Standard & Poor’s

Judge Rules Chicago’s Pension Reform Legislation Unconstitutional

Here’s the latest on Chicago’s public pension crisis. Hal Dardick and Rick Pearson reported on the Chicago Tribune website last night:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration said it will appeal a Cook County judge’s decision Friday that ruled unconstitutional a state law reducing municipal worker pension benefits in exchange for a city guarantee to fix their underfunded retirement systems.

The 35-page ruling by Judge Rita Novak, slapping down the city’s arguments point by point, could have wide-ranging effects if upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court. Her decision appeared to also discredit efforts at the state and Cook County levels to try to curb pension benefits to rein in growing costs that threaten funding for government services.

The issue of underfunded pensions, and how to restore their financial health, is crucial for the city and its taxpayers. The city workers and laborers funds at issue in Friday’s ruling are more than $8 billion short of what’s needed to meet obligations — and are at risk of going broke within 13 years — after many years of low investment returns fueled by recession and inadequate funding.

Without reducing benefits paid to retired workers, or requiring current workers to pay more, taxpayers could eventually be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars more in annual payments to those city funds — before the even worse-funded police and fire retirement accounts are factored into the taxing equation

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Chicagoans- let that last line from Dardick and Pearson sink in real good:

“Taxpayers could eventually be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars more in annual payments to those city funds — before the even worse-funded police and fire retirement accounts are factored into the taxing equation…”

And the City’s response to the ruling? Mayor Emanuel’s Press Office countered Friday:

Statement of City of Chicago Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton on SB1922

“While we are disappointed by the trial court’s ruling, we have always recognized that this matter will ultimately be resolved by the Illinois Supreme Court. We now look forward to having our arguments heard there. We continue to strongly believe that the City’s pension reform legislation, unlike the State legislation held unconstitutional this past spring, does not diminish or impair pension benefits, but rather preserves and protects them. This law not only rescues the municipal and laborer pension funds from certain insolvency, but ensures that, over time, they will be fully funded and the 61,000 affected City workers and retirees will receive the pensions they were promised.”

As to the City of Chicago’s credit rating possibly getting whacked after the decision? Timothy W. Martin reported on The Wall Street Journal website Friday afternoon:

Moody’s said Friday’s ruling had no effect on Chicago’s bond grade. But rival Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services, which currently has an investment-grade rating for the city, said that “regardless of the ultimate outcome” of Mr. Emanuel’s pension law, it “will likely lower” its Chicago rating in the next six months, unless city leaders chart out a solution to address its pension problems.

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Like I’ve been saying for a couple years now, that proverbial brick wall keeps approaching for Chicago.

Since City Hall can’t get its affairs in order, Chicagoans might want to look at straightening out theirs if they intend to stick around for the long haul.

Sources:

Dardick, Hal and Pearson, Rick. “Judge finds city’s changes to pension funds unconstitutional.” Chicago Tribune. 24 July 2015. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/politics/ct-chicago-pension-ruling-met-20150724-story.html). 25 July 2015.

Martin, Timothy W. “Chicago’s Pension Overhaul Plan Tossed Out by Judge.” The Wall Street Journal. 24 July 2015. (http://www.wsj.com/articles/judge-rules-2014-law-to-reduce-chicago-pension-shortfall-unconstitutional-1437754525). 25 July 2015.

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S&P Cuts Chicago’s Credit Rating Twice In Less Than 2 Months

Surprise, surprise. The City of Chicago’s credit rating was lowered yet again.

This time, it’s Standard & Poor’s that did the cutting.

Karen Pierog and Tanvi Mehta reported on the Reuters website last night:

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services cut Chicago’s credit rating one notch to BBB-plus with a negative outlook on Wednesday, citing the windy city’s nagging structural budget deficit and the lack of a plan to close it.

S&P analyst John Kenward said the U.S.’ third-largest city needs “a credible, public, detailed plan” to deal with budget gaps projected to grow to $588 million in fiscal 2017, largely due to escalating contributions to its police and fire fighter retirement funds.

S&P also warned Chicago’s general obligation bond rating may fall further if a credible plan does not surface within six months…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

According to the S&P website, “BBB” indicates:

Adequate protection parameters. However, adverse economic conditions or changing circumstances are more likely to lead to a weakened capacity of the obligor to meet its financial commitment on the obligation.

