UPDATE 3-Argentine President-elect Macri says debt deal possible in 2016

(Adds analyst quote, Macri comments about government transition)

BUENOS AIRES, Dec 2 (Reuters) - Argentine President-elect Mauricio Macri on Wednesday expressed confidence a deal could be reached next year with U.S. creditors suing the country over unpaid debt.

Asked if a settlement was possible with so-called “holdout” creditors in 2016, Macri told Reuters: “Yes, of course.”

Argentina’s decade-long legal battle with a small group of U.S. investment firms tipped the South American country back into default in July last year.

A deal would allow Argentina, a financial markets pariah since its record default on $100 billion in debt in 2002, to regain access to global credit markets and ease an acute shortage of hard currency in Latin America’s third biggest economy.

“The backbone of Argentina’s new growth strategy is to find an agreement with the holdouts,” said Alberto Bernal, chief market strategist at U.S.-based XP Securities. “Macri needs to get this done.”

He won the Nov. 22 presidential runoff election promising to open the stagnating economy to investors by dismantling protectionist controls imposed by outgoing President Cristina Fernandez.

Macri made his comment about a possible debt deal as he greeted well-wishers after presenting his cabinet in the capital Buenos Aires’ botanical gardens. He did not say what the terms of an eventual agreement might look like.

Macri takes office on Dec. 10 and will inherit a fragile economy. Anemic growth is underpinned by unsustainable public spending and inflation is estimated at about 25 percent. Also, the peso currency is overvalued and the central bank is running precariously low on U.S. dollars.

Fernandez, barred by law from seeking a third straight term as president this year, recently met with Macri to talk about the hand-over of power, but Macri called the meeting unproductive.

“She has not demonstrated a spirit of cooperation,” he told reporters on Wednesday. “It seems the idea is to fill the transition process with obstacles and create as many problems as possible for the new government.”

The scion of a wealthy family, Macri vows to begin unwinding capital controls immediately. His incoming finance minister, Wall Street veteran Alfonso Prat-Gay, has acknowledged the hard currency crunch means a weakening of the peso’s official exchange rate is inevitable.

An agreement with the hedge fund holdouts, led by Paul Singer’s Elliott Management, is crucial if Argentina is to get back into the international bond market and rebuild hard currency reserves.

“If they can’t tackle the holdouts situation then they will be as financially constrained as Fernandez’s government was,” said Stuart Culverhouse, head of research at Exotix, an emerging markets broker.

The U.S. judge hearing the case brought by Singer, who rejected Argentina’s 2005 and 2010 bond restructurings, wants the government to negotiate a deal. The restructurings offered about 30 cents on the dollar, while Singer and the other holdout funds sued for full repayment of defaulted debt.

“Dialogue would at least show they are not running the Cristina approach. If you accept the court case, then there’s not much really to negotiate, you’ve just got to come up with a deal. Cristina never really accepted that,” Culverhouse said. (Additional reporting by Gabriel Burin; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)