Nov 18

Municipal bonds have plummeted in recent days, as investors have suddenly focused on huge state and city budget deficits that there’s no easy way to fix.

Nowhere has this collapse been more visible than California, which faces a massive $25 billion shortfall and red ink for as far as the eye can see.

After years in which every looming financial crisis has been met with a government bailout, you might think that the same solution awaits California, as well as all the other states that have huge obligations that they can’t afford to meet.

But this time that may not happen, says Chris Whalen, a financial industry analyst and Managing Director of Institutional Risk Analytics.

In fact, Whalen thinks that California will default on its debt–hammering all the pension funds and other investors who have loaded up on apparently safe state bonds.

The state won’t immediately default, Whalen says.  It will start by issuing the same sort of IOUs that it issued to by itself time during its budget crisis last year.  But, eventually, the debts will have to be restructured, and this will result in those who own California’s bonds receiving less than 100 cents on the dollar.

Why won’t California just get a bailout?

Because the Republicans now control Congress, Whalen says.  And also because, if California gets bailed out, dozens of other states will immediately line up with their hands out.  The public is fed up with bailouts, Whalen says–and eventually, the country will be forced to face up to its bad debts and write them off.

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Aug 25

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Aug. 24 (Bloomberg) — California will delay paying $2.9 billion of subsidies to schools and counties in September, a month earlier than projected, to save cash amid an impasse that has left the state without a budget for 54 days.

The state’s top financial officials — the controller, treasurer and finance director — told lawmakers today that the 90-day deferrals need to start next month instead of October to make sure there’s enough money to pay bondholders. The amount is in addition to $3.2 billion the state pushed back in July.

California began its fiscal year on July 1 without a spending plan after Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democrats who lead the Legislature remained deadlocked over how to fill a $19 billion deficit. Controller John Chiang has warned he may need to issue IOUs within two weeks to pay for everything from supplies to contracted services and health-care costs if the impasse continues into next month.

“This is the salt in the wound,” said Rick Pratt, assistant executive director of the West Sacramento-based California School Boards Association, which represents districts statewide. “It’s the state taking its cash flow problem and making it a school district problem,” he said. He said deferrals from previous years have raised costs while the state has cut aid.

The deferrals will help the state meet four major payments in October that total about $1.74 billion, according to H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for Schwarzenegger’s budget office. He said that includes about $803 million in interest on general- obligation bonds.

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Feb 28

Jamie Dimon, chairman of JP Morgan Chase, has warned American investors should be more worried about the risk of default of the state of California than of Greece’s current debt woes.

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Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is desperately trying to reduce California’s $20bn deficit Photo: BLOOMBERG

Mr Dimon told investors at the Wall Street bank’s annual meeting that “there could be contagion” if a state the size of California, the biggest of the United States, had problems making debt repayments. “Greece itself would not be an issue for this company, nor would any other country,” said Mr Dimon. “We don’t really foresee the European Union coming apart.” The senior banker said that JP Morgan Chase and other US rivals are largely immune from the European debt crisis, as the risks have largely been hedged.

California however poses more of a risk, given the state’s $20bn (£13.1bn) budget deficit, which Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is desperately trying to reduce.

Earlier this week, the state’s legislature passed bills that will cut the deficit by $2.8bn through budget cuts and other measures. However the former Hollywood film star turned politician is looking for $8.9bn of cuts over the next 16 months, and is also hoping for as much as $7bn of handouts from the federal government.

Earlier this week, John Chiang, the state’s controller, said that if a workable plan to reduce the deficit and increase cash levels is not reached soon, he will have to return to issuing IOU’s, forcing state workers to take additional unpaid leave and potentially freezing spending. Continue reading »

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Jul 07

Don’t miss:
Day of Reckoning for California and, ultimately, for all of America:
“Why I Expect a Default on California’s Bonds”


A group of the biggest U.S. banks said they would stop accepting California’s IOUs on Friday, adding pressure on the state to close its $26.3 billion annual budget gap.

The development is the latest twist in California’s struggle to deal with the effects of the recession. After state leaders failed to agree on budget solutions last week, California began issuing IOUs — or “individual registered warrants” — to hundreds of thousands of creditors. State Controller John Chiang said that without IOUs, California would run out of cash by July’s end.

