'Meters apart': Argentina edges towards deal with creditors, but work remains

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina’s government and its creditors are edging toward a deal to revamp $65 billion in foreign debt but still have a distance to close between an initial offer from the government and counteroffers from bondholders ahead of a Friday deadline.

FILE PHOTO: Argentine one hundred peso bills are displayed in this picture illustration taken September 3, 2019. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian/Illustration/File Photo

The progress has buoyed Argentine bonds, which rose over 10% last week and were up again on Monday. The government has set a Friday deadline for a deal, when it faces $500 million in interest payments that if missed could trigger a default.

The South American country’s creditors made counteroffers late last week after rejecting an initial proposal from the government involving a three-year payment halt, a 62% cut to coupon payments and maturities pushed to 2030 and beyond.

However, more work needs to be done, with Argentina’s government steadfast that any deal needs to meet its own analysis of what would be sustainable, as well as one by major lender the International Monetary Fund.

“The counterproposals represent progress. But the two sides remain meters, not centimeters, away from what could work,” a source familiar with the negotiations with creditors who asked not be named as the talks are private told Reuters.

“If you take their offer at face value it is not only beyond what the government would find acceptable but is beyond what would work in an IMF framework as well.”

Argentine Economy Minister Martin Guzman declined to comment.

The counteroffers from major creditor groups call for a shorter one-year grace period on payments and higher average interest rates than the government’s initial proposal.

The progress has though helped lower Argentina’s risk index. Spreads over safe-haven U.S. Treasuries closed 144 basis points lower on Monday, and bond prices rose 3.3% as the government mulled the counteroffers from creditors.

Talks may also go on beyond Friday’s deadline as the recession-hit country looks to defuse the debt crisis and revive its economy, even as the major grains producer is simultaneously being sideswiped by the coronavirus pandemic.

The person with knowledge of the talks said the government’s restructuring offer came in at about 40 cents on the dollar and the counter-offers were just under 60 cents on the dollar.

Argentine bonds are already trading at distressed levels mostly between around 30-35 cents on the dollar after a sharp fall last year as fears rose about a potential sovereign default, which would be the country’s ninth.

“Discussions are ongoing. The next several days will be crucial,” said the person. “We will talk about what happens after Friday on Friday.”

Reporting by Hugh Bronstein; additional reporting by Walter Bianchi; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Steve Orlofsky