Argentina's new bond offer gets praise, big guns stay silent

LONDON, July 6 (Reuters) - Argentina’s new offer to bondholders got a tentative thumbs up from investors as they digested the details on Monday, though there was no sign yet of whether it would gain the blessing of the biggest bloc of creditors.

Argentina’s government laid out an improved offer on Sunday that increased the amount creditors will receive, shortened the time before they get paid and made some changes in other key areas that had become a source of tension.

Two prominent funds, Gramercy and FinTech, came out within hours saying they would back the deal.

“We look forward to supporting Argentina’s offer as it provides... debt sustainability that is crucial for durable, high and inclusive economic growth,” they said in a statement.

Others were tentatively optimistic too, saying the improvements were hopefully close enough to the wishes of big holders to win their approval.

“Considering everything that the country is going through, it looks to like a fairly good offer,” said bondholder Pala Asset Management’s Alejandro Hardziej, though he said some bondholders might have preferred a “GDP warrant” that pays extra if economic growth improves.

The government would start paying in one year rather than three, and coupon payments on new bonds, while starting low, could rise to around 5%.

“The valuation gap with the latest bondholder proposals has shrunk considerably,” analysts at U.S. investment bank Citi said in a note to clients.

They expected a “sizable” proportion of investors holding the ‘exchange’ bonds that were restructured last time Argentina defaulted to sign up to the deal, as the government had backed away from eroding their legal rights.

There might not be such high take up, however, from those with bonds sold under the country’s previous president Mauricio Macri, as their replacement bonds would be issued under terms which offer less legal protection.

For Argentina’s government, a deal is key to avoiding a messy legal standoff that would lock the country out of international credit markets. Debt talks had progressed sporadically until hitting turbulence in mid-June when the biggest bondholders, led by the likes of BlackRock, Ashmore and Fidelity, criticised the government over a lack of engagement.

That alliance, which holds $21 billion of the $65 billion worth of bonds Argentina is looking to restructure, did not give an immediate response to the new offer when asked by Reuters.

“There is such a small difference to what they were asking for,” said Hardziej, whose firm is not part of a creditor alliance. “We hope that this is last offer and we hope it works”. (Additional reporting by Karin Strohecker)