7/2/12, "U.S. munis face $2 trillion in unfunded pension costs," Reuters
"U.S. states and localities have run up more than $2 trillion of unfunded pension liabilities, Moody's Investors Service said on Monday, citing data on plans offered by 8,500 local governments and over 14,000 individual entities.
The Wall Street credit agency said that according to its estimate, the total liabilities for fiscal 2010 were more than three times the amount reported by local governments.
"Pension liabilities are widely acknowledged to be understated," Moody's Managing Director Timothy Blake said in a statement. Most states end their fiscal years on June 30.
Investors in the $3.7 trillion municipal bond market are focused on whether states, counties, cities and towns can afford the pension benefits granted public workers.
The rising cost of public pensions has strained finances for cities around the country. Stockton, California, which last week became the biggest U.S. city to file for Chapter 9 protection, plans to cut employee compensation and retiree benefits by $11.2 million to help close its deficit."...via Robert Zimmerman, Behind the Black
2012, "The Swap Crisis," dollarsandsense.org, by Darwin BondGraham
"Interest rate swap deals have allowed the big banks to hold local governments and agencies hostage for tens of millions of dollars."
3/20/12, "Wall Street Confidence Trick: How Interest Rate Swaps Are Bankrupting Local Governments," webofdebt.com, Ellen Brown, JD
"For more than a decade, banks and insurance companies convinced local governments, hospitals, universities and other non-profits that interest rate swaps would lower interest rates on bonds sold for public projects such as roads, bridges and schools. The swaps were entered into to insure against a rise in interest rates; but instead, interest rates fell to historically low levels. This was not a flood, earthquake, or other insurable risk due to environmental unknowns or “acts of God.” It was a deliberate, manipulated move by the Fed, acting to save the banks from their own folly in precipitating the credit crisis of 2008. The banks got in trouble, and the Federal Reserve and federal government rushed in to bail them out, rewarding them for their misdeeds at the expense of the taxpayers.
How the swaps were supposed to work was explained by Michael McDonald in a November 2010 Bloomberg article titled “Wall Street Collects $4 Billion From Taxpayers as Swaps Backfire”:
In an interest-rate swap, two parties exchange payments on an agreed-upon amount of principal. Most of the swaps Wall Street sold in the municipal market required borrowers to issue long-term securities with interest rates that changed every week or month. The borrowers would then exchange payments, leaving them paying a fixed-rate to a bank or insurance company and receiving a variable rate in return. Sometimes borrowers got lump sums for entering agreements.
Banks and borrowers were supposed to be paying equal rates: the fat years would balance out the lean. But the Fed artificially manipulated the rates to the save the banks. After the credit crisis broke out, borrowers had to continue selling adjustable-rate securities at auction under the deals. Auction interest rates soared when bond insurers’ ratings were downgraded because of subprime mortgage losses; but the periodic payments that banks made to borrowers as part of the swaps plunged, because they were linked to benchmarks such as Federal Reserve lending rates,
- which were slashed to almost zero.
The markets were pricing in serious falls in the prime interest rate. . . . So it would have been clear that this was not going to be a good deal over the life of the contracts. So the states and municipalities were entering into these long maturity swaps out of necessity. They were desperate, if not naive, and couldn't look to the Federal Government or Congress and had to turn themselves over to the banks.
As almost all reasoned economists had predicted in the wake of a deepening recession, the federal government aggressively drove down interest rates to save the big banks. This created opportunity for banks – whose variable payments on the derivative deals were tied to interest rates set largely by the Federal Reserve and Government – to profit excessively at the expense of state and local governments. While banks are still collecting fixed rates of from 4 percent to 6 percent, they are now regularly paying state and local governments as little as a tenth of one percent on the outstanding bonds – with no end to the low rates in sight.
. . . [W]ith the fed lowering interest rates, which was anticipated, now states and local governments are paying about 50 times what the banks are paying. Talk about a windfall profit the banks are making off of the suffering of local economies.
To make matters worse, these state and local governments have no way of getting out of these deals. Banks are demanding that state and local governments pay tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in fees to exit these deals. In some cases, banks are forcing termination of the deals against the will of state and local governments, using obscure contract provisions written in the fine print.By the end of 2010, according to Michael McDonald, borrowers had paid over $4 billion just to get out of the swap deals."...via ZeroHedge