It was less than two months ago that Standard & Poor’s last downgraded the City of Chicago’s credit rating. I blogged on May 17:

Standard & Poor’s joined in on the downgrade parade later in the week. From a press release Friday:

Chicago, IL GO Bond Ratings Lowered To #A-# From #A+#, Placed On CreditWatch Due To Short-Term Liquidity Pressure
CHICAGO–15 May–Standard & Poor’s

CHICAGO (Standard & Poor’s) May 14, 2015–Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services lowered its rating to ‘A-‘ from ‘A+’ on the city of Chicago’s outstanding general obligation (GO) bonds, and placed the ratings on CreditWatch with negative implications…

Stay tuned…

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

Source:

Mehta, Tanvi and Pierog, Karen. “UPDATE 1-S&P downgrades Chicago’s GO bond rating to BBB-plus.” Reuters. 8 July 2015. (http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/07/08/usa-chicago-sp-idUSL3N0ZO60H20150708). 9 July 2015.

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Chicago’s Credit Rating Lowered By Fitch Ratings, Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s

The three major U.S. credit rating agencies have downgraded the City of Chicago this past week. Last Tuesday, Moody’s announced on its website:

Rating Action: Moody’s downgrades Chicago, IL to Ba1, affecting $8.9B of GO, sales, and motor fuel tax debt; outlook negative

Also downgrades senior and second lien water bonds to Baa1 and Baa2 and downgrades senior and second lien sewer bonds to Baa2 and Baa3, affecting $3.8B; outlook negative

New York, May 12, 2015 — Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded to Ba1 from Baa2 the rating on the City of Chicago, IL’s $8.1 billion of outstanding general obligation (GO) debt; $542 million of outstanding sales tax revenue debt; and $268 million of outstanding and authorized motor fuel tax revenue debt…

In case readers didn’t notice, that was a two-notch downgrade from “Baa2″ to “Ba1.”

According to Moody’s “US Municipal Ratings,” “Ba” indicates “Issuers or issues rated Ba demonstrate below-average creditworthiness relative to other US municipal or tax-exempt issuers or issues.”

In other words, “junk.”

A day later, Moody’s was at it again, lowering the Chicago Board of Education’s credit rating. From their site on May 13:

Moody’s downgrades Chicago Board of Education, IL’s GO to Ba3; outlook negative

Ba3 rating applies to $6.2 billion of GO debt

New York, May 13, 2015 — Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded to Ba3 from Baa3 the rating on the Chicago Board of Education, IL’s $6.2 billion of outstanding general obligation (GO) debt. The Chicago Board of Education is the primary debt issuer for the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) (the district). The outlook remains negative…

A three-notch downgrade. And even worse “junk.”

Standard & Poor’s joined in on the downgrade parade later in the week. From a press release Friday:

Chicago, IL GO Bond Ratings Lowered To #A-# From #A+#, Placed On CreditWatch Due To Short-Term Liquidity Pressure

CHICAGO–15 May–Standard & Poor’s

CHICAGO (Standard & Poor’s) May 14, 2015–Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services lowered its rating to ‘A-‘ from ‘A+’ on the city of Chicago’s outstanding general obligation (GO) bonds, and placed the ratings on CreditWatch with negative implications…

According to the S&P website, “A” indicates:

Somewhat more susceptible to the adverse effects of changes in circumstances and economic conditions than obligations in higher-rated categories. However, the obligor’s capacity to meet its financial commitment on the obligation is still strong.

Fitch Ratings was the last of the three major credit rating agencies to the party, releasing the following Friday on their website:

Fitch Downgrades Chicago, IL’s ULTGOs and Sales Tax Bonds to ‘BBB+'; Ratings on Negative Watch

Fitch Ratings-New York-15 May 2015: Fitch Ratings has downgraded the ratings on the following Chicago, Illinois obligations:

–$8.1 billion unlimited tax GO bonds to ‘BBB+’ from ‘A-‘;
–$546.5 million (accreted value) sales tax bonds to ‘BBB+’ from ‘A-‘;
–$200 million commercial paper notes, 2002 program series A (tax exempt) and B (taxable) bank bond ratings to ‘BBB’ from ‘BBB+’.

At the same time, the ratings have been placed on Negative Watch…

According to the Fitch Ratings website, “BBB” indicates:

Expectations of default risk are currently low. The capacity for payment of financial commitments is considered adequate but adverse business or economic conditions are more likely to impair this capacity.

You can read the May 12 Moody’s press release on their website here. The May 13 Moody’s release is here. Standard & Poor’s press release can be found here (on thailand4.com) and the Fitch Ratings release on their website here.

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

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Chicago Warned By Moody’s About Pension Liabilities

In early April, Standard & Poor’s warned the City of Chicago:

If the city doesn’t find structural solutions, a downgrade of more than one notch is possible.

In our view, if the city fails to articulate and implement a plan by the end of 2015 to sustainably fund its pension contributions, or if it substantially draws down its reserves to fund the contributions, we will likely lower the rating.

Now Moody’s has fired a shot across the city’s bow in 2015. From their Global Credit Research unit on Friday:

Chicago’s (Baa2 negative) pension plans face an uncertain future. Statutes that govern the city’s pension funding requirements have come under legal and political fire, particularly during the last year, as pensioners, politicians, taxpayers and investors have questioned the laws’ constitutionality and affordability, Moody’s Investors Service says in a new report.