But now, if California continues to issue the IOUs, creditors will be forced to hold on to them until they mature on Oct. 2, or find other banks to honor them. When the IOUs mature, holders will be paid back directly by the state at an annual 3.75% interest rate. Some banks might also work with creditors to come up with an interim solution, such as extending them a line of credit, said Beth Mills, a California Bankers Association spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, on Monday morning, a budget meeting between Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders failed to produce a result. Amid the budget deadlock, Fitch Ratings on Monday dropped California’s bond rating to BBB, down from A minus, the latest in a series of ratings downgrades for the state.

The group of banks included Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co. and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., among others. The banks had previously committed to accepting state IOUs as payment. California plans to issue more than $3 billion of IOUs in July.

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Jul 07

July 6 (Bloomberg) — California’s credit rating was cut for the second time in as many weeks by Fitch Ratings after a stalemate over how to close a $26 billion budget deficit forced the most-populous U.S. state to pay some bills with IOUs.

Fitch lowered its rating of California’s general obligation bonds by two steps to BBB from A-, placing the debt two ranks above so-called high-yield, high-risk junk ratings, and said the state may be cut further. The credit-rating company last lowered its assessment of California on June 25.

California, the largest issuer of municipal bonds, last week began issuing IOUs for the second time since the Great Depression as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and lawmakers remained deadlocked over the budget cuts needed to make up for revenue lost because of the recession. California Controller John Chiang said the step was needed to conserve cash.

“The downgrade to ‘BBB’ is based on the state’s continued inability to achieve timely agreement on budgetary and cash flow solutions to its severe fiscal crisis,” Fitch said in a statement.

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Jul 07

Why I Expect a Default on California’s Bonds

This is a day of reckoning for California and, ultimately, for all of America.

Will our nation’s largest debtors meet their massive financial obligations? Or will many ultimately default?

In California, the answer given by the state Treasurer’s office was a commitment never to default, seeking to directly refute my forecast issued here 13 days ago under the headline “California Collapsing.”

According to the BusinessJournal:

“The California’s state Treasurer’s office on Monday refuted an analyst’s recommendation last week that investors dump California municipal bonds and that the state is likely to default.

“Analyst Martin Weiss of Weiss Research said in a June 22 report that California’s financial woes create ‘a very high probability’ that California will eventually miss debt service payments.

“Mr. Weiss’ analysis and recommendation, to put it kindly, is misinformed,” responded Tom Dresslar, a spokesman for state Treasurer Bill Lockyer. “Even the credit rating agencies said, in announcing possible downgrades, that the likelihood of default is low.”

Ironically, just two days later …

California Defaulted on Its
Short-Term Debt Obligations

In lieu of cash, California issued i.o.u.’s to meet obligations to vendors and citizens, postponing payments on its current liabilities.

But current liabilities are short-term debts. Ergo, based on this standard definition, California is already defaulting.

It’s not the same as defaulting on its bonds. But for reasons I’ll explain in a moment, I’m now more convinced than ever that a bond default is also coming.

Consider the importance of this week’s events …

If California’s creditors had a say in the issuance of i.o.u.’s, Sacramento officials might be able to deny they’re in default by implying mutual consent. But that’s far from the facts. The creditors had nothing to do with this decision. It was unilateral, a telltale aspect of debt defaults.

If the i.o.u.’s were as good as cash, Sacramento might also deny the D-word. But the sad reality is that, if you’re among those stuck with California i.o.u.’s, you have only two choices: You have to either hold them while you sweat and cross your fingers or you have to sell them at a steep discount – exactly the same choices facing bond investors after a default.

If all major financial institutions accepted California i.o.u.’s, that might also help Sacramento justify a continued denial of default. But the reality is that most banks are not accepting the i.o.u.’s, and no one could argue their reasoning is financially unsound.

Why accept a piece of paper at face value when it’s worth significantly less than face value on the open market? The nation’s largest banks already have enough troubles with toxic mortgages, toxic credit cards and toxic loans on commercial real estate. They’re not exactly anxious to pile on toxic California paper.

If, as in past episodes, California’s budget mess were mostly due to a political snafu, it could be argued that the i.o.u.’s are merely a temporary stop-gap. But that’s clearly not the case either.

To the contrary, California’s budget crisis is rooted in an unprecedented economic depression with 11.5 percent unemployment and the greatest concentration of mortgage delinquencies in the nation. Even if the i.o.u.’s are ultimately paid in full, California’s debt troubles are not going away.

Why I Expect a Default on California’s Bonds

Short of an 11th-hour rescue from Washington – where political resistance to bailouts has grown dramatically in the wake of recent federal rescues – it will be extremely difficult for California to avoid a default on its bonds.

