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Posts Tagged ‘municipal finance debt’

Municipal Money Market Funds: Caveat Emptor

Posted by Larry Doyle on June 29th, 2009 6:17 PM |

If and when your money market fund “breaks the buck,” will you be there to collect the change?

I believe it is increasingly likely that money market funds will “break the buck.” The recent SEC statement put forth by SEC Chair Mary Schapiro, which I highlighted in writing “The Buck Is Beginning to Break”, addresses this topic.

In that post, I specifically referenced my concern for municipal money market funds given the recent launch of a municipal version of an Auction-Rate Security, designated as an x-Tender by Wall Street. I walked you through the processing and packaging of this mystery meat in writing, “The Wall Street ‘Sausage Making’ Process.”

Today the Wall Street Journal offers another whiff of the factory and gives us further reason to stay away from municipal money funds specifically. The WSJ writes, Mutual-Fund Giants Give Mixed Reviews to SEC Proposals:

The SEC proposed requiring retail money-market funds to have at least 5% of their assets in cash, U.S. Treasury Securities or securities that are accessible within one day and at least 15% in assets that can be converted to cash within a week. Institutional money-market funds would be required to have at least 10% of assets in instruments that could be converted into cash within one day and at least 30% in securities that could be converted within one week. The rules wouldn’t apply to tax-exempt, municipal money-market funds. (LD’s emphasis)

Why and how is it that newly designed rules for a $3.8 trillion sector of the market can exclude a sector encompassing municipal funds? My antennae went up immediately upon reading that. What is different about municipal money market funds that would exclude them from a set of rules designed to protect investors?

Why doesn’t the WSJ itself pursue this line of questioning in writing the article. How can the industry segregate municipal money market funds?

Municipal finance has been largely dependent on newly defined Build America Bonds which entail an obligation by Uncle Sam. Call me suspicious, but I wonder if the exclusion of  municipal money market funds is due to the hoped for salvation of municipal finance via the municipal auction-rate security, x-Tender, otherwise known as Porky Pig here at Sense on Cents.

I will keep my nose to the ground in an attempt to sniff this out.  Anybody who can help us determine the nature of this stench, please share. In the meantime, stay away from municipal money market funds.

LD

Municipal Finance: Will Uncle Sam Post Bail?

Posted by Larry Doyle on May 26th, 2009 3:09 PM |

Is every village, town, city, and state in our country poised to receive a “get out of jail” free card from Uncle Sam? I linked to The New York Times article, Localities Want U.S. to Support Muni Bonds, in the Newsworthy section of Sense on Cents. Upon further review, it deserves comment.

In my opinion, this support of the municipal market may very well represent the greatest violation of a moral hazard to date. Why? Municipalities are by edict required to balance their budgets. A municipal budget which is able to obviate the tough decisions and choices in the budgetary process will lose that rigor.

Politicians of all stripes will make the case that the municipal default rate is extremely low and, as such, a federal backstop in the form of bond insurance is truly a very low risk proposition. Please allow me to opine that the same argument was made in the quasi-guarantee provided to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Those two giants are now wards of the state having been utilized by politicians from both sides of the aisle as campaign “piggy banks” for the better part of twenty years.

The New York Times highlights that the federal guarantee of municipal debt is not all that Uncle Sam may be asked to bail:

“All kinds of municipal borrowers are facing revenue shortfalls,” said Mr. Decker. “California is the largest example. Some states are better off than others. But all outstanding debt is backed by tax revenues. And municipalities are facing a greater or lesser level of distress.”

Also clamoring for help is a group of municipalities that purchased Lehman debt, which is now nearly worthless. Legislation authorizing the use of relief money to make these purchases was introduced by two California Democratic representatives, Jackie Speier and Anna Eshoo. If approved, this would be more like a bailout than a guarantee, because the federal government would be paying face value for debt that otherwise has little value.

The price tag on that proposal is around $1.6 billion. The argument promoted by the two congresswomen is that the Treasury and Fed allowed Lehman to fail, causing governmental bodies to lose money.

Whether a price tag is $1.6 billion, $1.6 million or $1.6 trillion a potential federal bailout of a poor investment decision is the antithesis of free market capitalism. Where does it end? (more…)

Too Much Debt: Restructure, Default, or Devalue?

Posted by Larry Doyle on March 30th, 2009 11:10 AM |

Virtually every sector in the economy is faced with the same predicament: excessive debt. Whether residential housing, commercial real estate, consumer finance, automotive, municipal finance, or Uncle Sam, the current debt service along with future debt service is overwhelming.

In my opinion, the amount of influence with your lender (creditor) is directly related to the amount of debt and the terms of that debt. Regrettably for many taxpayers, the amount of debt from residential mortgage payments along with credit card bills and other household debts are not sufficient to create much influence. For larger corporations or municipalities, the influence is greater as these entities threaten to default. Thus, we see ongoing games of “chicken” being played between debtors and creditors while debt service typically gets restructured. 

What about the largest debtor of all, that being Uncle Sam?  He can’t play the “default” card and expect the market to treat him with any degree of credibility. Thus, Uncle Sam does not have the option of restructuring or default. The only real option left to Uncle Sam is devaluation. How does that get played out? In the very manner that the Fed and Treasury are doing right now. Pump money into the system like there is no tomorrow. (more…)






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