Predatory Hedge Funds and Argentina Face Supreme Court Showdown
December 17th, 2013
Majority Debt Holders Seek to End Standoff between Argentina and Holdouts
Argentina is expected to appeal to the US Supreme Court by mid-February in response to a US 2nd Circuit Court ruling ordering the country to pay $1.33 billion to predatory hedge funds. The precedent the case sets will hurt poor countries in financial distress and could allow a small group of hedge funds to target assets that benefit vulnerable populations. At the same time, debt holders who restructured their debt with Argentina have hired lawyers to help negotiate the dispute between holdout hedge funds and Argentina. Nearly 93% of debt holders restructured their debt with Argentina after the 2001 default. The majority of bondholders are concerned that their settlements could be disrupted if hedge funds win the final ruling.
“We agree with the concerns of the restructured bondholders,” said Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of Jubilee USA Network, a faith-based antipoverty organization. “We join the IMF, World Bank and White House in denouncing this extreme hedge fund behavior that takes advantage of the world’s poorest people.”
Once Argentina appeals to the Supreme Court, interested parties have 30 days to file an amicus or friend-of-the-court brief urging the Supreme Court to accept the case. The Supreme Court would likely decide by the summer whether or not it will actually hear the case. In a separate case currently before the Supreme Court, Argentina sought review of a lower court decision allowing NML Capital to seek information about Argentina’s non-US assets. The United States filed an amicus brief in support of Argentina, arguing that Argentina’s assets are immune from seizure under federal sovereign immunity law.
These cases go back to 2001, when Argentina defaulted on roughly $81 billion in debt. Multiple hedge funds purchased debt for pennies on the dollar. These hedge funds are called “vulture” funds because they prey on countries in financial distress and target assets that benefit poor populations. The nearly 93 percent of bondholders who restructured their debts with Argentina have seen the value of their bonds increase. The holdout hedge funds that are suing Argentina refused the deal several times and have instead sued for the full amount of the debt they purchased.
The opposition to vulture funds is widespread. Similar hedge fund claims against Argentina have been rejected by courts in Germany, and France filed an amicus brief in support of Argentina in a previous appeal to the Supreme Court. In lower court proceedings, the US government filed an amicus brief in support of Argentina, arguing that a ruling against Argentina could make it much more difficult for countries in financial recovery or facing economic stress to access credit and debt swaps. The IMF has also weighed in on the case, saying that the result would have major implications for how future sovereign debt is restructured.
“It’s rare that we see such a global consensus rejecting this predatory hedge fund behavior. These hedge funds hurt legitimate investors and poor people,” noted LeCompte.