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[Nov 30, 2015] Vulture Capitalists Are the Real Winners of Argentina's Elections

naked capitalism
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Yves here. This important Real News Network segment did not get the attention it deserved by virtue of running right after Turkey Day. And it is important to note that interviewee Henry James is far too polite in how he characterized the New York ruling by Judge Griesa against Argentina. Most bankruptcy efforts regard his calls on Argentina's restructuring (for instance, in trying to assert that his ruling has force in jurisdictions not subject to US law) have typically ranged from dubious to utterly batshit.

ESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

Wall Street is celebrating this week after Argentina elected a new conservative president. Conservative opposition leader Mauricio Macri beat the ruling party candidate by a 51-48 percent margin. The change in government could end a decade-long battle between hedge funds and Argentina over huge debt payments. You may remember back in 2001 Argentina set a record by defaulting on $95 billion worth of loans. Their economy tanked and vulture capitalists like Paul Singer swooped in and purchased nearly worthless debt after the default. Then they waited while the debt gained value, and now they want full repayment. A plan this new administration is more amenable to than sitting president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. She and her party have refused to pay the hedge funds for the past twelve years.

Here to give us more context is our guest James Henry. James is a leading economist, attorney, and investigative journalist who has written extensively about global issues. Thanks for joining us, James.

JAMES HENRY: You're very welcome.

DESVARIEUX: So James, Paul Singer, who I mentioned in the intro, he wants Argentina to pay back at least $1.5 billion. Why shouldn't they pay back these hedge funds? I mean, a New York judge recently said they should. So do you agree?

HENRY: No, I don't. I think, you know, governments don't have a bankruptcy court, unlike the rest of us. And so when they get into deep debt problems, by virtue in this case of the previous neoliberal government in Argentina under my classmate Domingo Cavallo, they ran up a huge foreign debt that they just could not service. And there was no place for Argentina to go other than to restructure that debt on its own. So they issued new bonds in 2004, and 95-98 percent of the bond owners, the creditors, that had bought Argentina debt, Argentine debt before, accepted those bonds and the terms of the bonds.

Paul Singer actually didn't buy the bonds that he owns in 2004-2005. He waited till 2008 and purchased them for $48 million. And today he's claiming the face value of the bonds he bought back then at $1.5 billion. So you know, that's–it's really a basic fault of the international system that we don't have a bankruptcy court for a government where they can work out reasonable payment terms and figure out how to restructure debts. Because every government in the world, including our own, gets into debt problems. But Argentina has a history of indebtedness. In the 1970s about half of the 2001 debt, $180 billion, came from the military junta during the 1970s. Nobody even knows where that money went, about $88 billion was inherited by the succeeding democratic government. And you know, it's outrageous to deny Argentina the right to restructure those odious debts.

But in fact, one of the good things about the Kirchner government, I mean, you can criticize them for being, you know, letting inflation getting out of control more recently, and corruption problems have emerged over a 12-year period. But one of the great legacies of this Kirchner government is that they reduce the debt to practically nothing. I mean, the current net public debt over looking at reserves for Argentina is less than $25 billion.

DESVARIEUX: And how did they do that?

HENRY: So I think the fact–what people are really worried about here, in fact, is that the Macri government might come in and do what previous neoliberal governments and military junta did, which is to run up the debt as an alternative to raising taxes.

DESVARIEUX: What is the new president proposing? How does he propose to handle the debt, and can you just speak briefly about how the Kirchner administration handled the debt?

HENRY: Well, they've engaged in this bond restructuring, and they stubbornly refused to negotiate with Singer, because it would make a, it would set a bad precedent. They were supported, by the way, with hedge funds all over the country that are basically supporting the Argentine position, as well as leading economists like Joe Stiglitz. I mean, I don't know of a single Western economist that, or even at the IMF, who doesn't agree that the vulture capitalists need to be put out of their misery.

But Macri has indicated that he's going to get beyond this issue and basically settle with Singer. And so, you know, because discussions will probably lead to a payout for Singer and he'll realize a huge return on this $48 million.

DESVARIEUX: All right. Let's turn the corner a bit, James, and let's talk about an alternative plan that would give everyday Argentines a more prosperous future. Considering, as you said before, massive inflation is happening in Argentina right now, declining cash reserves, and really a meager economic growth some say due to exclusion from the global markets post-default. Do you agree with that assessment, and what should be done to address the clear economic woes that the country currently faces?

HENRY: Well, one of the opportunities for Argentina is that their own citizens have about $400 billion offshore of private wealth that they've kept outside of the country. So I would love to see a government that was able to attract that investment back to Argentina. I think there's tremendous growth potential there. They have enormous resources, including, you know, some of the largest untapped oil reserves in the south.

This government has talked a good game. But I think in terms of mounting a concrete economic strategy to compete, they've lost a lot of opportunities, and they've been riding the backs of the commodity boom and the China growth spurt during the last decade. So you know, Argentina is a country with a very well-educated labor force. They have enormous natural resources. It's practically empty Much of the country is, you know, there's enormous agricultural potential there. But they have a, they've had a consistent–the whole century of sort of bad governance. The Kirchner government I think was actually relatively adept at solving certain problems, like I mentioned, with debt.

But on the tax front, one clear thing that they need to do is a tax reform not only reducing payroll taxes, which are exorbitant, but to have taxes, actually a more fair tax system that takes advantage of all this wealth that many wealthy Argentines have offshore. I would say focusing on the tax system would be one of the first priorities.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. James Henry, thank you so very much for joining us.

HENRY: Quite welcome.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

  1. Optimader

    Precisely what is great about Argentina, if only like in Greece the parasites didnt steal too much

    "… I think there's tremendous growth potential there. They have enormous resources, including, you know, some of the largest untapped oil reserves in the south…

    …So you know, Argentina is a country with a very well-educated labor force. They have enormous natural resources. It's practically empty Much of the country is, you know, there's enormous agricultural potential there. "

  2. Ishmael

    Having been involved in Argentina in the late 70's early 80's it is one of the most screwed up places in the world. My advice to anyone who is thinking about doing business in Argentina is forget about it. They have a culture of luring capital in and stealing it. There are only a few large families that run Argentina and it is like dealing with the Mafia.

    Argentina is another country attempting to make socialism work. The name of the Peronist party that has ran Argentina for most of the last 30 years translated into English is something like the Social Justice party. I have no sympathy for the people of Argentina. They have the country and government they deserve.

    Remember as I said earlier - Michigan = Argentina, Illinois = Venezuela and California = Brazil. All going the way of Puerto Rico.

    For those who think that Sweden is a socialist heaven and if the US was like it then people would never have to work again you should read –

    I also lived in worked in Scandanavia. I can tell you the reality is totally different than the perception. Few Americans would want anything like it. I was told that I was the best Expatriate they ever had but that is because I can live rough.

      1. Ishmael

        Ah, you must be referencing the Gringoes that come in and exploit the poor South American country. Yeah, that's it!

        As I was sitting one day enjoying a beer in one of those countries after visiting a mine I had a national come in and sing that sad song to me. I looked at him and told him if his country had any balls they would finance these ventures themselves and they would not need us Gringoes. Oh, but let us not forget the people lined up out there looking for jobs in that mine!


        1. JTMcPhee

          So ishie, would you be acquainted with any of the other "economic hit men" our Imperial Grigo government sent to trash and endebt those little countries down there, or School of the Americas graduates or faculty, how about death-squadders, folks like that?

          Argentina has rape-able resources, and dispossess able indigens, and a lot of other similarities to the USA? Including a set of expat Nazis?


  3. Jim Haygood

    'So I would love to see a government that was able to attract [$400 billion of offshore wealth] back to Argentina.'

    Essential policy changes to lure back flight capital are: (1) Scrap the dual exchange rate regime by ending capital controls; (2) Settle holdout debt and restore the country's credit rating; (3) Replace political hacks at the central bank with competent people who will stop the inflation.

    By no coincidence, president-elect Macri has promised to do all these things.


    1. optimader

      So I would love to see a government that was able to attract [$400 billion of offshore wealth] back to Argentina.'

      I don't believe any presently living generation would repatriate offshore wealth even if an unprecedented political/economic overhaul happened tomorrow. It is ingrained in the society.
      Personally I do feel sympathy for the poor shlubs that live there that go to work every day and just try and get along. The older folk that have been wealth stripped have no chance to recover.
      And yes, unless a business transition payment happens ex-Argentina, your nuts.
      The old saw about doing business in Russia applies. "there's a lot of money to be made in ******, as long as you don't plan on trying to take it out of the country"


      1. Ishmael

        Optimader – my thoughts exactly! Only a complete idiot would put money into any south american country. It is my recollection that those bonds referenced above were issued under New York state law which protects against the kind of default Argentina performed. The reason that they had to be issued under New York state law is no one would purchase bonds issued under Argentina law because they have defaulted so many times.

        Last year I came out of a meeting with management of a large company that was surprised that Venezuela govt did not make a scheduled payment on debt. Management was surprised. The rest of us were surprised that management expected the payment. In other words we were surprised they were surprised. Let me give you the MO on South America. Gringo, come on down and invest you can make a lot of money here and then later "Yes, you made money but we did not say you will get to keep it."

        Argentina is the way it is because the Argentine people are the way they are.

        I do not cry for Argentina!


        1. Crazy Horse

          "The USA is the way it is because the American people are the way they are."

          Now I understand why the American people sat by wordlessly while the MERS fraud stripped the ownership and equity value from their homes and turned them into renters and trailer trash.

          And that must explain why they have no quarrel with a government that spends a trillion dollars a year of their tax money on boondoggles like F35 joint strike fighter and permanent warfare all around the world in support of the most bloodthirsty "allies" it can find.


          1. Ishmael

            I agree with that statement. Americans are getting the govt they deserve. People vote in scumbags for a few crumbs while their politicians and their handlers steal the country blind. In fact I have said for quite a while that we are following the road of Argentina. If you see above the Peronist party's name translated into English was the social justice party. Isn't that what most people that post here are really crying out for - we need social justice! In the end you will get a place like Argentina!


            1. two beers

              We're crying out for social justice, and that's the problem?

              Okay, then, we demand (even more) social injustice!

              That better for you, Aynshmael?


            2. Crazy Horse

              Ever happen to think that " the American people are the way they are because that is the way the USA is." ??

              Do people vote in scumbags because they are stupid or because the system only offers up scumbags in the electoral charade? When almost all the levers of power in the system are controlled by an oligarchy is it the people's fault that they haven't burned the oligarchs at the stake? Well, maybe it is, or perhaps they have just been subjected to too successful a brainwashing program. Or are too busy trying to pay the kids medical bills.

              Blaming Argentina's or the USA's condition solely upon the "people" or the "sheeple" is a cop-out something like blaming crime in black ghetto neighborhoods upon the presence of people with black skin.


              1. Ishmael

                As I indicated earlier, a large percentage of the American (and Argentinian) people vote for who they do to get hand outs and also fear! Listen to Hitlary's and Bernie – Free this and Free that. Let's give everyone free college. How about a free Obama phone! Need an EBT card here it is. How about free health care. Do you think they promise this if it does not get them votes. The Peron's came to power due to handouts.

                Now a big push on the Republicans is fear. We spend more of the rest of the world combined on defense and they still do not feel safe.

                There is something called "dependency ratio" which shows the ratio of everyone riding on the back of private employees since they pay the bills to fund everything. The US now has one of the highest dependency ratios in the world and it is even higher than Sweden. Argentina also has a high dependency ratio.

                Hand outs and fear drives this nation.


        2. Alejandro

          Somehow your simplistic narrative doesn't account for the [$400 billion of offshored "wealth"], assuming "wealth" infers financial claims and "offshore" means not in Argentina. Certainly you don't believe that the fairy tale tandem of "risk-free" and "magic of compound interest" is a cultural construct of S. America, do you?


          1. Ishmael

            Ah no. As I indicated earlier there are several large families that basically run the country in Argentina who (1) raped and pillaged the country and (2) raped and pillaged the gringoes they conned into investing there. These families were given cover by politicians and military junta! That is who owns that money!


    2. Gorgeous Borges


      I am not repatriating wealth back to Argentina, but plan to buy property in Buenos Aires, soon. The new Macri government should provide the perfect opportunity to invest in property, in a new era of economic freedom sans capital controls.

      My only concern is the apparent rising resentment of gringos and wonder if anti-American sentiment is on the upswing or waning. Crime is also a consideration.


  4. steelhead23

    I bet the right wing spent a considerable sum getting Sr. Macri elected. It is now payback time. My heart bleeds for you, Argentina.


  5. ChrisFromGeorgia

    It can't be stressed enough that Singer's hedge fund bought their Argentinian bonds well AFTER they defaulted.
    They were truly speculators, and should face the same market discipline any small investor would when trying to play distressed investor.

    Besides, there is no market-based reason for Macri to even talk to these vulture funds. If he wants to re-enter the capital markets outside of Argentina, he can simply move all trading out of New York and over to Europe where a different legal system applies. In today's yield starved environment, someone will buy those bonds, perhaps with coupons paying in Euros.

    There is one not so nice reason as the poster above writes – he may have taken money from Singer in his election campaign.


    1. Ishmael

      Oh, those evil speculators. Really it does not matter one iota if Singer bought these bonds after Argentina defaulted. These bonds have various legal protections. I know we should not let the law get in the way of the FSA!

      It is my recollection that there is wording on these bonds or something which keeps Argentina from making an end around on them by issuing additional bonds in Europe. You do not think Kirchner would have done this if she could of? You do not think the international banks would have sold bonds to more saps (who knows how many times Argentina has defaulted on debt) if they could have and collected the fees. It is my recollection that Argentina has attempted several legal maneuvers in Europe to no avail.

      Now it is also my recollection that there is a time limit on the protection and that soon that will be over and Argentina will then be able to bypass these bonds and sell additional bonds on the market. If it does not expire this year then it expires next year.


      1. JTMcPhee

        Yah, bonds are risk-free ironclad CONTRACTS, right? How parasites get a bad name…

        Maybe Schkreli has a position open that would suit your resume…


  6. Bob Stapp

    I lived in Argentina off and on for 7 years ending in 2011. I was a witness to most of the Kirchners' doings. They played the populist card and pandered to the masses in shameless fashion, all the while feathering their own nest and those of their cronies with gains harvested from those same teeming masses. That said, they were certainly no worse than the elites in the U.S. who are poisoning the well both in their country and around the world with their unfettered greed and corruption and they at least were able to keep Argentina out of the U.S. MOTU orbit.

    Which brings us to Paul Singer.

    A more despicable example of everything that's wrong with the globalist capitalist system simply could not be found. The revulsion and disgust I've experienced reading about his slimy manipulation of the global financial system in general and Argentina in particular I can't put into words. Would Scioli have been preferable to Macri? I guess it all depends on what kind of sub-human trash you would prefer to see as President of a proud, endlessly beleaguered country full of wonderful human beings.


[Dec 11, 2012] The extortionate operations of NML Capital - World Socialist Web Site

By Ernst Wolff
11 December 2012

Last month, a New York court issued a judgment demanding that Argentina settle debts totalling $1.33 billion, with the sum to be paid into an escrow account by December 15 this year.

The plaintiff was the hedge fund NML Capital, owned by the American billionaire Paul Singer. He had refused to accept the terms of the debt restructuring by Argentina following the country's sovereign default in December 2001. Under the debt restructuring plan, 93 percent of creditors were required to forfeit 70 percent of their investments. Singer's company sued for full payment on its holdings.

On November 27, Fitch Ratings warned that a payment default by Argentina was likely because the court ruling could have a snowball effect, leading other investors to demand full payment on bonds totalling an estimated $11 billion. The agency downgraded the long-term creditworthiness of the country by five levels, from "B" to "CC," and its short-term credit rating from "B" to "C".

