Argentina Can’t Repay IMF $45 Billion, Vice President Says
Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, influential Vice President listens during a presentation in Tortuguitas. (Photographer: Sarah Pabst/Bloomberg)

Argentina Can’t Repay IMF $45 Billion, Vice President Says

Argentina is unable to repay its $45 billion debt with the International Monetary Fund under current negotiating conditions, influential Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner said Wednesday, diminishing the possibility of an agreement with the country’s largest creditor.

“We can’t pay because we don’t have the money to pay,” Fernandez de Kirchner said at an event in Buenos Aires, adding that the terms and conditions are “unacceptable.”

Fernandez de Kirchner’s comments come after discussions between Economy Minister Martin Guzman and IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva in Washington on Tuesday that what was described by both sides as a “very good meeting.”

Argentina Can’t Repay IMF $45 Billion, Vice President Says

The hardline stance from Fernandez de Kirchner, who battled with creditors during her eight years in office from 2007 to 2015, may help bury the already diminished prospects for a deal to get done before key midterm elections in October. President Alberto Fernandez leads a broad Peronist coalition, and Fernandez de Kirchner comes from a more radical but important left-wing group.

“Key players in the government’s coalition would prefer to be perpetually at war with the Fund,” Benjamin Gedan, director of the Argentina Project at the Wilson Center, a Washington-based think tank. “That attitude is not productive and complicates the economy minister’s efforts to negotiate a new program.”

Spokesmen for Argentine President Fernandez and the Economy Ministry didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Also on Wednesday, Argentina’s Foreign Ministry announced that the nation is formally leaving the so-called Lima Group of western hemisphere nations who seek a peaceful transition of power from Nicolas Maduro’s government in Venezuela. Moves to isolate Maduro’s government “haven’t led to anything,” and the inclusion of his Venezuelan opposition in the bloc has led to positions that Argentina can’t join, the ministry said in a statement.

Argentine dollar bonds maturing in 2030 fell 0.9 cents on the dollar to 34.15 cents on Wednesday. The bonds edged lower after Fernandez de Kirchner’s comments. Argentina restructured its debt with bondholders last year and is still trying to reschedule payments with the Washington-based lender.

The cost to protect against losses on Argentina’s debt jumped to the highest level since the country emerged from default last year. Credit-default swaps linked to the nation rose 1 percentage point to an upfront cost of 39 percentage points, according to ICE Data Services. That means it would cost $3.9 million upfront to insure $10 million of Argentina bonds.

An IMF spokesperson declined to comment on Fernandez de Kirchner’s remarks.

In the speech, Fernandez de Kirchner was flanked by Axel Kicillof, the governor of Buenos Aires Province and her son Maximo, who is a lawmaker. She called on the opposition to help seek better terms from the fund since they are responsible for taking on the debt under former President Mauricio Macri.

“We are not saying to not pay the debt,” Fernandez de Kirchner said. “Our political group was the only one that paid the debts of all the other governments. We should make an effort, the ruling party and the opposition, to give us a longer term and a different interest rate on a debt that others have contracted.”

Guzman’s visit to Washington this week came after talks yielded little visible progress since they began last September, and after he met with investors in New York last Friday.

While IMF negotiators prefer to hash out a deal with Argentina as soon as possible to put the country back on a path to growth, the Fund knows it can’t force the nation’s hand, people familiar with the talks said earlier this month.

Officials in Buenos Aires already had been taming expectations on an agreement, with President Fernandez recently saying he doesn’t want to rush talks. He has yet to send a detailed economic plan to the IMF or even top leaders within his coalition -- a key step to move the negotiation forward.

Political Calculus

Fernandez already faced a narrowing political path as the Oct. 24 vote approaches. Announcing an agreement with the Fund, which is likely to include fiscal austerity pledges, could hurt the ruling coalition’s standing in a country where the IMF is usually blamed for its recurrent economic crisis.

Argentina faces an economic minefield. The country is just emerging from three years of recession, inflation is projected to hit nearly 50% this year and unemployment is in the double digits. The government’s $65 billion debt restructuring with private creditors last year didn’t boost its credibility, and the bonds are now in junk territory again. The country has no access to foreign credit, forcing it to print money.

Now seeking its 22nd IMF program since 1956, Argentina’s fraught history with the lender includes its 2001 financial crisis, when painful budget cuts urged by the Fund failed to avert an economic collapse and debt default. The record agreement in 2018, which failed to lift the economy, also translated into more austerity that led Argentines to vote out a pro-business government and elect Fernandez.

“It’s not totally unexpected, this is an electoral year and she is delivering the message to their voting base, and we should expect more of the same from her,” said BBVA strategist William Snead in an interview from New York.

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