Argentina will file its final US Supreme Court appeal in the NML Capital hedge fund debt case before this Tuesday, February 18th. Legal observers, economists, investors, the United Nations, the Obama Administration, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the religious community have closely monitored the proceedings.
"The final outcome affects poverty around the globe, over a decade of US bipartisan debt policy and the profits of legitimate investors," stated Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of the religious debt campaign, Jubilee USA Network. "The religious community applauds the global consensus to deter and not reward this exploitative, predatory behavior."
Argentina's Supreme Court filing responds to a US 2nd Circuit Court ruling ordering the country to pay $1.33 billion to predatory hedge funds and other holdout bond holders. A final ruling in favor of the holdouts will hurt poor countries in financial distress and could allow a small group of hedge funds to target assets that benefit vulnerable populations. At the same time, the majority of debt holders who previously restructured their debt with Argentina have hired lawyers to help negotiate the dispute between holdout hedge funds and Argentina. Nearly 93% of debt holders restructured their debt with Argentina after the 2001 default. The restructured bondholders are concerned that their settlements could be disrupted if hedge funds win the final ruling. In a separate case currently before the Supreme Court, Argentina sought review of a lower court decision allowing NML Capital to seek information about Argentina's non-US assets. The United States filed an amicus brief in support of Argentina, arguing that Argentina's assets are immune from seizure under federal sovereign immunity law.
"These hedge funds hurt legitimate investors and poor people," said LeCompte, "The IMF, World Bank and White House are right that this extreme behavior takes advantage of the world's poorest people."
Interested parties will now have 30 days to file an amicus or friend-of-the-court brief urging the Supreme Court to accept the case. The Supreme Court would likely decide by the summer whether or not it will actually accept this final appeal. These cases go back to 2001, when Argentina defaulted on roughly $81 billion in debt. Multiple hedge funds purchased debt for pennies on the dollar. These hedge funds are called "vulture" funds because they prey on countries in financial distress and target assets that benefit poor populations. The nearly 93% of bondholders who restructured their debts with Argentina have seen the value of their bonds increase. The holdout hedge funds that are suing Argentina refused the deal several times and have instead sued for the full amount of the debt they purchased.
The opposition to vulture funds is widespread. Similar hedge fund claims against Argentina have been rejected by courts in Germany, and France filed an amicus brief in support of Argentina in a previous appeal to the Supreme Court. In numerous court proceedings, the US government filed an amicus brief in support of Argentina, arguing that a ruling against Argentina could make it much more difficult for countries in financial recovery or facing economic stress to access credit and debt swaps. The IMF has also weighed in on the case, saying that the result would have major implications for how future sovereign debt is restructured.
"There finally seems to be an endgame in sight," noted LeCompte. "The question now is will the final ruling protect our global economy from this extreme behavior or encourage this harmful hedge fund behavior."