These investors, who probably represent about 2 to 3 percent of Greece’s privately held debt, are betting that Athens and its European supporters — contrary to their public pronouncements — will prefer to pay them back in full rather than let the bonds default.
And that, analysts say, would create a dangerous precedent, not only angering the investors who took large losses last month but raising the prospect that Europe is ready to cut deals with hedge funds holding on to risky sovereign debt.
Officials involved in the debt deliberations say that Aurelius Capital Management and Elliott Associates, two well-known distressed debt funds, are among the investors contemplating a holdout strategy.
The latest round of poker with a sovereign debt twist will play out on Wednesday at 8 p.m. London time. That is when investors holding $26.8 billion worth of Greek bonds that are governed by foreign law face a deadline for deciding whether to swap their bonds for new, longer-term securities — some of which are backed by Europe’s new rescue facility — and accept a 75 percent loss. Some investors have until April 18 to decide.
The stakes may seem small compared with the 100 billion euro, or about $130 billion, restructuring of bonds governed by Greek law that was reached last month. That debt deal was part of a broader 130 billion euro bailout that saved Greece from bankruptcy.
Of the $26.8 billion in foreign-law bonds, holders of about $16 billion worth have agreed to the debt exchange, a participation rate of about 60 percent. Greek government officials say they believe that the overall participation rate may soon approach 98 percent.
Investment bankers and analysts guess that, in the end, the bond holdouts will represent a pool of money of about $5.5 billion — a sum that Greece, through its financial backers, could pay.
But if Greece and its European sponsors decide to redeem these bonds in full — one of the issues matures on May 15 — they will have diminished the sacrifice of the investors who agreed to the deal and given incentive to future vulture investors to pursue similar strategies with other imperiled countries in the euro zone.
Greek officials have been blunt and unflinching in their views on the matter.
“We are standing on an ethical pedestal here,” said Petros Christodoulou, the head of Greece’s debt management agency who is overseeing the mechanics of the country’s debt restructuring effort. “We speak with one voice with our official sponsors. This is as good an offer as the bondholders are ever going to get.”
For the committed holdouts, though, such talk is bluster. These funds have accumulated controlling stakes in a range of Greek bonds, the variety of which are testimony to a time when Greece and its public entities could raise sums in markets all over the world. Some bonds are denominated in Japanese yen, and issuers include the country’s near-bankrupt railroad company.
As many of these bonds are fairly small — the one that matures in May is 450 million euros — holders calculate that Greece and Europe will pay them off rather than let them default.
“The goal is minimum economic value, maximum nuisance value,” said Adam Lerrick, a sovereign debt expert at the American Enterprise Institute.
Mr. Lerrick points out that for Greece, a country that hopes to return to international bond markets in 2015, the prospect of a series of lawsuits from deep-pocketed hedge funds is unappealing.
The government aims to sell more than 40 billion euros of state-owned assets in the coming years, a difficult task even without the added threat that an aggressive hedge fund may put a lien on those assets.
The funds also take heart from a view that the International Monetary Fund has explicit guidelines that say it cannot lend money to a country that chooses to default on its obligations.