Moody’s: Hartford Default Likely on Yearly Deficits Seen to 2036 (Connecticut Already Has 2nd Worst Public Pension Underfunding Requiring $22,745 Person To Fix)

As we watch the alleged Federal government shutdown by politicians who crave spending more and more of YOUR money (without cutting spending), we see the same in various states and cities like Chicago, Illinois. Now Hartford CT is in on the overspending act.

(Bloomberg) — Moody’s says the city of Hartford is likely to default on its debt as early as November without additional concessions from Connecticut.

Moody’s sees Hartford’s operating deficits of $60 million to $80 million through 2036
Hartford will look to bondholders to restructure roughly $604 million in general obligation and lease debt, Moody’s says.

Moody’s sees additional grant revenue or amount equal to PILOT payments cutting view of operating deficits by over half.

Yes, one of Hartford’s municipal bonds has dropped in price to $68.75 and a yield of 12.14%.

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Moody’s says the city of Hartford is likely to default on its debt as early as November without additional concessions from Connecticut. From the second worst state in the nation in terms of public pensin underfunding (after my home state of New Jersey)? 

In New Jersey, the (public pension) funding gap represents nearly 42 percent of the Garden State’s Gross State Product – or more than $27,000 for every resident, according to S&P Global Ratings.

Other underfunded states include Connecticut ($22,700 per person), Hawaii ($15,700), Illinois ($15,900) and Alaska ($18,200).

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Good luck with that Hartford. Citizens of Hartford will likely have to switch their beer consumption from Heineken to Pabst Blue Ribbon.

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Trump’s Tax Proposal And Housing: Did The Middle Class Just Get Jammed? (Largest Plunge in Renter Occupied Housing YoY Since 2003)

The Trump/Republican tax proposal sketch is out. 360061522-Republican-Tax-Plan

While the hope is that lowering marginal tax rates will stimulate the economy (creating more jobs and tax revenue for Uncle Sam), the impact on housing and the mortgage market is ambiguous at best.

Let’s run through the numbers, that we know about.

Currently, the standard deduction for an individual is $6,350 and $12,700 for a couple. So, the first $12,700 of mortgage interest and property taxes is essentially thrown away. On top of the standard  deduction, however, a of four can also claim personal exemptions of $4,050 per person for a total of $16,200. That puts that break point at $28,700 for a family of four. Below that point, the family of four would prefer to rent since they would literally be throwing away their mortgage interest and property tax deductions (assuming that the mortgage interest deduction is $8,000 and the property tax deduction is $4,000 for illustrative purposes). So, $12,000 in mortgage interest and property tax deductions is below the standard deduction for a couple for $12,700.

Under the proposed tax reform plan, the standard deduction would be raised to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for a couple. At the same time personal exemptions and property tax deductions would be eliminated. This will lead to more households renting rather than owning, holding all else constant.

But President Trump’s tax reform framework calls for collapsing the current seven tax brackets into three, with marginal tax rates of 12 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent. A decline in the marginal tax bracket lowers the value of the mortgage interest deduction resulting in fewer households having an incentive to buy home.

Depending on how the marginal tax brackets are finally decided, renters (generally in the lowest marginal tax bracket) could actually see a lower tax bill (say, tax savings of $500). It becomes muddled for the middle class since the loss of itemized deductions (other than mortgage interest deductions) could actually overwhelm the lowest marginal tax rate resulting in HIGHER taxes for the middle class (say, +$500-$1,000).

There are lots of moving parts on the mortgage side, including future interest rate hikes and housing finance reform. So I hope that Congress carefully weights its options in determing the slashing of deductions in exchange for low marginal tax brackets.

Remember, the US homeownership rate has fallen back to level where it began with President Clinton’s National Homeownership Strategy from 1995.

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But here is some food for thought. The inventory of renter occupied housing units as of Q2 2017 experienced the largest YoY plunge since the mid-2000s while owner-occupied inventory experienced the largest YoY gain since the mid-2000s.

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I am just hoping that the passable version of tax reform doesn’t result in a Jeremy Jamm moment for middle-class homeowners and taxpayers.

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Debt Limit Gums Up Treasury’s Plan for Supply Bump as Fed Tapers

(Bloomberg) — The U.S. Treasury has been planning for years how to deal with the funding gap set to open up when the Federal Reserve begins unwinding its $2.5 trillion hoard of the government’s debt.

Now there’s a new wrinkle to prepare for, as the latest deal to extend the nation’s debt limit complicates matters for Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin just as the Fed is expected to unveil the start of its balance-sheet reduction.

