Any financial advisor will tell you that most of their clients love muni bonds. The asset class has been very popular for many years among the wealthy because of the bonds’ tax exempt status. Therefore, advisors need to pay attention, as there is a little discussed, but very real ticking time bomb in the asset class. That big time bomb is unfunded pension liabilities. The projections made fifteen years ago may have been plausible, but with a financial crisis and then years of rock bottom rates, many think state and local pensions have reached a point of no return which will lead to major defaults. Barclays’ munis team recently noted “We are increasingly wary of high pension exposure, especially among state and local credits”, continuing that “short-term investment gains won’t be sufficient to plug liability gaps”.
FINSUM: There is bound to be a big wave of defaults in the muni space. This is a big and slow-moving crisis that nobody, especially the federal government, wants to deal with.