View Single Post
Old 02-25-2016, 05:27 PM
campbell's Avatar
campbell campbell is offline
Mary Pat Campbell
Join Date: Nov 2003
Location: NY
Studying for duolingo and coursera
Favorite beer: Murphy's Irish Stout
Posts: 88,191
Blog Entries: 6

WASHINGTON — If it’s up to the Treasury Department, public employees in Puerto Rico who were promised pensions could be better off than investors who bought the island’s bonds.

A broad plan being put forward by the Treasury Department to ease Puerto Rico’s financial crisis would put pension payments to retirees ahead of payments to bondholders — a move that some experts fear could rattle the larger municipal bond market.

The proposal was being driven by evidence that Puerto Rico’s pension system is nearly out of money, leaving retirees who are dependent on it financially vulnerable.

“The major problem is, the entire pension system is close to being depleted,” said Antonio Weiss, counselor to Jacob J. Lew, the Treasury secretary. “But 330,000 people depend on it. It’s unfunded, and they have to be protected.”

Shielding retirees from pension cuts, the thinking goes, would not only protect thousands of older residents on the island, but it might also encourage younger retirees to stay there, rather than move to the United States mainland in search of new jobs and incomes.

And by unfunded, they mean really really unfunded. The last time I looked, it was 7% funded... not sure why they hold any assets at all, given it's pay-as-it-goes.

“Most Puerto Rican debt is held by individuals,” said Thomas Moers Mayer, a lawyer representing two large mutual fund companies, Franklin Advisers and OppenheimerFunds, which together own about $10 billion in Puerto Rican debt securities. “They are mostly over 65, and they mostly have incomes of less than $100,000 a year. They are not vulture funds. They are your friends and neighbors.”

Battle of the old folks.

The part of the proposal that gives priority to pensioners has received little attention. Currently, Puerto Rico’s laws and Constitution give top priority to general-obligation bonds — the type backed by the government’s “good faith, credit and taxing power.”

Puerto Rico is not unique in this respect; for decades, the general-obligation bonds of all the states have been marketed as virtually default-proof, safe enough for widows and orphans. The concept was developed after the Civil War, as a way to rebuild investor trust after a number of notorious bond defaults.

Other bonds carry with them varying degrees of legal repayment security. Puerto Rico’s debt is extraordinarily complex, but in general, its bonds can be ranked in a hierarchy of eight levels, with general-obligation bonds at the top. The ranking is described in an analysis of the debt by the Center for a New Economy, a nonpartisan research group in San Juan.

Public workers’ pensions, the center found, fall on a second hierarchy altogether, which sets priorities for the government’s operational disbursements. Here again, however, payments due on general-obligation bonds come first, followed by payments due on legally binding contracts. Outlays for pensions come third.

That means that under existing law in Puerto Rico, if there is not enough money to pay both general-obligation bonds and public retirees’ pensions, the money would go to bondholders.

But the Treasury’s proposed restructuring framework would change that. It would require that the restructuring plan “not unduly impair the claims of any class of pensioners.”
Puerto Rico has already defaulted on some of its bonds. More payments are due in May and June. Bonds are now nearly impossible to sell, and members of Congress, especially Democrats, as well as financial experts say the island’s troubles will become increasingly enormous if some kind of restructuring framework is not approved soon.


LinkedIn Profile
Reply With Quote
Page generated in 0.16946 seconds with 9 queries