South America

Brazilian telecommunications firm Oi SA is in talks with Spain’s Telefonica SA and Italy’s Telecom Italia SpA to sell its mobile network to avoid insolvency, five people with knowledge of the matter said, Reuters reported. Oi has been struggling to turn around its business since filing for bankruptcy protection in June 2016 to restructure approximately 65 billion reais of debt.

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Brazilian sugar and ethanol maker Grupo Moreno, which operates three plants in the heart of Brazil’s sugarcane belt, has filed for bankruptcy protection, the law firm advising the company told Reuters on Thursday. The move underscores problems caused by poor margins in the sugar business in recent years and a depressed domestic ethanol market between 2011 and 2015, when the Brazilian government kept gasoline prices artificially low to fight inflation, turning ethanol margins negative, Reuters reported.

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The International Monetary Fund has a tough choice to make in Argentina: Unlock over $5 billion in funds under the country’s loan deal as the government strains to stave off default, or hold the money back and risk sparking more market panic, Reuters reported. The IMF, which agreed a $57 billion line of credit with the South American nation last year, needs to make a decision on releasing the latest tranche of those funds. The disbursement was originally set to be made this month.

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Argentina is, by nearly all accounts, catapulting toward default after running up more than $100 billion of debt. Some say it’s just months away. Others say it’s actually already happened on a small portion of bonds, Bloomberg News reported. For even the casual observer, the whole thing has a certain feeling of deja vu. The South American nation is a defaulting machine with few peers in the world. The first episode came in 1827, just 11 years after independence. The most recent one came in 2014.

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Fund managers recently burned by Argentina are doubling down on the country’s bonds, saying that prices have dropped to levels that should offer solid returns, the Financial Times reported. Many investors endured big marked-to-market losses in the wake of August’s primary election, which paved the way for a return of a Peronist government. Stocks and bonds plunged, while the peso dropped lost more than one-fifth of its value against the US dollar.

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Argentina was not invited to the Bretton Woods conference in 1944 that created the IMF, and it did not join until 1956, The Economist reported. But it has been making its presence felt ever since. At the end of August a team from the IMF visited Buenos Aires to assess the lie of the land before deciding whether to give Argentina’s government, led by Mauricio Macri, any more of the record $57bn loan (worth over 10% of Argentina’s 2018 GDP) agreed last year. But as the team left town, the landscape shifted.

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A $15 billion pile of provincial bonds is lurking below the surface of Argentina’s already imposing sovereign debt load, setting the latest fiscal fiasco apart from any in the country’s history and threatening to saddle foreign investors with even more losses, Bloomberg News reported. The nation’s provinces were among the most prolific issuers when international capital markets reopened to Argentina following business-friendly President Mauricio Macri’s election in 2015.

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A funding crisis risks getting worse for Argentina’s government unless it can strike deals with a mix of local, foreign and multilateral creditors who are owed $101bn of debt, the Financial Times reported. Last week Mauricio Macri, the country’s embattled president, announced that the country had postponed payment on $7bn of short-term local debt for up to six months and was seeking a “voluntary reprofiling” of $50bn of longer-term debt, the majority of which is held by foreign investors.

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The sell-off in Argentina bonds is so severe that it may soon attract distressed-debt investors betting that there’s money to be made in a restructuring. With overseas notes trading at about 38 cents on the dollar, the vulture funds are probably still a ways from swooping in, Bloomberg News reported. Shops including Morgan Stanley and Merian Global Investors expect buyers with a strong appetite for risk will emerge at about 30 cents.

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President Mauricio Macri’s administration is preparing to send plans to Congress on Monday to reschedule Argentina’s long-term debt, after rating agencies said the country had defaulted on its short-term obligations last week, the Financial Times reported. The measures are part of Mr Macri’s attempts to stave off a full-blown debt crisis by changing the repayments schedule for up to $50bn of obligations.

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