With the debt-cap suspension expiring Dec. 8, there’s a growing sense among investors and analysts that Treasury will have to slow or hold off on the inevitable — increasing note and bond sales to deal with the shift in Fed policy and rising federal deficits. Most strategists had predicted that long-term tilt toward more coupon issuance would start in November, so a delay may provide a boost for bond bulls betting yields can stay near historic lows.

“The debt-limit issue will in the near-term affect what Treasury does with coupon issuance,” said Gene Tannuzzo, a money manager at Columbia Threadneedle, which oversees $473 billion. “At the end of the day, Treasury will have to do a lot more coupon sales. On the margin, for now, if there is less coupon issuance it is a modestly positive technical” for Treasuries.

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Just how exactly Treasury will respond to the Fed’s tapering is one of the great unknowns facing investors. The mix of maturities it decides on has far-reaching implications for the world’s biggest bond market, with the potential to alter the shape of the yield curve for years to come.

A Treasury spokeswomen, Marisol Garibay, declined to comment.

That is, IF the Fed tapers their balance sheet.

The Fed is likely to cap reinvestments of Treasuries and Agency MBS rather than outright sell them out of their portfolio. Agency MBS gradually bleed off due to mortgage refinancings and Treasuries eventually mature.

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If anyone is worried about the budget gap, imagine what it will look like with Bernie Care (Medicare for all)!

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Since Medicare is already growing at an explosive rate.

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Already Gone II: Minnesota’s Public Pensions Drop To 7th-worst Funded From 30th (Heartache Tonight?)

The Eagles said it best in their song: (Minnesota’s public pensions are) already gone.  They left out the part where Minnesota tax payers are on the hook for $33.4 billion in debt ($6,000 for every resident).

(Bloomberg) — Minnesota’s debt to its workers’ retirement system has soared by $33.4 billion, or $6,000 for every resident, courtesy of accounting rules.

The jump caused the finances of Minnesota’s pensions to erode more than any other state’s last year as accounting standards seek to prevent governments from using overly optimistic assumptions to minimize what they owe public employees decades from now. Because of changes in actuarial math, Minnesota in 2016 reported having just 53 percent of what it needed to cover promised benefits, down from 80 percent a year earlier, transforming it from one of the best funded state systems to the seventh worst, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“It’s a crisis,” said Susan Lenczewski, executive director of the state’s Legislative Commission on Pensions and Retirement.

The latest reckoning won’t force Minnesota to pump more taxpayer money into its pensions, nor does it put retirees’ pension checks in any jeopardy. But it underscores the long-term financial pressure facing governments such as Minnesota, New Jersey and Illinois that have been left with massive shortfalls after years of failing to make adequate contributions to their retirement systems.

The Governmental Accounting Standards Board’s rules, ushered in after the last recession, were intended to address concern that state and city pensions were understating the scale of their obligations by counting on steady investment gains even after they run out of cash — and no longer have money to invest. Pensions use the expected rate of return on their investments to calculate in today’s dollars, or discount, the value of pension checks that won’t be paid out for decades.

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The guidelines require governments to calculate when their pensions will be depleted and use the yield on a 20-year municipal bond index to determine costs after they run out of money.

The Minnesota’s teachers’ pension fund, which had $19.4 billion in assets as of June 30, 2016, is expected to go broke in 2052. As a result of the latest rules the pension has started using a rate of 4.7 percent to discount its liabilities, down from the 8 percent used previously. Its liabilities increased by $16.7 billion.

The worsening outlook for Minnesota is in line with what happened nationally. Pension-funding ratios declined in 43 states in the 2016 fiscal year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. New Jersey had the worst-funded system, with about 31 percent of the assets it needs, followed by Kentucky with 31.4 percent. The median state pension had a 71 percent funding ratio, down from 74.5 percent in 2015.

While record-setting stock prices boosted the median public pension return to 12.4 percent in 2017, the most in three years, that won’t be enough to dig them out of the hole.

Only eight state pension plans, in Minnesota, New Jersey, Kentucky and Texas, used a discount rate “significantly lower” than their traditional discount rate to value liabilities, according to a July report by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

“Because of that huge drop in the discount rate under GASB reporting, their liabilities skyrocket,” said Todd Tauzer, an S&P Global Ratings analyst. “That’s why you see that huge change compared to other states.”

In Minnesota lackluster returns and years of shortchanging have taken a toll. The state’s pensions lost 0.1 percent in fiscal 2016.

But other factors also helped boost Minnesota’s liabilities: Eight of Minnesota’s nine pensions reduced their assumed rate of return on their investments to 7.5 percent from 7.9 percent, while three began factoring in longer life expectancy.

