentina would be facing in a potential restructuring of its sovereign debt obligations, with a focus on the legal aspects. After mapping the respective debt instruments, which include domestic debt, international sovereign bonds, as well as loans from international financial institutions, I turn to the key legal obstacles when it comes to the (unilateral) restructuring.
The paper posits that the most significant legal risks are likely to occur with respect to international bonds and disruptive legal actions taken by their holders. Uncooperative creditors may engage in holdout tactics with the goal of obtaining a better settlement than their peers by refusing to settle and ultimately launching litigation proceedings in foreign courts. The latest type of Argentine bonds ("Macri bonds") include modern, fully-aggregated, single-limb Collective Action Clauses (CACs), which are powerful in ameliorating such holdout inefficiencies. However, several older bonds ("Kirchner bonds") feature an outdated model of CACs, and generally afford stronger enforcement rights to bondholders. Unsurprisingly, creditor holding Kirchner bonds have already formed committees to leverage their negotiation position. Another related difficulty that this paper reviews arises from the requirement in Argentina's newer ("Macri") bonds that a restructuring offer must be "uniformly applicable" for all affected series of bonds. Given the two different sets of bond contracts involved, this requirement may lead to complex transactional and design questions. Finally, with respect to the interpretation of the pari passu clause included in Argentina's bond prospectuses, the essay argues that a recent decision by the Southern District Court of New York significantly reduced the risks of specialized holdouts attacking a majority-approved debt workout.
To be sure, modern sovereign bond restructurings rest on the basic premise of bondholder democracy. In other words, as long as a sufficient majority of creditors accepts a restructuring offer, most legal obstacles can be overcome. However, the entrance of specialized distressed-debt managers the market suggests that some investors will gamble for a better deal, or try to leverage their contractual rights against the country in a classic holdout manner. While Argentina certainly finds itself in a legally superior position compared to its last debt crisis, the country will soon have to sail into choppy legal seas where all sorts of hazards lurk - some of which the country is all too familiar with.
Keywords: Sovereign Debt, Sovereign Debt Restructuring, Argentina, Financial Crisis, Holdouts, Collective Action Clauses, Pari Passu, International Monetary Fund, Vulture Funds, Litigation
JEL Classification: F34, G01
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation