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Argentina suggests debt swap to dodge U.S. court ruling

Who needs the protection of U.S. law anyway? NORBERTO DUARTE/AFP--Getty Images

Argentina unveiled a new scheme to get round a U.S. court ruling that would force it to pay “holdout” investors in its defaulted sovereign bonds.

In a televised address late Monday, President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner announced a draft bill under which holders of the restructured bonds could voluntarily exchange them for new bonds issued under local law. Interest payments would then be made through Banco de la Nacion in Buenos Aires, rather than through Bank of New York Mellon.

The new initiative comes after the country was declared in default last month after a New York court blocked an interest payment to those investors who had accepted a restructuring of their bonds back in 2002. That restructuring involved a 65% haircut on the defaulted bonds.

Argentina only wants to service the restructured debt and refuses to pay the ‘holdouts’, led by NML Capital, a subsidiary of Paul Singer’s Elliot Management, and Aurelius Capital Management. No-one at either company was immediately able to comment early Wednesday.

Fernandez Kirchner’s bill is likely to be approved by parliament, where she enjoys majority support in both houses.

However, it’s far from clear how willing investors would be to give up the protection of U.S. or English law in order to get their money in the short term. Governments have always found it easier in the past to repudiate debts issued under local law because they can change the rules of the game when it suits them.

Such concerns are likely to weight heavily with investors, given that Argentina’s economy is stagnating and its currency has lost 40% of its value against the dollar in the last 18 months.