Minnesota funds its pensions based on a statutory rate that’s lower than what’s need to improve their funding status. School districts and teachers contribute about 85 percent of what’s required to the teacher’s pension, according to S&P Global Ratings.

“It’s woefully insufficient for the liabilities,” said Lenczewski, the director of Minnesota’s legislative commission on pensions. “You just watch this giant thing decline in funding status.”

Minnesota has officially joined other states in promising more benefits than can be delivered.

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While the public pension crisis isn’t a heartache tonight, it will in the near future. Add the growing debt issued to keep public pension funds going, and the amount of the tab for other government spending like The Federal debt (currently $165,819 per taxpayer) and unfunded liaibilities such as Medicare and Social Security ($899,500 per taxpayer) and we have a party.

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US Debt Ceiling, The Wall, Runaway Spending And The Lack Of Evidence Of Concern … So Far (Low US CDS)

The US Statutory Debt Limit, a failed tool to halt the endless growth of Federal debt issuance, is once again in play at nearly $20 trillion. It was only at $6 trillion in 2002.

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The problem, of course, is runaway Fed spending which is currently at around twice that of Federal current tax receipts, requiring that the deficit be funded by issuing Federal debt (or raising taxes and/or cutting Federal spending).

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The staggering increase in Federal debt starting in 2007 also resulted in a large spike in public debt to GDP.

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The US has joined the European PIGs (Portugal, Italy, Greece, as well as Cyprus and Belgium) in having debt as a percentage of GDP being over 100%. The fourth debt piggie is Spain at 99.40% debt to GDP.

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The core problem with Federal spending, now and in the future, is mandatory (entitlement) spending.

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Of the entitlement spending, Medicare is growing at an unsustainable rate (although Medicaid growth is no slouch either).

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So we are on an ussustainable track in terms of spending. How does “the wall” with Mexico fit it? It could be funded with more taxation, or spending cuts on other programs. Democrats LOVE raising taxes, but not to build a wall. Republicans are split on building a wall (open border freemarketeers versus those with national security concerns).

My colleagues at my former employer Deutsche Bank have attempted to lay out possible funding scenarios. Although I think the odds of deep spending cuts is about as likely as North Korea embracing personal freedom and capitalism.

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With explosive Federal spending and projections of public debt exceeding first $20 and then $30 trillion, I have little doubt that Congress and President Trump will agree on a debt limit increase even if there is a momentary government shutdown.

But right now, credit default swaps are signaling no shutdown, particularly in comparison to previous shutdown fears surrounding debt ceiling increases (orange boxes).

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So, there is nothing YET showing up in the CDS data. We are seeing an increase in Treasury bills rates even when the probability of a Fed increase in their rates is very low for the next year.

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The probability of a US default is around 0.04%.

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But there is also a realization that while there was intial enthusiam that Trump would lower taxes and deregulate the economy,  there is has a steady decline in enthusiasm over his promises since Congress is obstructing most of Trump’s economic agenda.

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We can hope that Congress and President Trump follow the advice of the band Canned Heat and work together. 

But we do know that Congress loves to spend money, so they have a natural mutual allegiance to raising the debt ceiling.

Perhaps Andy Dwyer and Mouserat from Parks and Recreation can rewrite their song “The Pit” as “The Wall.”

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Feeding The Beast: Why Trump and Congress Should Leave The Mortgage Interest Deduction Alone

President Trump and Congress are once again tinkering with the US tax code (rather than just trashing the entire thing and creating something simple like a flat-tax system). There will always be winners and losers when the tax code is altered. This time the target is middle-class homeowners.

Begin the simple premise that the Federal government wants more of your tax dollars to spend. The Federal government is already spending at almost a rate of 2x over current tax receipts.

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And with “mandatory” expenditures expected to keep rising (and discretionary spending expected to decline), the will be increased pressure to find tax revenue from somewhere (or someone) to feed the Federal goverment’s ravenous spending.

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What is in their sights? The mortgage interest deduction (MID) for qualified secured debt. There have been calls by a number of people to get rid of the MID, such as Vice President Pence’s Chief Economist Mark Calabria (formerly of the Cato Institute).

Possilities include Calabria’s call for scrapping the MID, lowering the eligibility from $1 million to $500,000 (allegedly impacting fewer than 6 percent of mortgage holders nationally—and converting the deduction into a credit, allowing an additional 15 million low and moderate income homeowners to get a “much-needed tax break”).