Regardless of the ultimate answers, one outcome is certain: Chicago’s unfunded pension liabilities and ongoing pension costs will grow significantly, forcing city officials to make difficult decisions for years to come.

If current laws stand, Chicago’s annual pension contributions are projected to increase by 135% in 2016; by an average annual rate of 8% in 2017-21; and by an average annual rate of 3% in 2022-26.

The 2016 increase alone equals a significant 15% of the city’s 2013 operating revenue, Moody’s says in “Chicago’s Pension Forecast — Tough Choices Now or Tougher Choices Later.”

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

“Touch Choices Now or Tougher Choices Later.” That pretty much sums up the situation not only in the “Windy City,” but in the state of Illinois as well.

Blame Emanuel? Blame Rauner? Whatever. As is if these guys have been around long enough to help put Chicagoans and Illinoisans in their respective financial messes.

You can read the rest of the Moody’s news release on their website here.

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

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Standard & Poor’s Warns Chicago ‘Downgrade Of More Than One Notch Is Possible’

Not too much talk about the following last week in the Chicago-area news. From Standard & Poor’s credit analyst Helen Samuelson over on S&P’s Global Credit Portal website on April 9:

CHICAGO (Standard & Poor’s) April 9, 2015–After months of campaigning and uncertainty, Chicago (A+/Negative general obligation debt rating) can get back to the business of running itself. As such, we expect Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s attention to be focused on the city’s budget challenges, namely its ballooning pension obligation.

During the course of the election — and particularly during the runoff — Mayor Emanuel avoided addressing the possibility of property tax increases to help pay for these pension obligations.

“Following Tuesday’s vote, in order to maintain its current rating, we expect the administration to address the pension and budget challenges head on by providing solutions that will support the city’s credit strengths in the near and far term,” said Standard & Poor’s credit analyst Helen Samuelson.

Our ‘A+’ rating is predicated on Chicago’s ability to make the changes necessary to address its budget gap and pension problem. However, even with this ability, to ensure long-term stability Chicago still needs to demonstrate its willingness to make difficult choices that address its budget issues.

Otherwise, the ‘A+’ rating could be severely pressured. Our negative rating outlook reflects the city’s fiscal pressures. If the city doesn’t find structural solutions, a downgrade of more than one notch is possible.

In our view, if the city fails to articulate and implement a plan by the end of 2015 to sustainably fund its pension contributions, or if it substantially draws down its reserves to fund the contributions, we will likely lower the rating. This is regardless of whatever relief the state legislature may or may not provide. We will likely affirm the rating and revise the outlook to stable if Chicago is able to successfully absorb its higher pension costs while maintaining balanced budgetary performance and reserves at or near their current level…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

To date, a different credit rating agency- Moody’s- has been making the most noise about the City of Chicago’s financial woes. Yvette Shields reported on The Bond Buyer website on April 6:

The city has suffered a steep credit rating slide and further credit deterioration is threatened.

Chicago’s GO ratings range from a low of Baa2 — two notches above speculative grade — from Moody’s to a high of A-plus from Standard & Poor’s…

“A-plus.” That may not be the case at year end.

You can read that entire Standard & Poor’s piece on the Global Credit Portal here.

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

Source:

Shields, Yvette. “Big Stakes as Market Awaits Chicago’s Mayoral Pick.” The Bond Buyer. 6 Apr. 2015. (http://www.bondbuyer.com/news/regionalnews/big-stakes-as-market-awaits-chicagos-mayoral-pick-1071986-1.html). 16 Apr. 2015.

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Thursday, April 16th, 2015 Credit, Debt Crisis, Entitlements, Government, Taxes No Comments

Illinois Named Worst-Run State In America In 2014

“‘We don’t have the time to mess around. We are in deep, deep trouble financially,’ [Illinois Governor-elect Bruce] Rauner told a meeting of the Illinois Farm Bureau at a downtown Chicago hotel. ‘The next 24 months are going to be rough. And I apologize. I ain’t going to be Mr. Popularity for a little while. That’s OK. Four years from now I think, though, everybody will appreciate what we did.’”

Chicago Tribune website, December 8, 2014

Talk about lists you don’t want to be on. In 2012 and 2013, Illinois was the 3rd worst-run state in the annual best- and worst-run states in America survey conducted by New York City-based financial news and opinion organization 24/7 Wall St.

So how did the “Land of Lincoln” fare in 2014? From the 24/7 Wall St. website on December 3:

How well run is your state? Assessing a state’s management quality is hardly easy. The current economic climate and standard of living in any given state are not only the results of policy choices and developments that occurred in the last few years, but can also be affected by decisions made decades ago, and by forces outside a state’s control.

