Following up on my timely post "Here Come Those Municipal Defaults That Everyone Said Couldn't Happen, Pt 2", I comment on Meredith Whitney's OpEd in the Financial Times. If you remember, she - like I - warned of municipal defaults years ago and was ridiculed for such. Ms. Whitney is quoted as saying:

"As jarring as the reality may be to accept, Detroit's decision last week to declare bankruptcy should not be regarded as a one-off in the U.S. municipal market." she said.

"There are five more towns like Detroit in Michigan alone. There are many more municipalities across the country in similar positions."

"The bill for promises past is now so large for some cities and towns that it is crowding out money for the most basic of services – in the case of Detroit, it could not even afford to run its traffic lights," she said.

"Will [lawmakers] side with taxpayers, unions or the municipal bondholders? If they back residents, money will be directed to underfunded public services at the expense of pensions and bondholders. If they side with the unions, social services will continue to be cut and the risk to bondholders will increase considerably. If they side with bondholders, social services and pensions are at risk."

In the case of Detroit, elected officials, for the first time in a very long time, are siding with residents, Whitney said. This is a new precedent that boils down to the straightforward reality of the survival and sustainability of a town or city, she said.

"After decades of near-third-world conditions in the richest country in the world, the city finally stood up and said enough was enough,"

Well, this is the problem. Defaulting on revenue bonds where the underlying asset (ex. a housing project, utility, or infrastructure project) is not generating the sufficient cash flows is part and parcel of the risk of investing in said class of bonds. This is widely accepted and understood, which is likely why those bonds have a slightly higher yield.

For some obscene reason, defaulting on the general obligation bonds which purportedly carry the "full faith and credit' of the municipality as a back stop is deemed as wholly different affair. The reason? Who the hell knows? This is a point I tried to drive home in the original  Here Come Those Municipal Defaults That Everyone Said Couldn't Happen article in 2011. Backing by the full faith and credit of a public entity does not make an investment risk free. To the contrary, if said entity is fundamentally insolvent, the investment is actually "riskful"as opposed to risk free.

Treating these bonds as unsecured in the bankruptcy is essentially the way to go. If you don't want to do that, well you can still consider them backed by the full faith and credit of the insolvent municipality, which is essentially unsecured - and move on anyway - particularly as many potential collateral assets of value would have likely been encumbered by agreements with a little more prejudicial foresight.

A GO default from a city the size of Detroit will dramatically change the face of GO bonds going forward. Now that the hoi polloi and tax free investing masses have been awakened, a true accounting of the risks involved will cause a much more realistic risk premium to be placed on GO bonds everywhere.  This wll be in addition to the natural increase of rates coming from the end of a 28 year natural bull market in bonds, in addition to the economic and market snapback borne from the end of the artificial eztension of said bull makret through ZIRP and direct credit market maniputlation by the Fed.

Yes, a triple whammy coming to a bankrupt (or soon to be) state, city, town, or political subdivsion near you!

The good news? Those pension funds that hold municipal assets (due to the uneccesary tax shielding from muni's in a qualified account, not many) will get a higher yield on their bonds. The bad news? That yeild likey will not get paid!

This may push rates higher in general, after all they're artificially low to begin with. ZIRP has done it's fair share of damage, and a snap back to market rates will hurt all the more...

And then there's those monolines who're just working out that 90x leverage problem from the housing crisis (reference A Super Scary Halloween Tale of 104 Basis Points Pt I & II, by Reggie Middleton)...

And then...

Of course, we can't leave out those rating agencies who warned us all about the impending doom...

And from the must read post, Banks, Monolines, and Ratings Agencies As The Three Card Monte (Wall)Street Hustlers! Its a Sucker's Bet, Who's Going to Fall for it in QE2?

Three Card Monte is a scam designed to separate a fool from his/her money. It is quite efficient, particularly when fools are involved!

