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Argentina Default? Deadline Looms For ‘Impossible’ Bond Payment

BUENOS AIRES - Argentina threatened to default on its debt Wednesday when the government called it "impossible" to pay bond service due on June 30, citing a U.S. court decision earlier in the day that increased pressure on the economically ailing country.

Buenos Aires is locked in a 12-year legal fight with creditors who refused to participate in two restructurings that followed Argentina's 2002 default on $100 billion in bonds.

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The long impasse in the U.S. courts has kept the country from accessing international capital markets as its economy stagnates, inflation soars and central bank reserves fall.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by Argentina in its battle against the hedge funds which refused to take part in restructurings offered in 2005 and 2010. This left intact a ruling by U.S. Judge Thomas Griesa in New York ordering the country to pay the hedge fund "holdouts."

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday lifted the stay it had placed on an injunction by Griesa barring payment to holders of restructured bonds via U.S. banks unless the "holdouts" were paid $1.33 billion at the same time.

"The lifting of the stay by the Second Circuit makes it impossible to make the next payment on restructured debt in New York, and shows a complete lack of willingness to negotiate under conditions different from those dictated by Judge Griesa," a statement from the Argentine economy ministry said late on Wednesday.

Talks are nevertheless expected between the two sides in New York next week.

The holdouts, disparaged as "vultures" by the Argentine government for picking over the bones of the country's traumatic 2002 economic crisis, are suing for 100 cents on the dollar rather than swallow the steep discounts that were accepted by holders of bonds that were restructured.

In its statement the ministry "lamented" Wednesday's lifting of the stay. It said it remained willing to pay holders of its revamped debt but for the fact that the holdouts would have to be paid at the same time, something Argentina says it cannot afford to do.

A technical default would not occur immediately on June 30 because the government has a grace period of 30 days before such a determination can be made.

- Reuters