"It's a mess. This does not help Argentina. Default could happen," Goldman Sachs analyst Alberto Ramos in New York said Thursday. "The markets will react negatively to this.'
The remedy also sent jitters through the legal departments of the most powerful financial institutions in the United States.
and the Clearing House, a trade group representing the world's largest commercial banks, told the judge to make sure his order won't affect the U.S. funds-transfer system, which automatically moves an average of $2.6 trillion a day in half a million transfers between more than 7,000 banks.
The entire system depends on transfers being "immediate, final and irrevocable" when processed. Requiring intermediaries to identify, stop and divert payments according to court orders "would impede the use of rapid electronic funds transfers in commerce by causing delays and driving up costs."
The judge dismissed these concerns Wednesday night, saying among other things that "if Argentina complies with the rulings of the Court of Appeals, there will be no problem."
As with so many other things involving Argentina, this case is rooted in the bloody dictatorship that ruled from 1976-1983. The military junta more than tripled the country's foreign debts. By 2001, the burden had become unsustainable and the economy collapsed. Argentina's $95 billion default still stands as a world record.
Sovereign debt is supposed to be paid no matter who runs a country, but Fernandez has always considered this defaulted debt to be illegitimate, forced onto the Argentines by dictators acting in concert with international financial speculators. She and her late husband and predecessor Nestor Kirchner, who took office in 2003, have never made any payments on the defaulted bonds.
Instead, they offered new bonds paying less than 30 cents for each dollar owed in default, and by 2010, 93% of the original bondholders agreed to the swaps. The debt relief granted by these "exchange bondholders" enabled Argentina to climb out of a deep economic crisis, and many analysts have described it as a model for Greece and other debt-burdened countries to consider.
Holdouts led by
NML Capital Ltd.
, an investment fund owned by U.S. billionaire Paul Singer, refused the swaps, insisting on payment in full plus interest. Singer's lawyers have traveled the world since then seeking to embargo Argentine assets, even getting its navy ship Libertad seized in Ghana as collateral. But they have never collected.