Each year, 24/7 Wall St. attempts to answer this question by surveying various aspects of each state. To determine how well states are managed, we examine key financial ratios, as well as social and economic outcomes. This year, North Dakota is the best-run state in the country for the third consecutive year, while Illinois replaced California as the worst-run state

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Ouch. Worst part is, the people who brought us this mess are the same ones still in charge, more or less. It will be interesting to see how much of a difference Governor-elect Rauner- who ran on the Republican ticket- can make in the Democrat-controlled state.

24/7 Wall St. went into more detail about my home state’s latest “honor.” From the piece:

Illinois is the worst-run state in the nation. Like many other low-ranked states, more people left Illinois than moved there. Illinois lost more than 137,000 residents due to migration between the middle of 2010 and July 2013. A poor housing market may partly explain the exodus. Median home values fell 16.2% between 2009 and 2013, the second largest drop nationwide. Illinois has extremely poor finances by many measures. Just 39.3% of Illinois’ pension liabilities were funded as of 2013, worse than any other state. Further, the state’s reserves are estimated at just 0.5% of its general fund expenditure, the second lowest reserves rate nationwide. Both Moody’s and S&P gave Illinois the worst credit ratings of any state, at A3 and A- respectively. According to Moody’s, the state’s rating reflects its low fund balances and high pension obligations, as well as its “chronic use of payment deferrals to manage operating fund cash.”

As for our neighbors, Indiana is ranked 28th and Wisconsin comes in at 26th in 2014- down from 19th and 21st- respectively.

That’s quite a hit (9 places) the Hoosiers took from last year. Wonder what’s behind the drop?

Curious as to where 24/7 Wall St. ranked your state in 2014? Head on over to their website here.

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

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Illinois Senate President John Cullerton Says No State Public Pension Crisis

“Five million dollars a day. That’s the cost of Illinois’ unresolved pension crisis.”

-Jay Levine, Channel 2 News (Chicago CBS affiliate) reporter, October 18, 2013

Five million dollars a day being flushed down the toilet because Illinois politicians haven’t tackled the state’s public pension crisis.

By the way, that pension liability now amounts to a worst-in-the-nation $100 billion last I heard.

And here’s what Illinois Senate President John Cullerton said yesterday about the ongoing fiasco. From the Chicago Tribune website this morning:

“People really misunderstand the nature of this whole problem. Quite frankly, I don’t think you can use the word ‘crisis’ to describe it at the state level,” Cullerton said in an interview on WGN-AM radio.

“It’s something we have to deal with, but it’s not something that we’re on the verge of bankruptcy on,” Cullerton said.

The term “Ivory Tower” comes to mind here.

Meanwhile, it’s probably just a matter of time now before a major credit rating agency downgrades the State’s debt yet again due to the inability of the political leadership to deal with the crisis.

According to the Illinois Watchdog website, Illinois has seen its credit downgraded 16 times since 2003, with both Fitch and Standard and Poor’s currently assigning an “A-” rating to its debt.

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

Sources:

Levine, Jay. “Lawmakers May Take Up Pension Reform, Gun Control In Veto Session.” CBS Chicago. 18 Oct. 2013. (http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2013/10/18/lawmakers-may-take-up-pension-reform-gun-control-in-veto-session/). 21 Oct. 2013.

“Cullerton: Illinois pension debt not a ‘crisis'” Chicago Tribune. 21 Oct. 2013. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/politics/clout/chi-cullerton-pension-debt-not-a-crisis-but-about-lowering-taxes-20131020,0,4245590.story). 21 Oct. 2013.

Yount, Ben. “Illinois can stand as a lesson in government-gone-wild.” Illinois Watchdog. 10 Oct. 2013. (http://watchdog.org/110131/illinois-can-stand-as-a-lesson-in-government-gone-wild/). 21 Oct. 2013.

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Illinois Bond Issue Halted Due To Credit Concerns

Today, residents of the state of Illinois saw the repercussions of having $8 billion of unpaid bills, a $96.8 billion pension funding gap, and falling credit ratings. Karen Pierog reported on the Reuters website:

Illinois yanked a $500 million general obligation bond issue slated for Wednesday because of credit concerns that could boost its borrowing costs, in the latest financial blow to the state, which has failed to fix its bloated public pensions.

Investment banks that planned to bid on the debt indicated investors would demand higher yields on the 25-year bonds, said John Sinsheimer, Illinois’ capital markets director.

“We were getting indications of higher spreads than we were anticipating,” said Sinsheimer, who declined to discuss specific spread levels. “We felt it was prudent to pull the deal for the time being.”

(Editor’s notes: Italics added for emphasis)

Pierog pointed out:

Illinois is already faced with the highest spreads – 137 basis points in the latest week – over Municipal Market Data’s benchmark triple-A scale among states and cities tracked by MMD, a unit of Thomson Reuters.

