Argentina says #CiaoDefault, paying holdouts after 14 years

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina paid creditors on Friday who had refused debt restructurings after a record 2002 default, closing the book on nearly a decade of messy litigation as new President Mauricio Macri embraces global financial markets.

Argentina's Finance Minister Alfonso Prat-Gay attends the opening session of the 134th legislative term at the Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina, March 1, 2016. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci

U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa in Manhattan confirmed the payments and issued an order allowing Argentina to resume servicing its renegotiated bonds, lifting an injunction that had triggered another default in 2014.

“This payment agreement will allow us to reconnect with the world,” Finance Minister Alfonso Prat-Gay said in a statement.

The injunction against paying restructured debt was one of many hardball tactics that Griesa authorized against Macri’s predecessor, leftist leader Cristina Fernandez, who denounced the hard-line holdouts as “vulture funds.”

Those funds, led by Aurelius Capital Management and Elliott Management’s NML Capital Ltd, were among investors that received more than $6 billion in settlements on Friday, according to court documents. Argentina also set aside about $3 billion in escrow to cover holdouts that had not settled by Feb. 29.

“Judge Griesa expressed to me ... that it gave him the greatest pleasure to be able to exercise his discretion and lift the injunction as a result of the dramatically changed circumstances in Argentina following the election of President Macri,” Daniel Pollack, the court-appointed mediator in the case, said in a public statement.

Payments on restructured bonds should resume in the next few weeks.

“Injunction lifted. No more shackles. No more clamps. #CiaoDefault,” Prat-Gay wrote Friday on Twitter. “A new era is starting. Argentines are ready to start growing.”

Macri has focused on reconciling Argentina with global capital markets since he took office in December, curing the hangover of a $100 billion default in 2002, the largest ever at the time. He has promised a deal with holdouts will help unleash a wave of foreign investment to revive the stagnant economy.

“By taking decisive action to resolve a long-standing dispute, Argentina is turning a page on a difficult period of its history,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in a statement hailing the deal as “a milestone not only for Argentina but for the entire global financial system.”

Macri’s greatest success so far came on Tuesday, when Argentina sold $16.5 billion of sovereign debt, the biggest emerging market bond sale ever and the country’s first global issue in 15 years. The deal raised funds to pay the settlements on Friday, paving the way for corporate borrowers.

The central bank reported a $6.66 billion increase in reserves from the bond sale, bringing total reserves to $35.85 billion after running precariously low under Fernandez.

A fierce opponent of Macri’s free-market policies, Fernandez remains popular with millions of Argentines who benefited from her generous welfare policies in the aftermath of Argentina’s 2001/2002 economic crisis, which triggered the default.

Additional reporting by Nate Raymond, Davide Scigliuzzo and Daniel Bases in New York and Nicolas Misculin in Buenos Aires; Editing by Dan Grebler and Clive McKeef