Argentina has been causing trouble for a large amount of emerging market debt investors in recent weeks. The country seems increasingly likely to default, and investors are beginning to run in the opposite direction when the South American country is mentioned. MFS Investment Management is the latest company to pull out of the debt market.
Argentina has a history of defaulting due to unstable governance and difficult economic conditions. Argentina defaulted or restructured its debt in 1827, 1890, 1951, 1956, 1982, 1989, and 2002-2005. Investors looking to capitalize on emerging market bonds thought it would be different this time around.
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Several hedge fund managers, including Kyle Bass, have warned about Argentina’s bonds. The country’s debt problems have become so bad in recent months that Paul Singer’s hedge fund Elliott Capital Management confiscated an Argentinian warship in order to force the country to pay its $300 million debt. The United Nations ordered the return of the vessel in December of last year.
MSF Investment Management has sold about $194 million of Argentinian bonds since last November, according to an article on Bloomberg. The country’s debt has lost about 0.3% of its value in the period. That compares poorly to the 2.8% gain in a basket of emerging market bonds. Argentina is one of the riskiest debt investments around right now.
Argentina has its share of problems right now, and its attempts to solve them, including a campaign to stir up nationalist feelings about the Falkland Islands, have not impressed the market. Argentina is still dealing with the fallout from its last debt restructuring, with investors like Paul Singer still demanding compensation for that decision.
The legal battles surrounding the country’s default resulted in a February decision that ordered the country to treat all of the bondholders equally. Argentina has said that it will not comply with the ruling. Investors are left confused about who will get paid, and if paying off the original bondholders, like Paul Singer, will result in a new default.
MSF Investment Management is based in Boston. The firm has not exited Argentinian bonds fully. According to the Bloomberg piece, the company still holds around $196 million of Argentinian debt, spread across nine of the company’s funds.
The situation in Argentina is a cautionary tale for any looking to invest in emerging market debt. There is a reason why the yield from the debt is higher. Very simply it carries with it more risk. Investors in Argentine debt are learning this lesson.