Sunday, April 17, 2016
Small ‘vultures’ protest unfair compensation
Finance Minister Alfonso Prat-Gay attends the IMF/World Bank summit last week.
By Ben Bartenstein & Carolina Millan
Minority of creditors who haven’t settled ask to be paid like large holdout fundsIn the 15 years since Argentina’s default wiped out most of Mohammad Ladjevardian's wealth, he has made the 5,000-mile trek from the US to Buenos Aires every few years to try to recoup his losses. He's chased ministers and lawyers in Washington and New York and pestered fellow creditors to join his cause.
He says he never got the chance to sit down at the negotiating table.
Ladjevardian's hopes for a bigger payout were dashed Wednesday when a New York court cleared the way for Argentina to sell US$15 billion in foreign debt, essentially ending the years-long dispute by eliminating what little leverage Ladjevardian and about 500 other investors like him had left.
The ruling hinged on whether the country could show it made a good-faith effort to negotiate settlements with so-called holdouts who spurned previous offers in 2005 and 2010. Argentina's legal team pointed to an estimated US$8.8 billion in pacts it reached in recent months with heavyweights like Paul Singer's Elliott Management and Kenneth Dart’s EM Ltd.
But for a minority — including smaller investors owed a few hundred thousand dollars or more than US$10 million like Ladjevardian — Argentina’s attempts to strike a deal were anything but fair, he said.
“If the water’s above your head, it doesn¡t matter if you're 10 feet under or five inches under — Argentina is still a deadbeat,” Ladjevardian, 61, an Iranian immigrant who owns a real-estate investment and management company, said from Houston shortly after Argentina's court win. “I didn't fight for 15 years to be humiliated at this level.”
Ladjevardian and investors like him aren't being left out in the cold. They’re entitled to the same 150 cents on the dollar that all long-term bondholders are cashing in on. But Ladjevardian holds the same bonds as Singer. He sued as Singer did. He’s been a creditor for a lot longer.
And he wants the same deal that Singer got: 369 percent of principal.
Max Bohrer said he also tried to negotiate and was rebuffed. “We’ve tried to make good-faith negotiations, but it's impossible,” said Bohrer, a plastics-factory owner in Munich who manages his family’s assets, including US$10 million in Argentine bonds purchased three years before the default. “It was nerve-wracking to hear either we accept the offer or we get nothing. Take it or leave it.”
Argentina is seeking to make agreements final with all bondholders soon, according to a Finance Ministry official. The ministry didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment on whether small bondholders were treated differently than larger ones.
Wednesday’s decision by the US Court of Appeals in New York could set a dangerous precedent for future sovereign restructurings, said Greylock Chief Executive Officer Hans Humes, who has yet to reach a full settlement with Argentina over the defaulted bonds he holds.
“This is the first time you've actually tiered the payments to benefit the people who have litigated the hardest and the most,” Humes said.
For Argentina, the ruling to lift an injunction ends more than a decade of litigation over repayment of debt that kept the country out of international credit markets. The nation aims to return to markets with a US$15 billion sale of debt on April 19, according to Finance Minister Alfonso Prat-Gay.
President Mauricio Macri made settling with holdouts a key campaign promise in the run-up to the elections. Argentina has since reached agreements with roughly 90 percent of the investors, according to Bank of America.
“We want to pay everyone; we've said it more than once,” Prat-Gay told reporters Tuesday in New York. But “we won't pay anything outside the framework of the two proposals we made.”
While Ladjevardian successfully sued and got a so-called pari-passu judgment from a New York court in 2007 that entitled him to the same treatment received by other creditors, he discontinued further litigation because of the cost and wasn't part of the Singer-led case that led to the injunction, according to his attorney, Jessica Sleater. It was that final extra mile that’s behind Ladjevardian and Bohrer being excluded from the higher payout.
“The court defines a standard of performance and uses its injunctive power to establish parameters until the outcome is good enough — not perfect,” said Anna Gelpern, a law professor at Georgetown University in Washington. “Of course, it doesn't feel good if you are on the wrong side of good enough.”