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Fitch upgrades Illinois outlook

Monday, Jan 24, 2011

* The tax hike is having a positive effect on the state’s bond ratings

The tax increase approved by Democrats in Springfield has had one positive effect; Fitch Ratings has raised the rating on state bonds from negative to stable. […]

The service said the increase will help stabilize the state’s finances.


The ratings agency said following several years during which the state was unwilling to take action to restructure its budget, the tax increase and enacted spending limits close “a significant portion of the structural gap in the state’s budget through fiscal 2014.”

Fitch added that because the tax increases are temporary, Illinois would need to find a more permanent solution to the mismatch between spending and revenues. Further, despite the significant increase in tax revenues, Illinois is expected to continue to rely on one-time revenues, including the expected use of debt financing for operations, in fiscal 2012.

Fitch said the state’s debt burden is “above average” and rising. Additional borrowing, meanwhile, is expected under the $31 billion capital plan.

The state’s general obligation bonds are currently rated at A, which is five notches into investment-grade territory. Illinois benefits from a large, diverse economy centered on the Chicago metropolitan area, which is the nation’s third largest and is a nationally important business and transportation center, according to Fitch.

Expect others to follow.

* The tax hike may have also brought some needed sanity to muni bond markets in general. If nothing else, a backlash is starting to play out over dire predictions of meltdown

Lyle Fitterer, the top manager of U.S. municipal-bond funds in the past decade, sides with Bill Gross and against Meredith Whitney in his view that fiscally strained states and cities will avoid widespread defaults.

“The baby has been thrown out with the bathwater,” said Fitterer, who runs the $2.3 billion Wells Fargo Advantage Municipal Bond Fund from Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. “For every bad story there are hundreds of good ones.”

Investors have pulled money from mutual funds that buy municipal bonds for 10 straight weeks, spooked by rising interest rates and warnings that defaults will escalate. Fitterer used the selloff to buy what he sees as bargains, including debt from Illinois and California, which have the lowest state credit rating from Moody’s Investors Service.

Smart move by Fitterer on buying Illinois.

* Meanwhile, the General Assembly slipped a little-noticed provision into a bill last week

In the same legislation that raised the debt ceiling, lawmakers included a provision that requires underwriters working with the state to disclose what bets they have made through credit default swaps against a potential state default. State House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, modeled the requirements after action taken by California Treasurer Bill Lockyer.

Illinois has had the highest CDS rate among states. It has ranged in recent months from just under 300 basis points to more than 340 basis points.

Under the legislation that has been signed by Quinn, underwriters must disclose their cumulative notional volume of the state’s CDS positions and trades and their outstanding gross and net notional amount of Illinois CDS over the last three months.

Firms must disclose whether their “net position is short or long.” They must also disclose whether they have released any publicly available research or marketing reports that reference state CDS and submit the reports.

In other words, the state wants to know if its underwriters are also betting against it. They have until Friday to disclose their CDS bets.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - John Bambenek - Monday, Jan 24, 11 @ 11:21 am:

    I’m not sure I would call this a positive effect. An “upgrade” from negative to stable isn’t an upgrade, it just means they don’t plan to knock our credit rating in the near future. It just means, for now, we’ve stopped the decent. That is, until we figure out the pension payment for this year. The pensions will drag us down far quicker than anything else now. And that can’t be fixed with a tax hike (or at least not without a very very large one).

  2. - U-Haul Ho! - Monday, Jan 24, 11 @ 11:29 am:

    Awesome! Now Illinois can borrow more!

  3. - wordslinger - Monday, Jan 24, 11 @ 11:30 am:

    –Illinois benefits from a large, diverse economy centered on the Chicago metropolitan area, which is the nation’s third largest and is a nationally important business and transportation center, according to Fitch. –

    Obviously, Fitch isn’t on the distribution list for press releases from GOP General Assembly members.

  4. - just sayin' - Monday, Jan 24, 11 @ 11:37 am:

    I’m impressed considering I bet there aren’t 5 people in the entire general assembly who could explain what a credit default swap is.

  5. - Anonymous - Monday, Jan 24, 11 @ 11:43 am:

    “I’m impressed considering I bet there aren’t 5 people in the entire general assembly who could explain what a credit default swap is.”

    That’s why Mike Madigan does all of their thinking for them!

  6. - DavE - Monday, Jan 24, 11 @ 11:43 am:

    Here is an explanation of a CDS:

    Ponzi scheme.

    Lesson complete.

  7. - wordslinger - Monday, Jan 24, 11 @ 11:52 am:

    DavE, when it comes to state GO debt, calling CDS a Ponzi scheme is an insult to Ponzi schemes.

    It’s just gambling. Why, exactly, would anyone actually purchase default insurance on the debt of a state that has never missed a bond payment in nearly 200 years?

    By the same token, by what measurement does a “rating agency” not assign a AAA rating on the bonds of a state that has never been late on a bond payment in nearly 200 years?

  8. - central illinois - Monday, Jan 24, 11 @ 11:52 am:

    hearing that legistlation is being draft so state employees will be required to pay half of the insurance after retiring. I understand the state is hurting - but i have worked 34 years for that perk and don’t feel it should be pulled out from under me.

  9. - Realist - Monday, Jan 24, 11 @ 11:53 am:

    I think the last thing that Quinn and Vaught need is any more encouragement to borrow.

  10. - Cheryl44 - Monday, Jan 24, 11 @ 11:56 am:

    Has anyone else seen this? I just got this tweet from the Chicago News Coop: CNC Alert: Rahm Emanuel Off Mayoral Ballot … Appeals Court Overturns Residency Decision

  11. - Concerned Voter - Monday, Jan 24, 11 @ 11:59 am:

    ABC 7 Just reported due to a court ruling, Emmanuel is off the Ballot in Chicago! Wow. Appeals will follow?

  12. - CircularFiringSquad - Monday, Jan 24, 11 @ 12:38 pm:

    Capt Fax
    be assured teh CDS SunShine provisions were noticed…..especially by the sane people battling the muni meltdown stampede.
    It will help calmer forces

    Meanwhile an upgrade is an upgrade. It doesn’t mean IL should borrow more but it does mean a broader group of people can hold IL paper and that makes borrowing cost go down…I remember a few months back the jaw bangers were clucking a lot when someone reported an downgrae cost IL lots o cash.
    This helps turn that around.

  13. - Mad Again - Monday, Jan 24, 11 @ 2:21 pm:

    Speaker Madigan is so briliant. He is 69 years old and will be around along long time helping to navigate this state through the good times and the bad.

  14. - Bigtwich - Monday, Jan 24, 11 @ 3:42 pm:

    ==state employees will be required to pay half of the insurance after retiring==

    It has always been clear that this was not a guaranteed benefit. Even so, half is a little much.

  15. - Jack - Monday, Jan 24, 11 @ 7:47 pm:

    I still can’t see me buying any Illinois muni’s. There are many less risky places to invest for the same return. And unlike some states, Illinois doesn’t cut its citizens any breaks by making the interest non-state taxable.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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