Founder and president of Elliot Management Corporation Paul Singer
Washington - AFP
Argentina and two New York hedge funds ended a marathon legal battle Monday over billions of dollars of defaulted bonds when the country agreed in a tentative deal to pay most of their claims.
Dating back to the country's default on nearly $100 billion in 2001, the battle saw a group of extremely tough protagonists face off, from an unyielding billionaire speculator to a populist president focused on her legacy and a crotchety New York judge working out of retirement.
Here are the key players in the saga:
Carlos Menem and Domingo Cavallo
The Argentine president and his respected finance minister pegged the peso to the US dollar in the 1990s as part of sweeping reforms. That made the country highly attractive to lenders, and theirs and subsequent governments loaded up on debt. But the country plunged into recession in 1998, and by 2001 was forced to sharply devalue the peso and default on nearly $100 billion, the largest default in history at the time.
The billionaire owner of Elliott Management and NML Capital pioneered the strategy of buying up bankrupt governments' bonds and then launching aggressive legal action to make them pay in full.
When he made Peru pay up in the 1990s it proved the concept with a huge payday, and he quickly set his eyes on Argentina when it defaulted. His company, and Aurelius Capital, run by a protege, snapped up cheap defaulted Argentine bonds with the goal of forcing the country to pay them out in full. It took a decade in the courts, but they won.
Kirchner inherited the country's huge financial problems when she became president in 2007. She willingly made payments on the country's restructured debt, but, as an issue of principle and personal pride, refused to repay "holdouts" from the restructuring like the hedge funds. She branded them "vultures" and "extortionists" and used the unending fight to bolster her popularity with the Argentine public.
But when a New York judge favored the hedge funds, she found Argentina increasingly locked out of global capital markets and its economy steadily deteriorated.
The 85-year-old New York judge took on the Argentina case when he was already at retirement age and working just part-time. He probably never anticipated the length or complexity of the case, which tried his patience and at times left him confused and being coached by lawyers on both sides.
But it was his landmark ruling in 2012 to back the hedge funds' claim to full payment on their bonds that rocked the world of sovereign debt and put Buenos Aires in a corner it never escaped.
The country blasted him as biased toward the creditors and determined to force it back into default, but it could not reverse his judgments in appeals all the way to the US Supreme Court.
He showed little sympathy for the hedge funds but even less patience with the stalling tactics of Kirchner's government that kept him constantly summoned back to court by scores of New York's top lawyers fighting the case.
In November the businessman and former head of Argentina's most popular football club, Boca Juniors, tapped the frustration with the sinking Argentine economy and won the presidency against Kirchner's chosen successor.
Focused on restoring the country's access to international capital markets, Macri quickly abandoned Kirchner's refusal to pay, and essentially caved to most of the creditors' demands. While a deal will exact more financial pain on Argentina, in a recent interview with AFP Macri stressed that Argentina "must end its conflicts" and "must come back to the world and gain access to financing."