The Boogie Down Bronx

The big secret to the Morgan Monte Scam is that it is 10% sleight of hand and 90% teamwork. Even if you are not deft enough to capture the sleight of hand, the key in avoiding it is to recognize the team players, whose key player is often YOU - The Mark!

The retail/typical qualified fund investor = "The Mark"

Monolines/FIRE sector= The Operator/Hustler!

Sell Side analysts = "Jess"

Rating agencies = "Paul"

How its done in the UK

Reenactment of 2009's entire year of Wall Street earnings

How its done on Wall Street, see outset...

Next, up we let the late Biggie school you on how Wall Street banks follow the Ten Crack Commandments!

Published in BoomBustBlog

Last Wednesday I posted BS... Defined: Bernanke Seeks (BS) to Divorce QE Tapering From Interest Rates - OR - Economic Prestidigitation! wherein I ridiculed the notion of being able to withdraw economic financial aid while expecting rates not to spike. The fact of the matter is we are the at the end of a 33 year old bull market in credit. Or, to put it more accurately, we are at the end of a 5 year synthetic extension of a 28 year old credit market bull run....

I urge readers to keep in mind what I expoused in Apple Bonds Proven To Have A Nasty Taste wherein Apple bonds lose 9% in six weeks:

We Clearly & Obviously Ending A 3 Decade Bull Market, Likely At The Tail End Of The Largest Global ZIRP Experiment Ever!

And this final aspect is the kicker. We are likely culminating the end of a three decade secular bull market in bonds. Why in the world would anyone want to buy debt now, in a good, bad or mediocore company? Reference a chart of ten year rates over time, and you will see that once you get this close to zero (and the applied end to excessive ZIRP), there's no way to go but up. As excerpted from theMarket Realist site:

Yes, this goes for muni investors as well! Municipalities have a dual edged sword up the ass. Not only are higher funding rates to be expected from a shifting market, but the actual fundamentals of municipalities are in the crapper as well, putting an even larger premium on what is already a steep increase in funding costs. What do  you think happens next?

It's not as if we couldn't see this coming a mile away - or at least 2 to 5 years ago...

Wednesday, 14 May 2008 The Municipal bond market and the securitization crisis

ARS market – composition as on 31 December 2007

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Student loans? Ruh Oh!

Saturday, 24 May 2008 The Municipal Bond Market and the Asset Securitization Crisis, pt 2

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Thursday, 20 January 2011 Here Come Those Municipal Defaults That Everyone Said Couldn't Happen

In the multifamily housing segment, default rates increased significantly and were extremely high for the period 1987-90, i.e. at the time of the S&L crisis when real estate lending was reckless due to declining lending standards by banks and other financial institutions. The default rate peaked in 1988 in the eleven year period reviewed to 4.31%, followed by 3.41% in 1989.

 Don't let me say I told you so. Will those monolines start feeling part 2 of credit crunch?

Ambac is Effectively Insolvent & Will See More ... 

What is the Fallout of the Ambac Bankruptcy on the ...

My Analyst's Comments on MBIA/Ambac/Moody's ...

Moody's Affirms Ratings of Ambac and MBIA

Published in BoomBustBlog

I recently recieved this email and thought it may spark conversation if I posted it to the general site.

I had some general finance questions about CA's massive debt. 

I read that CA issued 55 billion in new debt in the 10-11 year, I'm assuming much of this new debt are CABs (capital appreciation bonds) as CA can't really spend a dime more on any new debt as we're not paying our existing debt. 

Who is buying this "unserviced" debt and are they taking a 20-30 year "call bet" on the assets and collecting NO interest?  
Or are investors & funds booking "fictional interest gains" from CA's unpaid debt? (later to be written off)

If the "investors" of CA's CAB debt are getting interest, from whom are they getting the interest?

