Morning Edition had a piece on the possibility that Argentina will again default on its debt. The risk follows the decision by the Supreme Court to refuse to review a New York district court judge's ruling that Argentina had to pay a group of holdout bondholders 100 cents on the dollar and requiring U.S. banks to help enforce this ruling. As the piece explains, this is likely to lead to a second default since a provision in the agreement with the bondholders who had settled from the 2001 default required the government to treat all bondholders the same. This means that if the holdouts get 100 cents on the dollar then all bondholders would have to be paid 100 cents on the dollar.

There are a few points in this story that deserve clarification. The piece notes that Argentina refers to the holdout investors as "vultures." This is not a term the country invented. The term "vulture fund" goes back decades. It refers to a fund that buys assets at a seriously depressed price in the hope of being able to use the legal system to increase their value. The funds that have brought the legal case in U.S. courts are pretty much the textbook definition of vulture funds.

It is also would have been worth noting that Thomas P. Griesa, the judge whose ruling has created the current impasse, seems not to understand the implications of his actions. Given the large range of judges across the country, it is not surprising that complex cases will occasionally be assigned to a judge who does not fully appreciate the issues involved. However the appeals process usually allows for mistaken rulings to be corrected by higher courts. That did not happen in this case.

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