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Last Updated: Friday, 14 January, 2005, 16:10 GMT
Argentina pins hopes on debt deal
Investors watching screens in Buenos Aires
The question facing investors is how much money do they want to lose?
Argentina has launched a controversial debt swap aimed at restructuring $103bn (55bn) in unpaid debts and shoring up its creaking finances.

The Latin American country defaulted on bond repayments three years ago in the midst of a painful recession.

It now wants to swap the outstanding debt for $42bn in new bonds, warning that the offer will not be improved.

Many investors have criticised the deal and want it rejected to pressure Argentina into renegotiating.

Investors have until 25 February to accept or reject the deal.

Face off

Argentina's President Nestor Kirchner warned that it was a take-it-or-leave-it offer and said on Thursday that "the proposal we have made won't be changed".

The country originally offered to repay just a quarter of its debts, but that deal was turned down almost universally by investors in autumn last year.

(The offer is) very miserly and very poor
Domenico Siniscalco, Italian economy minister

Domestic pension funds have already agreed to accept Friday's new offer, giving Argentina the backing of 17% of investors.

Two fifths of the money is owed to institutions and individuals in Argentina, a tenth to US creditors, a few in Japan and the remaining third in Europe.

Outside of Argentina, the deal has encountered more opposition and critics have said they will step up their efforts to derail the plan.

The Global Committee of Argentina Bondholders (GCAB), which represents investors holding defaulted debt, said that it would push Argentina to increase its offer.

"Argentina has taken a first step in what we think will be a subsequent negotiation," GCAB co-chairman Hans Hume said. "They've given their offer and we are going to come out and give our offer."

"We'll point out the reasons why people should not be taken in by this last round of bullying by Argentina."

Danger money

Analysts expect the debt swap to be successful.

After three years of fighting to recover their money, investors are likely to see something as better than nothing, they argue.

While domestic investors may be more willing to do a deal because they stand to benefit most should the debt swap help Argentina's economy flourish.

Finance secretary Guillermo Nielsen said that $42bn was as much as Argentina could repay without triggering economic instability, Italian business paper Il Sole 24 Ore reported.

"This is the best sustainable offer which Argentina can make," Mr Guillermo said in an interview. "Any alterations could be unsustainable."

That argument held little sway in Italy, home to some of the biggest holders of Argentinean debt.

Italian economy minister Domenico Siniscalco called Argentina's offer "very miserly and very poor".

If the offer "is not accepted by enough creditors it would open an unprecedented scenario with international lawsuits and consequences difficult to foresee", he said late on Thursday.

"The Argentine government would be forced to draw up a new offer."

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