And do the payers of that interest get preference in claims over the bond holders?  
Other CA debt, CALPERS & the City of San Bernardino seem to be rewriting federal bankruptcy law avoiding the inevitable (default) I don't think bond holders will ever get their money back (except from their insurer LOL)
Water district debt, are you following the Central Basin Water district scene in LA County? 
Some cities made some uncompensated water withdraws (over $100,000,000.00 worth) from the "community water bank" unlike fiat currency banks water banks can't "cook the books", if you don't keep the water bank's "minimum funding standards" with real water (as opposed to certificates of water) the aquifer gets ruined with saltwater forever.
Now the aquifer is low, needs refilling, and the people that drained it are broke.

And on that note, from two and a half years ago as reported by the Wall Street Journal:

Stanford's Institute for Economic Policy Research released a study suggesting a more than $500 billion unfunded liability for California's three biggest pension funds—Calpers, Calstrs and the University of California Retirement System. The shortfall is about six times the size of this year's California state budget and seven times more than the outstanding voter-approved general obligations bonds. The pension funds responsible for the time bombs denounced the report. Calstrs CEO Jack Ehnes declared at a board meeting that "most people would give [this study] a letter grade of 'F' for quality" but "since it bears the brand of Stanford, it clearly ripples out there quite a bit." He called its assumptions "faulty," its research "shoddy" and its conclusions "political." Calpers chief Joseph Dear wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle that the study is "fundamentally flawed" because it "uses a controversial method that is out of step with governmental accounting standards."

Now let's take a closer look at that.

The Stanford study uses what's called a "risk-free" 4.14% discount rate, which is tied to 10-year Treasury bonds. The Financial Accounting Standards Board requirescorporate pensions to use a risk-free rate, but the Government Accounting Standards Board allows public pension funds to discount pension liabilities at their expected rate of return, which the pension funds determine. Calstrs assumes a rate of return of 8%, Calpers 7.75% and the UC fund 7.5%. But the CEO of the global investment management firm BlackRock Inc., Laurence Fink, says Calpers would be lucky to earn 6% on its portfolio. A 5% return is more realistic

Two years later... CalSTRS posts 1.8% return on investment:

West Sacramento-based California State Teachers’ Retirement System reported a low return rate of 1.8 percent on Friday. The public pension plan was considerably below its assumed rate of return of 7.5 percent for the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to CalSTRS. In comparison, it ended the 2010-2011 fiscal year with a 23.1 percent investment return.

The three-year return is 12.0 percent. CalSTRS CEO Jack Ehnes said in a statement. He said that investments alone can’t return the pension fund to solid footing, and that the government needs to enact a plan to increase contributions. Christopher Ailman, CalSTRS chief investment officer, said the slowing economy has hit long-term investors such as the public pension fund through instability in Europe and slowing global growth. CalSTRS predicts a 0.3 percent of return over five years, 6.5 percent over 10 years and 7.5 percent over 20 years.

Feel free to comment freely below.

Published in BoomBustBlog

In early 2008, I warned my readers that several states and municipalities in this country are going to run into some very rough times, with the spectre of default definitely on the table for a few. See Municipal bond market and the securitization crisis – part I and Municipal bond market and the securitization crisis – part 2 (should be read by whoever is not a muni expert – this newsbyte may be worth reading as well).

Of course, the highly contrarian nature of my views were (and are) bound to bring about its fair share of naysayers, pointing to the sparse record of actual municipal defaults. Of course, we all know the safety of driving forward while staring in the rear view mirror, California creating its own currency in the form of IOU’s and all... I also brought up the risks that the CDS market posed in Counterparty risk analyses – counter-party failure will open up another Pandora’s box (must read for anyone who is not a CDS specialist). This was done right about the time that I also called several companies out for their CDS (and direct) exposure to real estate, mortgage debt and municipalities – namely:

I considered three of the four to be insolvent in 2007 and early 2008. History has shown whether I had a point or not. I rehash history because a review of the lessons that hurt so bad, but were never learned brings us back to the muni markets, CDS and overleveraged exposure. Is this 2008, 2010, or some non-descript chrono-anomaly from a Twilight Zone episode?

Illinois Municipal Debt Defies Gravity

Published in BoomBustBlog