On November 28, an appeals court in New York issued a temporary restraining order on the judgment due to its far-reaching international consequences. Further legal negotiations are due to start on February 17, 2013.

The legal battles led to a near 15 percent plunge in the value of Argentine government bonds in November, with the premiums for credit default swaps quadrupling, exceeded worldwide only by Greek government bonds.

The dispute between the Argentine government and NML Capital sheds light on the criminal methods employed by international finance capital in times of crisis. It also shows the class character of the judiciary, which is quite prepared to hang the mantle of respectability on such dubious practices.

NML Capital is a subsidiary of the New York hedge fund Elliott Associates, which has specialized in speculation related to the threat of state bankruptcy. The modus operandi is very simple. If a state gets into financial difficulties, its bonds fall in value. Most investors, fearing a default, sell their holdings and drive down the price even further. When the bonds have sunk almost to junk status, Elliott Associates intervenes, buying up assets and then employing an army of lawyers specializing in international bankruptcy law to claim the full face value of the securities.

This strategy was first used by the hedge fund in 1995 in Panama. It bought assets nominally worth $28.8 million at a price of $17.5 million, began legal proceedings, and at the end of the process pocketed $58 million, including interest.

A year later, the strategy was repeated in Peru. It purchased bank loans with a face value of $20.7 million for $11.7 million. After four years of litigation, Elliot Associates pocketed $55.7 million.

The next victim was the Democratic Republic of Congo, which, according to the human development index of the United Nations, is the poorest country in the world. Here the hedge fund's subsidiary, Kensington International Inc., bought bonds nominally worth $32.6 million for less than ten percent of their face value and sued for repayment of $100 million. British courts have so far awarded almost $40 million of this total.

Elliot Associates and its various subsidiaries are not the only firms that profit from such deals. According to the World Bank, 26 different hedge funds have rewarded their investors with around a billion dollars using the same strategy. An additional $1.3 billion in debt repayment is said to be outstanding.

Official political circles have sought to distance themselves from these hedge funds. Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called them "morally abhorrent", and the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, together with the international financial media, often refer to them as "vulture funds" and "cutthroats".

Yet nothing has been done to curtail their activities. The reason is that hedge funds like Elliot Associates function within the prescribed laws of the system and basically do nothing other than what capitalism asks of them: make profits.

¡No! Why Argentina Refuses to Pay Its Debts

the International Monetary Fund flood crooked regimes with overpriced credit
Bloomberg Business

Oh, but the saga portrayed on those panels! Banks, bond investors, and the International Monetary Fund flood crooked regimes with overpriced credit. The Argentine economy collapses, and the people suffer. International markets are roiled. It happens time and time again. The story has all the emotions of a good tango.

The latest was in July 2014, when Argentina defaulted rather than give in to pressure from Paul Singer of Elliott Management. The fight with Singer has been going on for a dozen years, and the term vulture investor-rather esoteric in much of the world-is now pretty much universally known in Argentina. It's so much on people's minds that Buenos Aires toy stores carry a homegrown board game called Vultures, packaged in a box depicting a pair of the birds picking at a pile of dollars. "We planted the anti-vulture flag in the world," President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner said in a speech in mid-May. "We gave a name to international usury and despotism."

One May morning at the debt museum, guide Antonella Fagnano, a 21-year-old business major, describes Argentines' attitude toward default. She pauses by a black-and-white photo of the late General Jorge Videla, who led a 1976 coup that ushered in a seven-year dictatorship. Successive presidents in that period loaded up on foreign debt to finance, among other things, the 1982 Falklands War with the U.K.

Today's Argentina, Fagnano says, has no moral obligation to make good on debts like those. In fact, it would be wrong to pay. "Foreigners financed a lot of leaders, like these dictators. They didn't do what they were supposed to do with the money, and left future generations the debt," she says, shaking her head. "So, of course, you cannot allow that."

Fernandez is nearing the end of her term, and it doesn't look like things will change under the next president. Daniel Scioli, the front-runner for October elections, vows to carry on the fight against paying the vultures in full.

The Guardian

Billionaire hedge fund managers have called on Puerto Rico to lay off teachers and close schools so that the island can pay them back the billions it owes.

The hedge funds called for Puerto Rico to avoid financial default – and repay its debts – by collecting more taxes, selling $4bn worth of public buildings and drastically cutting public spending, particularly on education.

The group of 34 hedge funds hired former International Monetary Fund (IMF) economists to come up with a solution to Puerto Rico's debt crisis after the island's governor declared its $72bn debt "unpayable" – paving the way for bankruptcy.

The funds are "distressed debt" specialists, also known as vulture funds, and several have also sought to make money out of crises in Greece and Argentina, the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the near collapse of Co-op Bank in the UK.

The report, entitled For Puerto Rico, There is a Better Way, said Puerto Rico could save itself from default if it improves tax collection and drastically cuts back on public spending.

It accused the island, where 56% of children live in poverty, of spending too much on education even though the government has already closed down almost 100 schools so far this year.

The report, by Jose Fajgenbaum, Jorge Guzmán and Claudio Loser – all former IMF economists who now work for Centennial Group, said Puerto Rico had increased education spending by $1.4bn over the past decade while enrolment had declined by about 25% as hundreds of thousands of families fled to the US mainland in an effort to escape poverty.

Puerto Rico debt crisis: austerity for residents, but tax breaks for hedge funds

Puerto Rico has actively courted billionaires and hedge fund investors as it has struggled with its mounting debts. It sold hundreds of millions worth of debt to vulture funds last year.

Fajgenbaum told the Guardian that the Puerto Rico government had been "massively overspending on education". He said spending had increased by 39% to $4.8bn over the last decade while attendance had fallen from more than 765,000 to 573,000.

He declined to state by how much the government should cut spending, but said: "The real expense per student has increased enormously without increasing the quality of education. It's for the government to decide [how much to cut spending by], but you don't want to waste government resources. There has to be efficiencies. It is more important to establish a position for growth."

Puerto Rico's current education spending works out at $8,400 per student, below the US national average of $10,667.

Víctor Suárez, chief of staff to Puerto Rico's governor Alejandro García Padilla, said: "The simple fact remains that extreme austerity [alone] is not a viable solution for an economy already on its knees."

Luis Gallardo, majority municipal legislator for Aguas Buenas, said the hedge fund-commissioned report was a "typically IMF recipe for radical austerity".

"They are proposing teacher layoffs, cuts in higher education and health benefits, as well as increased taxes. These proposals have been a disaster for Latin America and would be so for Puerto Rico. Sure, Puerto Rico could pay its debt, but at what cost? We are literally cutting off our own limbs just to stay afloat.

"The Puerto Rican government has already closed down almost 100 schools this year and reconfigured 500 more, as well has having closed down 60 the year prior. I am not sure what else they are expecting. If they expect us to lay off teachers or cut their already-low salaries, they are out of their minds.

"These guys need to chill out and give Puerto Rico some breathing space."

Gallardo said it was shocking that the hedge funds "expect teachers, students and workers to absorb the hit, and they are not willing to budge themselves".

The hedge fund-commissioned report comes after former IMF official Anne Krueger said, in a report commissioned by the Puerto Rican government, that the island's crisis could be solved but only if the bondholders, including the hedge funds, accepted a significant debt restructuring.

The funds, which include New York-based Fir Tree Partners, Davidson Kempner Capital Management and Aurelius Capital, are known as the Ad Hoc Group of Puerto Rico and hold $5.2bn of Puerto Rico bonds.

Fir Tree Partners, which is named after its multibillionaire founder Jeff Tannenbaum (which means fir tree in German), made a lot of money by betting on complex debt securities in the 2008 financial crisis, and from the Greek and Argentinian debt crises.

Aurelius Capital, which is run by billionaire Mark Brodsky, sued Argentina for repayment of debts and forced the Co-op to give up control of its troubled bank. The company was also one of the investors that initially objected to Detroit's bankruptcy plans.

Fajgenbaum and Loser said the hedge funds did not influence the content of their report, and declined to state how much money they were paid for their work.

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Last modified: March, 12, 2019