Over the weekend, I noted Standard & Poor’s downgraded the State of Illinois on Friday to an “A-” rating with a negative outlook- last among all 50 states. I added that among other major credit rating agencies, Moody’s also ranks Illinois last of all the U.S. states and Fitch ranks it 49th but on watch for a possible downgrade.

As for Illinois taxpayers? They may have to pay tens of millions of dollars more in interest when the state looks to borrow more money- like what almost happened today.

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

Source:

Pierog, Karen. “UPDATE 2-Illinois pulls $500 mln bond sale amid credit concerns.” Reuters. 30 Jan 2013. (http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/30/illinois-bonds-idUSL1N0AZ6TQ20130130). 30 Jan. 2013.

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S&P Downgrades Illinois Credit Rating To Worst In Nation

When I heard a major credit rating agency had downgraded Illinois Friday, the term “death spiral state” quickly came to mind.

And then my thoughts turned to the tens of millions of dollars Illinois taxpayers might be on the hook for down the road.

Ray Long and Monique Garcia reported on the Chicago Tribune website Friday:

Illinois fell to the bottom of all 50 states in the rankings of a major credit ratings agency Friday following the failure of Gov. Pat Quinn and lawmakers to fix the state’s hemorrhaging pension system during this month’s lame-duck session.

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Service downgraded Illinois in what is the latest fallout over the $96.8 billion debt to five state pension systems. The New York rating firm’s ranking signaled taxpayers may pay tens of millions of dollars more in interest when the state borrows money for roads and other projects.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

Illinois now has an “A-” rating with a negative outlook from S&P. Among other major credit rating agencies, Moody’s ranks Illinois last among the 50 states and Fitch ranks it 49th but on watch for a possible downgrade.

Regarding the state’s huge pension funding gap, Mark Peters wrote on the Wall Street Journal website Friday:

S&P estimates the pension system in the coming year will see assets fall to 39% of future obligations.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

Hardly any talk about the crisis in the local mainstream media outlets this weekend. Amazing. I can’t understand why more Illinois residents aren’t up in arms over this humongous financial mess the state is in.

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

Sources:

Garcia, Monique and Long, Ray. “Illinois credit rating sinks to worst in nation.” Chicago Tribune. 25 Jan. 2013. (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-01-25/news/chi-illinois-credit-rating-sinks-to-worst-in-nation-20130125_1_action-on-pension-reform-robin-prunty-illinois-credit). 27 Jan. 2013.

Peters, Mark. “S&P Cuts Illinois Credit Rating.” Wall Street Journal. 25 Jan. 2013. (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324539304578264293106044944.html). 27 Jan. 2013.

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S&P: U.S. Has 20 To 25 Percent Chance Of ‘Double-Dip’ Recession, Eurozone Enters New One

The economists over at well-known American financial services company Standard & Poor’s (S&P) are warning about a possible “double-dip” recession for the United States, and are saying the Eurozone has entered a new one. Agustino Fontevecchia wrote last Friday on the Forbes website:

There’s a 20% to 25% chance that the U.S. economy will suffer a double-dip recession, according to a report by Standard & Poor’s. The credit rating agency which downgraded the U.S.’ sovereign credit rating last year noted unemployment could peak above 9%, real GDP would contract 0.9%, and housing markets would once again collapse under their adverse scenario. The catalyst: Congress failing to reach an agreement to avoid the fiscal cliff.

No matter what happens, a strong economic recovery is “a long ways away,” explained S&P’s deputy chief economist, Beth Ann Bovino. A poor labor market, with businesses adding a paltry 97,000 jobs per month over the last six months, has kept the economic recovery in “slow gear.” (During the winter, the economy added an average 240,000 jobs per month, she noted).

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

This warning of an economic slowdown echoes what S&P economists were saying a month prior. From the AFP website on August 21:

The odds the United States will slip back into recession next year have risen, ratings agency Standard & Poor’s said, citing risks from the European debt crisis and budget tightening at year-end.

The US ratings firm raised the chance of the US falling into recession to 25 percent, up from a 20 percent chance estimated in February, as the world’s largest economy struggles to recover from a severe 2008-2009 slump.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

Just this morning, S&P said the Eurozone was entering a new recession. Steve Gelsi wrote on the MarketWatch website:

The data are confirming our view that the [Eurozone] region is entering a new period of recession, after three quarters of negative or flat growth since the final quarter of 2010,” according to Jean-Michel Six, the rating agency’s chief economist for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

Sources:

Fontevecchia, Agustino. “Double-Dip Recession 20% To 25% Likely If Fiscal Cliff Hits, S&P Warns.” Forbes. 21 Sep. 2012. (http://www.forbes.com/sites/afontevecchia/2012/09/21/double-dip-recession-20-to-25-likely-if-fiscal-cliff-hits-sp-warns/). 25 Sep. 2012.

