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Business Comment

Even Lionel Messi can't solve Argentina's debt crisis


Global Outlook Monday marks a grim day for Argentina, at a time of many grim days. For it is on Monday that the economically troubled country is due to make its next interest repayment on bonds to lenders that agreed to reduce the amount they are owed.

It's no small cheque either – $832m (£490m).

Buenos Aires wants to pay. It has deposited $539m in the Bank of New York Mellon's accounts at the Argentinian central bank, says the country's finance minister, while the remainder is in other deposit accounts waiting to be handed over.

The trouble is, it can't pay.

Because under the controversial ruling by the US Supreme Court last week, Argentina must also stump up 100 cents in the dollar to vulture funds for the debt that they bought – at a large discount – after the country's 2001 default.

On Thursday, Argentina asked the US District Judge Thomas Griesa if it could pay only the creditors that accepted a haircut. It asked him to put a stay on his earlier order that the country could make no payments without paying the vultures their dues at the same time. But he refused.

Meanwhile, the vultures yesterday lodged another court order in protest at Argentina depositing the funds to make the repayment to the lenders that have accepted haircuts. They are tightening their legal headlock every time Argentina wriggles.

All this means that another Argentinian debt default looms large

In reality, Monday's deadline will probably come and go with no payment and no default because the country has a 30-day grace period.

It seems likely that Argentina will come to some sort of deal with the funds over that period, agreeing to pay them less than the 100 cents they are demanding, but more than the haircut lenders accepted. Doubtless, that would lead those with the short hair to demand the same amount.

This settlement would take a huge chunk out of Argentina's wallet. A repayment in full for all lenders would cost it $15bn – half the country's entire reserves. So even if the vultures accepted a steep discount (highly unlikely), the country would still be hurting badly. However, at least it would avoid the default that would see it financially isolated for many years to come.

A miserable time, then, for a battle-weary nation. Even Messi could struggle to lighten the mood.