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Jul 02

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California is inventing its own currency

AFTER weeks of trying to fix California’s budget, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and state legislators have fought one another to a standstill.

A day after the state Senate failed in a late-night bid to close part of a deficit now projected at $US26.3 billion ($A32.6 billion), California Controller John Chiang took steps to begin issuing IOUs to tens of thousands of companies and individuals owed millions of dollars by the state.

Mr Schwarzenegger declared a fiscal emergency, ordering state workers to take a third unpaid day off each month.

A meeting between Mr Schwarzenegger and the state’s top four legislative leaders ended abruptly within half an hour. Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, a Democrat from Los Angeles, charged out of the Governor’s office, clearly distraught, and walked briskly down the hall.

Related articles:
State’s budget gap deepens $2 billion overnight (San Francisco Chronicle)
Schwarzenegger declares emergency in California (AFP)
Schwarzenegger to shut state offices to save money (Sydney Morning Herald)
Governor dumps plan to build prison hospitals (San Francisco Chronicle)

“He broke it. He should fix it,” Ms Bass said tersely, alluding to Mr Schwarzenegger’s refusal to accept a budget deal that would have averted IOUs but not closed the entire deficit. “Nothing more to say.”

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Jun 30

Time is running out for the legislatures in Arizona, California, Indiana, Mississippi and Pennsylvania to solve budget gaps.

Reporting from Indianapolis and Denver — The last time Indiana missed its deadline for passing a budget and had to shut down the government was during the Civil War.

But on Monday, as lawmakers raced to hammer out an agreement over school funding, state agencies began preparing 31,000 workers to be temporarily out of a job. Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels has warned residents that most of the state’s services — including its parks, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and state-regulated casinos — would be shuttered unless a budget is passed today.

Indiana is one of five states — along with Arizona, California, Mississippi and Pennsylvania — bracing for possible shutdowns this week as time runs out for lawmakers to close billion-dollar gaps in their fiscal 2010 budgets.

Of the 46 states whose fiscal year ends today, 32 did not have budgets passed and approved by their governors as of Monday afternoon, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Although the majority of those are expected to pass eleventh-hour budgets, the fiscal futures of a handful remain uncertain, said Todd Haggerty, an NCSL research analyst.

“It’s a lot of states that are coming down to the wire,” Haggerty said. “It’s far more than we’ve seen in the past, and it’s because of the state of the economy.”

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Jun 29

California is on track to run out of cash by the end of July.

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Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tells reporters that he is resolute about state fiscal reforms. Schwarzenegger’s high-stakes strategy could close the budget abyss or cause a meltdown of state government.
(AP)

Reporting from Sacramento — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, seeking to conquer what could be the last budget crisis of his tenure, is engaged in a high-stakes negotiating strategy with lawmakers that could force him to preside over a meltdown of state government.

As legislators have scrambled to stop the state from postponing payment of its bills and issuing IOUs starting next week, the governor has vowed to veto any measure that fails to close the state’s entire $24-billion deficit.

In doing so, Schwarzenegger has sent the message that he would rather allow the state to begin shutting down than let lawmakers push its troubles off for months by closing only part of the shortfall. The latter prospect could swallow up the rest of his governorship.

“Whatever needs to be done,” Schwarzenegger told reporters outside his Capitol office Friday when asked why he would be willing to delay payments to needy Californians. “I know that there is a history in this building of always being late with the budget, to drag it out and to kick that can down the alley. . . . I don’t think we have this luxury this time.”

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Jun 25

LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK, June 25 – California’s controller said on Wednesday that he would have to issue IOUs in a week if lawmakers are unable to quickly solve a $24bn budget deficit, as the state’s treasurer plans to tap a reserve fund to meet debt service costs.

The measures came as a budget crisis deepened in the most populous US state and the gridlocked legislature failed to pass a proposed $11bn in cuts.

“Next Wednesday we start a fiscal year with a massively unbalanced spending plan and a cash shortfall not seen since the Great Depression,” said John Chiang, controller, while announcing that he would be forced to use IOUs to pay the state’s bills beginning on July 2.

“The state’s $2.8bn cash shortage in July grows to $6.5bn in September and after that we see a double digit freefall,” Mr Chiang said. “Unfortunately, the state’s inability to balance its checkbook will now mean short-changing taxpayers, local governments and small businesses.”

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