“Risk of US double-dip recession rises: S&P.” Agence France-Presse. 21 Aug. 2012. (http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hUW6S9xn4PTe3Oy6FaZ5SqADbALw?docId=CNG.9261c794f17a86efcc8
014d16fa164f9.121). 25 Sep. 2012.

Gelsi, Steve. “S&P says new recession hitting euro zone.” MarketWatch. 25 Sep. 2012. (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/sp-says-new-recession-hitting-euro-zone-2012-09-25?reflink=MW_news_stmp). 25 Sep. 2012.

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Is Illinois Greece?

If California is Greece, then Illinois is Spain.

-Panelist at June’s “State of the Nonprofit” conference in Chicago (hat tip The Greater Good blog)

The proverbial brick wall keeps getting closer in Illinois. And even though the state’s financial woes- and what needs to be done to fix them- are painfully obvious, the politicians carry on as if it were business as usual.

The problem is, it’s not. And years of fiscal mismanagement are really starting to bite the “Land of Lincoln” in its rear-end.

Take the state’s credit ratings, for example. From Karen Pierog on the Chicago Tribune website yesterday:

Illinois lawmakers’ inability to reform a woefully underfunded public retirement system at a special session last Friday is likely to weigh on the state’s already relatively low credit ratings.

“We are in the process of reviewing the total credit picture, including the budget, pensions, etc,” Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services analyst Robin Prunty said on Tuesday.

“But certainly, the lack of action on pensions is not a credit positive.”

Pierog, who is affiliated with Reuters, added:

S&P, which rates Illinois A-plus with a negative outlook, put the state on notice in March that it could face a multiple-notch general obligation rating downgrade if there is no “credible progress” in taming its huge $83 billion unfunded pension liability and on tackling a structural budget imbalance.

Another credit rating agency, Moody’s Investors Service, downgraded the State of Illinois to A2 from A1 earlier this year.

According to the California State Treasurer’s website this morning, California’s S&P and Moody’s credit ratings are A- (lower than Illinois) and A1 (higher than Illinois), respectively.

But it’s not just credit ratings where years of poor policymaking are coming back to haunt the state. Pierog noted:

Investors are demanding higher yields to invest in Illinois’ bonds as its so-called credit spread over Municipal Market Data’s benchmark triple-A scale for 10-year debt is the widest at 157 basis points among major U.S. city and state debt issuers tracked by MMD, a unit of Thomson Reuters. California’s spread by comparison is less than half of Illinois’ at 66 basis points.

Perhaps that panelist got it wrong. California could be Spain, and Illinois, Greece.

Source:

Pierog, Karen. “Illinois’ inaction on pensions in rating agency crosshairs.” Chicago Tribune. 21 Aug. 2012. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/sns-rt-us-illinois-pension-ratingbre87k0uj-20120821,0,6367324.story). 22 Aug. 2012.

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Peter Schiff: ‘We Are Either In, Or On The Cusp Of, A Brand New Recession’

Tonight I’ve been reviewing some of the latest material from Peter Schiff, president and chief global strategist of Euro Pacific Capital. Schiff, as most of you may know, correctly-called the latest financial crisis the United States still finds itself in. From the Schiff Report YouTube Video Blog this past Saturday:

We are either in, or on the cusp of, a brand new recession. And remember, contrary to previous recessions, this one is starting, starting, with unemployment above nine percent, starting with interest rates already at zero. So, imagine what’s going to happen when we get the next round of fiscal stimulus- they’re going to blow the deficit off the charts. And of course, the Fed can’t do anything on the rate front. All they can do is print more money, which destroys the value of U.S. bonds. So I think S&P again is being much too generous with their rating forecast…

So, that is my warning to everybody, and I’ve been saying it. You can’t just get out of Treasuries. You need to get out of all debt denominated in U.S. dollars, because that really is what S&P is saying here. S&P is saying, “We have so much debt, that if you buy Treasuries, you’re going to lose, because you’re going to be paid back in inflated dollars.” Well, if you lose on Treasuries, you lose on any bond that’s denominated in dollars. In fact, you lose on your dollars. If you have them in your bank. If you have them stuffed underneath your mattress. S&P is telling you, “Get out of dollars.” That’s what I’ve been saying, and now they’re saying it too. Even if they won’t tell it to you that straight, they want to sugar coat it. I never do that.


“S & P AA+ on U.S. Sovereign Debt not Low Enough”
YouTube Video

And the following is from an e-mail I received from his investment services company, Euro Pacific Capital Inc., earlier this evening:

As may have been expected, the majority of investment professionals are reacting perversely to the crisis. On the day after the first ever downgrade was issued on American government debt, investors reacted by igniting one of the biggest rallies in the history of the treasury market. Such an illogical reaction suggests that investments of better value and fundamentals continue to be overlooked.

