Exclusive: Argentine debt talks could reach a breakthrough in days - source

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina’s talks with creditors over restructuring around $65 billion in foreign debt could reach a breakthrough “in a matter of days,” a source close to the negotiations and familiar with the government’s thinking told Reuters on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: Pedestrians walk past the facade of the Buenos Aires Stock Exchange, in Buenos Aires, Argentina February 26, 2020. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

“There has been notable progress and a comprehensive deal is certainly possible in a matter of days, not months,” the person said, asking not to be named as the talks were private.

The crisis-prone country missed payments on about $500 million in already delayed bond coupons on Friday, creditors and a ratings agency said, marking Argentina’s ninth sovereign default.

The South American grains producer is at a critical point in bondholder talks that are key to avoiding a messy default like the one in 2001 that locked the country out of the international bond market for 15 years and tossed millions of middle-class Argentines into poverty.

“The negotiations continue on a course that we consider positive, with increasing mutual understanding. There is still an important distance to cover, but, more importantly, all sides remain at the table to find a solution,” the Economy Ministry said in a statement.

Argentina, already in recession before the economy got further drubbed by a coronavirus lockdown that began in March, has pushed the deadline for a deal to June 2 amid signs the two sides may be edging closer to an accord.

“The language in the sovereign’s press statement was notably softer than previously, which we have noted with appreciation,” said a source at one of the investment firms involved in the talks.

“However, the ball is in their court and we are still waiting to see a meaningful level of engagement on the remaining issues outstanding. I think a deal is possible in days but I am not betting on it,” said the investor, who asked not to be named.

Early on Friday, a group representing BlackRock, Ashmore and other investors acknowledged the government’s willingness to work with bondholders but said “over the last month, Argentina has had virtually no substantive engagement with its creditors.”

Explainer on Argentina’s debt conundrum:

Reporting by Hugh Bronstein, additional reporting by Rodrigo Campos in New York; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien