Chicago bonds

Chicago’s Finances A Mess For 2014 And Beyond

The beginning of the new year is always a popular time for predictions.

Here’s one I’ve heard being uttered with more regularity lately:

“Chicago’s the next Detroit”

You may recall that back on December 3, the City of Detroit officially became the largest municipality in U.S. history to enter Chapter 9 bankruptcy.

I’m guessing those making that comment presume the “Windy City” is going to be bankrupt too.

I just got done reading another comparison to Detroit being made again. This time it’s from TheStreet.com, the U.S. financial news and services website co-founded by Jim Cramer, host of CNBC’s Mad Money. Jonathan Yates wrote on December 30:

A recent report by the Economist Intelligence Unit rated Chicago one of the top 10 cities in the world for its ability to “attract capital, business, talent and tourists.”

Although that certainly will focus global attention on “The Second City,” Chicago’s precarious financial condition could result in it becoming even more well known — for going broke…

At least Detroit had an excuse with the collapse of the automobile industry.

The major reason for Chicago’s financial woes is mismanagement. The city’s employee costs, especially for pensions, are unsustainable…

Yates, a contributor to TheStreet.com, suggests investors avoid Chicago bonds. He pointed out later in his piece:

Chicago is a great city with great restaurants, great museums and great architecture.

But those are not reasons to buy its bonds, because Chicago’s finances are a mess, and that won’t change anytime soon…

“Chicago’s finances are a mess, and that won’t change anytime soon…”

Sadly, I agree with him there.

Now, Yates mentioned Chicago’s public pension crisis. Back on August 5, The New York Times highlighted just how serious a threat it is to the city’s well-being. Monica Davey and Mary Williams Walsh reported on the Times website:

Corporations are moving in, and housing prices are looking better across the region. There has been a slight uptick in population. But a crushing problem lurks beneath the signs of economic recovery in Chicago: one of the most poorly funded pension systems among the nation’s major cities. Its plight threatens to upend the finances of President Obama’s hometown, now run by his former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.

The pension fund for retired Chicago teachers stands at risk of collapse. The city’s four funds for other retired city workers are short by $19.5 billion. At least one of the funds is in peril of running out of money in less than a decade. And starting in 2015, the city will be required by the state to make far larger contributions to the funds, which could leave it hundreds of millions of dollars in the red — as much as it would cost to pay 4,300 police officers to patrol the streets for a year

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

Rick Lyman of the Times added on December 4:

Under state law, the city must increase its contributions to its workers’ pension funds by $590 million in 2015, to a total annual contribution of $1.4 billion for current and future retirees. If no pension deal can be reached by November of next year, when the city will draft its next budget, the city will either have to raise taxes or cut services or some combination of both

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

City Hall and their supporters can spin Chicago’s growing financial crisis as much as they want. But at the end of the day, they’ve got all the above problems to contend with as well as a long-term debt that’s now up to nearly $29 billion, or $10,780 for every city resident, according to the latest City of Chicago official audit.

I became aware of the extent of Chicago’s financial woes a couple of years back.

It’s a big reason why my girlfriend and I moved out of the city when we did.

I’ve been warning about this debacle for some time now on this blog. I can only hope my Chicago-based readers have taken note of it and are at least thinking about how they might minimize their exposure to the coming mess.

By Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

Sources:

Yates, Jonathan. “Avoid Chicago’s Bonds; It Could Be the Next Detroit.” TheStreet.com. 30 Dec. 2013. (http://www.thestreet.com/story/12188473/1/avoid-chicagos-bonds-it-could-be-the-next-detroit.html). 3 Jan. 2014.

Davey, Monica and Walsh, Mary Williams. “Chicago Sees Pension Crisis Drawing Near.” The New York Times. 5 Aug. 2013. (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/06/us/chicago-sees-pension-crisis-drawing-near.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0&src=me). 3 Jan. 2014.

Lyman, Rick. “Chicago Pursues Deal to Change Pension Funding.” The New York Times. 4 Dec. 2013. (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/05/us/chicago-pursues-deal-to-change-pension-funding.html?_r=0). 3 Jan 2014.