I see many places to find shelter from the growing economic storm. While media attention is focused on weakness in the Euro, other currencies are doing quite well against the dollar. Over the last 12 months, the Australian dollar is up 12.6%, and the Swiss franc is up 37%. I believe investments that produce reliable income denominated in these, and other, currencies offer meaningful protection from declines in the U.S. dollar. Assets such as non-dollar sovereign bonds, utilities, and real estate trusts all offer these traits. Gold, which I consider to be the only real money, is up 41% so far this year and today had its biggest one day gain in history. I believe that in the current environment exposure to precious metals offers the best way to preserve wealth.

I know a number of mainstream financial/investing types don’t care for Schiff. However, I find it hard to dismiss the views of someone who’s made some terrific calls regarding the direction of the markets/economy over the past couple years- along with others still playing out.

(Note: The author disclaims any personal liability, loss, or risk incurred as a consequence of the use and application, either directly or indirectly, of any information presented herein.)

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Warren Buffett Still Bullish On America, But Not The Dollar

On Wednesday, April 20, I revisited one of my original “crash prophets,” Warren Buffett, to see what the “Oracle of Omaha” thought might be in store for the U.S. economy down the road. In the latest Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Shareholder Letter that was released on February 26, Buffett, its chairman and CEO, stated that, “America’s best days lie ahead.” However, the third richest person in the world (2011 Forbes list) didn’t share that bullish outlook for the U.S. dollar. From that April post:

The Motley Fool’s Rich Smith wrote on the MSNBC website on March 28:

Let the word go forth: On Friday, March 25, 2011, Warren Buffett predicted the decline of the U.S. dollar.

In a speech given in New Delhi (where he’s hunting up some cheap Indian stocks), the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway warned investors to avoid “long-term fixed-dollar investments” such as 10-year U.S. Treasury bonds. Buffett worries that the $2.3 trillion in new money our government has pumped into the economy, when combined with interest rates so low they’re practically giving money away, are combining to dilute the value of the dollar.

As a result, Buffett warns: “If you ask me if the U.S. Dollar is going to hold its purchasing power fully at the level of 2011, 5 years, 10 years or 20 years from now, I would tell you it will not.”

What’s more, he’s matching actions to words. Over the last couple of years, Buffett has been selling off longer-dated bond holdings, shifting assets into cash and shorter-dated paper. Berkshire’s holdings of debt dated longer than 10 years dropped 31% over the past 18 months, while Berkshire’s cash holdings leapt 56%.

This weekend, the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting took place in Omaha, and Warren Buffett shared his forecasts for the United States and its currency with attendees. Reuters’ Ben Berkowitz wrote yesterday:

Tens of thousands of Berkshire Hathaway shareholders who descended on Omaha this weekend for the conglomerate’s annual meeting got one unmistakable message from Buffett — no matter how bad the economy, or the deficit, or the political divide, the United States is as good a place to live and work as ever.

“I don’t see how anybody can be other than enthused about this country,” Buffett told Berkshire (BRKa.N) shareholders on Saturday…

The comments echo those Buffett made in February in his annual shareholder letter, but the words still may encourage investors looking sideways at the country, particularly after Standard & Poor’s put the U.S. government’s critical “AAA” credit rating on a negative credit watch.

Buffett told Reuters Insider that S&P’s move was premature, given the U.S. government issues debt only in dollars and can simply print more money to pay debt if absolutely needed.

“The United States is not going to default on any obligation,” Buffett told Insider in an interview after the annual meeting. “We are not a credit risk, believe me.”

Furthermore, “The World’s Greatest Investor” isn’t worried about another banking crisis anytime soon. Berkowitz added:

Buffett also affirmed his support for the banking sector, where he has big bets on Wells Fargo (WFC.N) and U.S. Bancorp (USB.N), calling the odds of another banking crisis “very very low.”

However, Buffett is still wary of the greenback. From the piece:

Where Buffett’s enthusiasm wanes to any degree, it is mostly in conversation on the dollar, which he said is sure to weaken over time, like most other currencies.

Buffett, as usual, said he was shying away from fixed-income investments for Berkshire’s part, even as he keeps some of his personal wealth in Treasuries for safety’s sake.

Source:

Berkowitz, Ben. “UPDATE 1-Buffett remains solid on the American economy.” Reuters. 1 May. 2011. (http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/01/buffett-economy-idUSN0113337320110501). 2 May. 2011.

