U.S. judge orders Argentina, creditors to meet until deal reached
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. judge ordered Argentina and investors who did not participate in the country's past debt restructurings to meet "continuously" with a court-appointed mediator until a settlement is reached, warning of the threat of a new default.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa in New York told Argentina and lawyers for investors who declined to restructure their bonds after the country defaulted on about $100 billion in 2002 that time was running out to reach a deal and avert a fresh default.
"That is about the worst thing I can envision. I don't want that to happen," the judge said.
Jonathan Blackman, a lawyer for Argentina, Latin America's No. 3 economy, said even with around-the-clock talks, it would be "unlikely, if not impossible, to result in settlement."
"It simply can't be done by the end of the month," he said.
Griesa ordered the parties to meet with Daniel Pollack, a New York lawyer appointed to oversee settlement talks, "continuously until a settlement is reached." Pollack scheduled a meeting Wednesday at 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT).
Pollack, who was appointed June 23 as a mediator, has been holding meetings with the parties, publicly acknowledging talking twice with Argentine officials.
The Argentine economy ministry did not respond to requests for comment after the hearing.
The presidency of Argentina said in a statement that "Judge Griesa ... resolved absolutely nothing on any of the issues which had been brought before him."
The statement made no reference to Griesa's order that both sides meet with the mediator and did not say whether or not government officials would attend. A lead holdout creditor, Elliott Management's NML Capital Ltd, said in a statement it was prepared to meet with Pollack to resolve the dispute.
"We are confident this matter could be resolved quickly if Argentina would join us in settlement discussions," NML said.
Argentine over-the-counter dollar-denominated bonds slid following the hearing, before recovering some of the losses. The bid price on the Discount bond was down 1.1 percent on a day earlier at $86.65 at 1725 local time (2025 GMT) while the Par bond was 0.8 percent lower at $50.80.
"Clearly Argentina is running out of time," said Ignacio Labaqui, an analyst for consultancy Medley Global Advisors. "Today is the first time I have seen the market believing that Argentina might default. It's up to Argentina to decide what it will do."
Argentina has been pushed to the brink of a fresh debt default by U.S. court decisions that it pay $1.33 billion plus interest to bondholders who did not participate in debt swaps in 2005 and 2010. The holdouts are led by NML and Aurelius Capital Management.
The country argues paying the holdouts would open it up to as much as $15 billion in claims from other investors and further strain its financial condition.
At Tuesday's hearing, Argentina renewed its request that the judge stay enforcement of his orders. Griesa said the step was not necessary, as there are "ways to do something to avoid default."
A lawyer for Aurelius, Edward Friedman, meanwhile urged him to reconsider part of a decision last month allowing Citigroup Inc to process payments Argentina made for bonds governed by the country's local laws. Friedman said payments should not be allowed on U.S. dollar-denominated bonds.
Bank of New York Mellon Corp asked the judge to allow it to hold onto $539 million Argentina deposited last month for a payment to the restructured bondholders. Griesa previously ordered the sum returned, saying it violated his orders.
Griesa on Tuesday issued no ruling on the Citigroup issue, and told BNY Mellon and the holdouts to see if they could reach an agreement.