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Sunday, January 5th, 2014 Bankruptcy, Bonds, Debt Crisis, Entitlements, Government Comments Off on Chicago’s Finances A Mess For 2014 And Beyond

Chicago ‘National Poster Child For Financial Distress’?

Whew. After spending a good deal of the day Saturday at a birthday party for one of my girlfriend’s sisters, I was pretty sore the next morning when I hobbled down my driveway to retrieve the Sunday paper. After a little breakfast, I busted out the “Business” section of the Chicago Tribune and read the following in the weekly finance/investing column by Gail MarksJarvis. She wrote:

Chicago is receiving the type of notoriety no city would want. And its reputation is undermining investments individuals have made in the city’s municipal bonds.

Chicago has become a national poster child for financial distress in the aftermath of the Detroit bankruptcy, as bond analysts have been warning investors about cities and states that could be financially risky in the future.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

Whoa! My reaction was similar to comedian Jeff Foxworthy’s when an audience member approached him and asked if he would be interested in hearing a story about a beaver biting off a man’s nipple:

“Okay, you’ve got my undivided attention.”

Now, it’s not like MarksJarvis is one of those financial “journalists” who see America- especially Obama’s America- through rose-colored glasses and dare not scratch the surface of an economic portrait constructed by a government which has a history of tinkering with the reporting that not surprisingly ends up looking more positive. Unlike these Pollyannas- I have no beef with MarksJarvis and read her column when I get the time (along with Tribune real estate reporter Mary Umberger).

MarksJarvis continued:

“Between Chicago’s appalling murder rate, blubbery unfunded pensions and ratings downgrades, don’t touch this credit with a 10 foot pole,” Marilyn Cohen, chief executive of Envision Capital, wrote in a report to clients this week.

The Los Angeles-based bond manager warned individuals not to be lured by the extra yield they can earn by taking chances on risky cities and states.

“Illinois, Chicago and Puerto Rico are on the bottom of the barrel,” she said. “The Chicago murder rate is a symptom of the city unable to grapple with its problems or its pension debacle. The unions have a stranglehold on the city and state and no one has been willing to raise revenue or do what needs to be done.”

Cohen is just one of many analysts waiving red flags over Chicago municipal bonds since Detroit filed for bankruptcy and made investors aware that large U.S. cities may become so troubled that individuals can lose money in general obligation bonds they assumed were rock solid.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

Funny. From what I’ve heard/read, Cohen might want to look at tossing her home state of California into that barrel as well.

Regardless, a no-holds-barred assessment of Chicago and Illinois as it relates to their bonds.

“Don’t touch this credit with a 10 foot pole.”

Ouch!

Oh well. It’s money we’re talking about here.

“No time for love, Dr. Jones.”

Now, after Detroit filed for bankruptcy last month, a number of people rushed to Chicago’s defense against claims the “Windy City” might be/is on the path of becoming the next “Motor City.” From my Sunday paper:

Bond analysts note that if the city can’t control crime and residents move out, Chicago eventually could face the urban flight issue that left Detroit with the need to spend more on safety while the number of homeowners paying taxes was in decline.

“Chicago eventually could face the urban flight issue.”

It’s an issue already on the table. Not only has it happened before (I once worked with a suburban firefighter whose family made the difficult choice of leaving Chicago’s deteriorating West Side in the late 60s-early 70s for the northwest suburban “boonies” at that time), but the argument can be made that’s it’s starting again, as I type away on my keyboard here in my new home office (in progress) in the northwest suburbs and knowing of other ex-city dwellers who’ve departed what they feel has become “Rahmabad” (as I just heard Chicago being referred to this weekend) while making their presence known on alternative media sites like Second City Cop and others.

While not a flood, there’s a trickle.

By Christopher E. Hill, Editor
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

Source:

MarksJarvis, Gail. “MarksJarvis: Chicago gives investors another reason to rethink municipal bonds.” Chicago Tribune. 4 Aug. 2013. (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-08-04/business/ct-biz-0804-gail-bonds–20130804_1_municipal-bonds-municipal-market-advisors-matt-fabian). 4 Aug. 2013.

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Monday, August 5th, 2013 Bonds, Credit, Crime, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Demographics, Entitlements, Fiscal Policy, Government, Population, Public Safety, Taxes Comments Off on Chicago ‘National Poster Child For Financial Distress’?
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