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Standard & Poor’s Changes U.S. Rating Outlook To Negative

I was prepping the post “The Crash Prophets Revisited, Part 2” when I heard Standard & Poor’s lowered its outlook on the United States. From the Standard & Poor’s press release announcing the action:

‘AAA/A-1+’ Rating On United States of America Affirmed; Outlook Revised To Negative

• We have affirmed our ‘AAA/A-1+’ sovereign credit ratings on the United States of America.
• The economy of the U.S. is flexible and highly diversified, the country’s effective monetary policies have supported output growth while containing inflationary pressures, and a consistent global preference for the U.S. dollar over all other currencies gives the country unique external liquidity.
• Because the U.S. has, relative to its ‘AAA’ peers, what we consider to be very large budget deficits and rising government indebtedness and the path to addressing these is not clear to us, we have revised our outlook on the long-term rating to negative from stable.
• We believe there is a material risk that U.S. policymakers might not reach an agreement on how to address medium- and long-term budgetary challenges by 2013; if an agreement is not reached and meaningful implementation is not begun by then, this would in our view render the U.S. fiscal profile meaningfully weaker than that of peer ‘AAA’ sovereigns.

MarketWatch’s Steve Goldstein and Deborah Levine wrote about the move this afternoon:

Standard & Poor’s cut its ratings outlook on the U.S. to negative from stable on Monday, lighting a fire under Washington’s deficit-reduction debate and sending stock markets sharply lower.

The rating agency effectively gave Washington a two-year deadline to enact meaningful change, just days after House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and President Barack Obama each outlined their plans for slashing debt. S&P nonetheless kept its highest rating, AAA, on the U.S…

“The fiscal profile of the U.S. is increasingly diverging from that of its AAA peers,” said David Beers, an S&P analyst, on a conference call. “This was the time to update our opinion.”

It’s the first time S&P lowered its outlook for the U.S. from stable… The outlook change indicates a one in three chance of an actual rating downgrade over the next few years, Beers said.

The U.S. is one of 19 sovereign governments rated AAA by S&P, out of 127 rated countries. But all of the closest AAA peers — Germany, France, Canada and the U.K. — have done more to address their fiscal problems coming out of the recession, which in some cases were worse than what the U.S. experienced, analysts said.

You can read the entire press release on Standard & Poor’s website here.

“The Crash Prophets Revisited, Part 2” will be pubished tomorrow.

Sources:

“‘AAA/A-1+’ Rating On United States of America Affirmed; Outlook Revised To Negative.” Standard & Poor’s (Press Release). 18 Apr. 2011. (http://www.standardandpoors.com/ratings/articles/en/us/?assetID=1245302886884). 18 Apr. 2011.

Goldstein, Steve and Levine, Deborah. “S&P cuts U.S. rating outlook to negative.” MarketWatch. 18 Apr. 2011. (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/sp-cuts-us-rating-outlook-to-negative-2011-04-18?pagenumber=1). 18 Apr. 2011.

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Portugal, Greece See Credit Ratings Downgraded, Survey Suggests European Defaults

While the mainstream media keeps talking about a reviving U.S. economy this week- bad news piles up across the pond. From the New York Times’ Matthew Saltmarsh yesterday:

Standard & Poor’s said Tuesday that it had cut its sovereign credit ratings for Portugal and Greece, piling further pressure on the two countries with heavy debt loads, weak economies and moribund banks.

S. & P. cut Portugal’s rating to BBB– from BBB, with a negative outlook, the agency’s second downgrade of the country since Friday. BBB- is the agency’s lowest investment grade rating and is just one notch above junk. The Greek rating, which had already been cut to junk, was lowered to BB– from BB+.

Richard McGuire, a fixed income strategist at Rabobank in London, said the steps confirmed investor perceptions that Greece would have to default on some of it debt and that a similar outcome was “increasingly likely” for Portugal. He added that the European bailout mechanisms were inadequate, likening them to attaching a first-aid bandage “to a festering wound.”

“It’s a liquidity solution to a solvency problem,” he added.

The downgrades come after the results of a BBC World Service survey of European economists were published which showed many of them think Greece might default on its debt. BBC News’ Andrew Walker wrote Monday:

Greece is likely to default on its sovereign debt, according to the majority of respondents to a BBC World Service survey of European economists.

Two-thirds of the 52 respondents forecast a default, but most said the euro would survive in its current form…

Nearly two-thirds of respondents – 25 out of 38 – said there would be a default. All of them said Greece would probably fail to pay all its debts…

More than a third – 14 – said the Irish Republic would do so as well. Seven of them… predicted a default by Portugal.

Sources:

Saltmarsh, Matthew. “S.&P. Downgrades Portugal and Greece Again.” New York Times. 29 Mar. 2011. (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/30/business/global/30euro.html). 30 Mar. 2011.

Walker, Andrew. “Euro economists expect Greek default, BBC survey finds.” BBC News. 28 Mar. 2011. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-12864413). 30 Mar. 2011.

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Wednesday, March 30th, 2011 Debt Crisis, Defaults, Europe No Comments


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