South America

The International Monetary Fund will send another mission to Argentina to continue debt strategy talks and discuss “next steps,” an IMF spokesman said on Thursday, as the South American nation seeks to renegotiate its $57 billion financing package, Reuters reported. The IMF technical team will arrive in Buenos Aires next week for meetings with economy ministry officials about the government’s economic program, the spokesman said. The fund’s last mission to Argentina ended just over a week ago.

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The first coronavirus case in Latin America sent currencies tumbling across the region Thursday as investors became increasingly risk averse, Bloomberg News reported. All Latin American currencies were among the worst performers in emerging markets, with Brazil’s real reaching an all-time low despite the central bank intervention and the Mexican peso dropping to the weakest since early December. Both the Colombian and Chilean pesos were on track to reach their all-time lows.

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As Argentina descends into a hellscape for creditors, with bond prices taking a fresh leg down as each new development saps spirits, there are a few securities bucking the trend, Bloomberg News reported. Investors are sorting through billions of dollars of Argentine debt, some of it trading at deeply distressed levels below 50 cents on the dollar, in search of bonds that are being unfairly punished for the federal government’s problems.

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In mid-August, Argentina’s farmers, en masse, ran out of patience. They wanted the cash they were owed and wanted it fast, Bloomberg News reported. Days earlier, leftist politician Alberto Fernandez had scored a resounding primary victory that made clear he’d win the October presidential election, and speculation was starting to swirl that he’d impose new taxes. One after another, the farmers called their grains brokers to lock in prices on the soybean cargoes they had already turned over and collect the proceeds.

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Investors are braced for acrimonious negotiations with Argentina and a possible default after the IMF backed a big haircut for creditors without urging the country to implement austerity measures. Bondholders were alarmed when the IMF failed to demand that Argentina rein in its budget deficit, the Financial Times reported. They feared that the fund was siding with President Alberto Fernández, whose government has insisted that it will only reach a balanced budget by 2023, with no reduction this year.

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The IMF has called for a major debt restructuring in Argentina in which private creditors would take a significant hit, after deeming the country’s debt to be unsustainable. In a statement issued on Wednesday following a week of “very productive” talks with government officials in Buenos Aires, the fund said Argentina’s debt had “deteriorated decidedly” since its last assessment in July, the Financial Times reported.

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Argentina may be in deep financial trouble but its central bank is comfortably back in the black -- thanks to a small accounting maneuver, Bloomberg News reported. A little-noticed decision by policy makers late last year to change the way they value government bond holdings transformed the central bank’s balance sheet overnight, turning what had been a net worth of negative $2 billion into positive $33 billion.

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The International Monetary Fund, as the lender of last resort, won’t offer a haircut on its Argentina loan after Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner called on the institution to take a loss, Bloomberg News reported. “Our legal construct is such that we cannot do measures that may be possible for others without this big global responsibility,” Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said Sunday in a Bloomberg Television interview in Dubai. An IMF technical mission is in Buenos Aires through Feb. 19 to meet with Argentina officials and assess the country’s debt sustainability.

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Argentine bonds took a beating on Thursday after the economy minister warned that a “deep debt restructuring” was on the way, and promised to take a tough stance with creditors while refusing to impose fiscal austerity on the shrinking economy, Reuters reported. Over the counter bond prices RPLATC fell an average 2% while Argentina’s risk spread 11EMJ shot out 118 basis points to 2,068 over safe-haven U.S. Treasury paper.

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Argentina’s economy minister confirmed bondholders’ worst fears, telling them to brace for significant losses as the country restructures its debt amid an economic crisis, Bloomberg News reported. Martin Guzman warned Wednesday that holders of Argentine debt will probably be disappointed by the restructuring, without providing specifics on how steep losses could be. “It’s necessary to have a deep debt restructuring,” he said at a congressional hearing where he provided his most detailed comments about debt strategy since taking office in December.

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