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Kyle Bass big on Argentina; rips 'immoral' competitors

Kyle Bass, founder of Hayman Capital.
Timothy Fadek | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Kyle Bass, founder of the $1.7 billion hedge fund Hayman Capital, revealed Wednesday morning having recently taken a large stake in YPF, the Argentine oil company, as the best play on a new decade of economic growth in the South American country.

He also bashed rival hedge funds such as Elliott Management, who have invested in Argentine bonds and held out for full payment on their investments, calling their behavior immoral.

In an exclusive interview with CNBC, Bass, whose Dallas-based fund is known both for large stock market investments and other idiosyncratic bets, argued that Japan and Argentina were the best places to put money right now.

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However, he said, opportunities in Argentina were being constrained by the current standoff between President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who has refused full payment to a group of holdout hedge funds who own Argentine bonds, and the lenders, whose litigation has pushed the country into a state of default.

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Asked about the behavior of Elliott and Aurelius Capital, the two most prominent holdout bondholders, Bass said, "I wouldn't say it's borderline immoral. It is."

He explained why he feels that way. "I wouldn't say that we're opposed to the vultures' position," Bass said, using the Argentine government's preferred nickname for the holdout investors. "If they get paid, anyone invested in Argentina is going to do well."

Still, Bass said, the holdout position is punishing an impoverished South American country that can't afford not to access the international capital markets and harness its growth potential.

"The investors are holding up 42 million people from progress," he argued.

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A spokesman for Elliott, run by Paul Singer, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Aurelius declined comment.

Kirchner, who is scheduled to speak at the United Nations General Assembly in New York later on Wednesday, has met in recent days with a range of international public leaders, including Pope Francis—the former archbishop of Buenos Aires—the hedge-fund billionaire George Soros, and Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general of the United Nations, to shore up support for her position.

She has also argued that her country is being exploited by greedy investors and that the U.S. authorities have erred in agreeing with the holdouts that they must be paid alongside Argentina's other sovereign lenders.

Bass, speaking on CNBC, agreed.

"You have this small constituency of people able to hold an entire country ransom, hiding behind the fact that they're a big proponent of the rule of law of the United States," he said. He was referring to orders from a U.S. federal judge in litigation brought by the holdouts that pushed Argentina into a state of technical default in late July after it missed more than $500 million in scheduled payments to bondholders that had already taken haircuts on their investments.

"Solving this scenario will help everybody," Bass added.

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Bass himself owns a class of Argentine debt, denominated in euros and due in 2033, that is subject to a discounted payout. Alongside one of Soros' funds, Bass filed suit against one of the banks involved in making the Argentine bond payments in London in late August, arguing that prohibitions on interest payments that apply in the U.S. should not apply to investors like him.

During the CNBC interview, Bass also disclosed having recently taken a large stake in YPF, the Buenos Aires-based oil and gas company that has become a popular play on the Argentine economy of late. As of late June, Soros Fund Management, the hedge-fund company Perry Corp., and Dan Loeb's Third Point were three of the largest stakeholders in the company.

"We expect $100 billion to $200 billion of foreign direct investment in Argentina's oil fields over the next 10 years," Bass said. "So YPF serves as not only a proxy to Argentina's equity market, but as the real dominant player in an energy business that we expect will be transformed over the next five, 10 years."