Argentine government shake-up
could offer hope to disgruntled investors
The scores of Maltese investors who saw tens of millions of pounds in
investments become all but worthless with the collapse of the Argentine
economy may soon begin to see a ray of light at the end of the tunnel
with the recent appointment of a new Argentine economy minister and
a presidential run-off election scheduled for May.
At the heart of both the appointment and the election is the desperately
needed regeneration of the once flourishing but now flailing South American
Untold numbers of Maltese had invested an estimated Lm37 million in
While many Maltese investors had put their money directly into eurobonds
issued by Argentina - denominated in reputable currencies such as the
euro, dollar and sterling - others had invested in collective investment
schemes, which in turn invest in emerging market debt.
Others still had invested in ill-fated, now frozen Argentine government
Though no fingers were pointed at the time of Argentinas fiscal
fallout in November 2001, some local stockbrokers were blamed for giving
misguided advice to their local clients.
At the time the MFSA had verified it had received complaints from investors
about bad advice given to them by their investment advisors
over the Argentine economic crash, but the regulator said that a number
of enquiries and complaints lodged were predictably related to Argentinean
When turmoil struck the Argentine economy in late 2001, Argentine government
bonds were the hardest hit and new economy minister Roberto Lavagna
has his work cut out for him. His job of steering the country out of
a desperate economic crisis will be avidly watched by the Argentine
people, by the international investing community and undoubtedly by
a number of Maltese, who will be observing Argentinas fiscal performance
over the coming months to see if the country will be able to meet its
private debt obligations.
Indeed, one of the biggest challenges facing the Argentine government
is what to do about the USD100 billion in frozen Argentine debt held
by private investors, both foreign and domestic, which the government
has done little about to date instead giving priority to negotiating
debt conditions with the International Monetary Fund and resolving severe
problems faced by the countrys cash-strapped population.
However, former president and current presidential candidate Carlos
Menem has promised creditors holding billions of dollars worth of defaulted
Argentine bonds "hardly any haircut" in exchange for lower
interest rates on the debt.
Four years of recession have left the Argentine economy in shambles.
Its banking and financial system is in disarray, its currency sharply
devalued, and its people are now strapped for cash after panic withdrawals
last week forced a national bank holiday.
In 1992 Argentina had issued about USD25 billion of so-called Brady
bonds in exchange for debts accumulated in the late 1970s and with the
Argentine economy looking bullish at the time, many foreign investors
rushed in with their cash. But while other countries such as Mexico,
which was also grappling with high debts, restructured and cut spending
to reduce dependence on foreign capital Argentinas fiscal and
economic policies went haywire.
Today Argentina's unemployment rate hovers close to 20 per cent. Real
wage levels are about 40 per cent lower than they were before the crisis.
More than half of Argentina's 38 million citizens live below the poverty
line and about one-third live in extreme poverty.