Low and moderate income households are often better-off renting given the standard deduction. And low and moderate income households may not fully benefit from the MID if their joint income is less than $77,714. Households earning less than $77,714 but more that $38,173 pay only 10.47% of total personal taxes paid (in 2014, according to the National Taxpayers Union Foundation). And less than $38,173 pay only 2.75% of total personal taxes paid.

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It’s the most productive members of the middle class that are forced to pay for subsidies in Obamacare and Social Security already. Removing or limiting the MID amounts to a new middle class tax on those who can’t afford to pay off their mortgage, unlike the political elite in both parties who can continue to get the full tax benefit of home ownership by eliminating mortgage debt.

And what about households that purchased a home that are part of the 6% of the population that have a mortgage balance in excess of $500,000? It will produce a major hit of their after-tax income and likely lead to reduction in home prices, particularly in the suburbs of major US cities. Congress could always grandfather in current homeowners, but the number of households trying to purchase those homes would decline.

Homeownership rates are already at early 1960s levels, back to the days of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” social programs. Now the Trump Administration wants to redistribute the advantages of homeownership AGAIN.

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And remember that Canada does not allow MID for homeowners, yet has had explosive home price growth, so thinking that removing the MID will slow the growth of home prices across the board is wishful thinking.

As Kevin Villani wrote in American Banker, “But the “tax loophole” is not the mortgage interest deduction, it’s the failure to tax “imputed rent” from homeownership, i.e., the value of rental services the homeowner receives — done only in Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland. This has never been seriously considered in the U.S. because the political, conceptual and methodological problems of taxing farmers for consuming their home grown food — as the U.S. has done — are much greater for homeowner imputed rent.”

And since owners of rental properties get to deduct mortgage interest (as well as depreciation for tax purposes), taking away the MID for households is flat out unfair.

But as I mentioned earlier, Washington DC has to feed “the beast” and its ever-growing expenditures. The simple solution would be to cut Federal spending.

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Puerto Rico’s Housing Debt Likely To Be Paid In Full (Opposed to PR’s General Obligation and Agency Debt)

Puerto Rico is seeking to reduce $74 billion of debt,  but Federal housing bonds may be paid in full. Thanks to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
(Bloomberg) — While Puerto Rico and its agencies seek to reduce $74 billion of debt in a record bankruptcy, commonwealth bonds repaid with federal housing money and tobacco settlement funds may dodge a restructuring, according to Moody’s Investors Service.

After Puerto Rico first began defaulting on its obligations two years ago, a federal oversight board on May 3 sought for the commonwealth a form of bankruptcy called Title III. There are six entities remaining that have yet to miss payments to investors. Of those, debt sold by Puerto Rico’s Housing Finance Authority and the Children’s Trust Fund may avoid asking bondholders to accept losses on their securities, Ted Hampton, a Moody’s analyst, wrote in an Aug. 9 report.

“We do not expect either of these securities to be involved in the commonwealth’s debt restructuring, and the federal oversight board has not initiated a proceeding under Title III of Promesa for either of them,” Hampton wrote.

The value of the bonds reflect the strong repayment pledges. Odd-lot trades of fixed-rate Children’s Trust bonds maturing 2039 averaged 97.8 cents on the dollar Wednesday, while Housing Finance debt maturing 2027 traded at an average 104.6 cents, data compiled by Bloomberg show. By comparison, general obligations with an 8 percent coupon and maturing 2035, one of the island’s most actively-traded bonds, changed hands Thursday at about 58.8 cents.

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The island’s Housing Finance debt is repaid with yearly allocations from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, revenue that the commonwealth cannot use, according to Hampton.

“Because of HUD’s role in the program, pledged revenues are not available to the central government of Puerto Rico,” Hampton wrote in the report. “HUD sends the first dollars of amounts allocated to the authority into a line of credit control system for payment of debt service.”

The island’s tobacco bonds, sold by the Children’s Trust Fund, are secured by annual payments from cigarette manufactures under a 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between state attorneys general and the cigarette makers.

Puerto Rico and its agencies have missed about $4.45 billion in debt-service payments to investors, according to Moody’s. The four remaining entities that haven’t defaulted but may undergo a restructuring are Puerto Rico’s Aqueduct and Sewer Authority, the University of Puerto Rico, the Municipal Finance Agency and Highways & Transportation Authority bonds sold for the Teodoro Moscoso bridge.

So why Puerto Rico attempts to restructure its debt, housing debt is protected. Puerto Rico has already defaulted on it debt.

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Puerto Rican debt is now selling at $51.25 with a yield of 11.82%.

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I suppose Puerto Rico can always expand the export of rum.

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And rum ham! 

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