Puerto Rico muni owners who never saw the Barron’s story or the rating firms’ downgrades are better off than those who kept up with the financial news.
Wall Street can clean up junk well enough, but it can't make it go away.
Three days ago it was S&P that opened the can of Puerto Rico junk worms. Moments ago it was Moody's turn to downgrade the General Obligation rating of the Commonwealth from Baa3 to Ba2, aka junk status. We note this just in case someone is confused what the catalyst was that just sent stock to a new intraday high in the aftermath of today's disappointing jobs number which until this moment barely managed to push the S&P higher by 1%. From the report: "While some economic indicators point to a preliminary stabilization, we do not see evidence of economic growth sufficient to reverse the commonwealth's negative financial trends. Without an economic revival, the commonwealth will face difficult decisions in coming years, as its debt and pension costs rise. The negative outlook signals the remaining challenges facing the commonwealth."
- Fed’s $4 Trillion Assets Draw Lawmaker Ire Amid Bubble Concern (BBG)
- Ex-Goldmanite Fab Tourre fined more than $1 million (WSJ)
- EU Banks Shrink Assets by $1.1 Trillion as Capital Ratios Rise (BBG)
- Japan to bolster military, boost Asia ties to counter China (Reuters)
- China condemns Abe for criticizing air defense zone (Reuters)
- Insider-Trading Case May Hinge on Phone Call (WSJ)
- Republicans Gird for Debt-Ceiling Fight (WSJ)
- Mario Draghi pushes bank union deal (FT)
- German Coalition Plans More Pension Money (WSJ)
- Oil Supply Surge Brings Calls to Ease U.S. Export Ban (BBG)
"If the politicians lead us into a 'prioritization of payments' situation for Treasury Secretary Lew or an actual missed payment, there is nothing you can do to protect yourself from that!" are the ominous words that Kyle Bass uses to describe the farce that is rapidly approaching (and for now being ignored by stocks). Bass went on to pull no punches in his "disappointment" in JCPenney's performance (and dilution) coming as close as he can to saying "sell." But his piece de resistance was a dismal destruction of any silver lining for Puerto Rico and the significant implications that will have on Muni bonds in general.
Much to the amazement of doom-and-gloomers, everything's been fixed and as a result, everything's great. The list is impressive: China: fixed. Japan: fixed. Europe: fixed. U.S. healthcare: fixed. Africa: fixed. Mideast: well, not fixed, but no worse than a month ago, and that qualifies as fixed. Doom and gloomers have been wrong, just like Paul Krugman said. The solution to every problem is at hand: create more money and credit, in ever larger sums, until a tsunami of cash washes away all difficulties. Let's scroll through a brief summary of everything that's been fixed.
"It's getting concerning," notes one fixed-income banker, Puerto Rico muni bond yields "never got near 10% [yields] even in the crisis." Some of the 27-year maturity Puerto Rico bonds just traded at a dismal 67 cents on the dollar (10.082% yield) and the most recently issued 2036 Electric Power bonds have collapsed from par a month ago to just above 82 cents on the dollar today. As the WSJ reports, the fall in prices also is a sign of investor risk aversion in the wake of Detroit's record municipal-bankruptcy filing in July; but it seems the anxiety and outflows from ETFs is having just as big an impact as Puerto Rico bonds now trade cheaper than Detroit's. "It's out of whack," one analysts warns, though the island's double-digit unemployment and recent weakness in economic indicators somewhat support the concerns - and while the "yields are attractive" it is possible that the island's borrowing costs could go higher as supply is extremely heavy in coming months. With 77% of managers holding Puerto Rico bonds, this is a problem...
Company founders routinely get shafted by "promoters" and get sold on taking their pride and joy public. Watch out for them!
The budget for "rat fees" comes to $125m.
Eleven states made Forbes' list of danger spots for investors including California, New York, Illinois, and Ohio. They warned (and with the cliff it is even more critical), if you have muni bonds in these states - clean up your portfolio; if your career takes you there - rent, don't buy! Two factors determine their list of 'fiscal hellholes'. The first is whether there are more takers (someone who draws money from the government) than makers (the gainfully employed). The second is a state credit-worthiness score (via Conning) based on large debts, uncompetitive business climates, weak home prices, and bad trends in employment. Conning rates North Dakota the safest state to lend money to, Connecticut the most hazardous. A state qualifies for the Forbes' death spiral list if its taker/maker ratio exceeds 1.0 and it resides in the bottom half of Conning’s ranking. See below for the 11 states to avoid...no matter what Bob Toll, Larry Yun, Bob Pisani, or Alexandra Lebenthal tells you..
Folks, the political game has changed in the US. The Fed is no longer invulnerable. In this climate more QE cannot possibly happen. End of story. Indeed, if the Fed were to launch QE at any time between now and the election, Obama is DONE. The last possibly chance for QE without it being a clear hand-out to Obama (and a gift from the political gods to Romney) was June. The Fed passed on that.
A New York City story
Since Chinese local governments, unlike the U.S. municipality, do not have the option of filing for bankruptcy, Beijing most likely would need to do a great bailout of local authorities either in installments or at one fell swoop
For the first time since 1949, when the Communist Party took power, China will open the regional authority debt markets (muni markets) to the public. Much is being made of the fact that this first issuance - for Shanghai no less - enabled it to dramatically cut its interest expense - as investors were clearly comforted by the increasingly transparent documentation. However, we worry that that this will cause a multi-tier market to evolve very rapidly between the haves and have-nots as we suspect the more than 6000 companies set up by local governments will bifurcate just as the Chinese IPO market did in the US. Color us even more skeptical but when we read the Wall Street Journal's story on Wenzhou's Annus Horribilis this evening, even vibrant thriving (over-stretched and over-levered) city-states are feeling the recoupling pain of a European recession, US residential construction depression, and European bank deleveraging impacting credit conditions in Asia. The bottom-line is more openness is better, more transparency is better, and meeting the demands of yield hungry money managers is reasonable but we hope they go in with eyes wide open as we suspect this move is much more about $1.7tn risk transfer from the public central planner's balance sheet and on to the private capital markets of the world.
We noted, in September, that corporate bond downgrades were outpacing upgrades very notably and today we get the other side of that with Moody's noting that in Q3, Muni downgrades outweighed upgrades by the most since the financial crisis began. At 5.3 to 1, the third quarter of 2011 had the highest downgrade-to-upgrade ratio of any quarter for the U.S. public finance sector since the onset of the financial crisis in 2008.
"A rapid deterioration in credit metrics led to a higher-than-average 14 multi-notch downgrades."