Bonds: Munis

(New York)

The muni market is doing great, at least on paper that is. Muni bonds have seen an absolutely furious rally over the last few months, which has driven yields to the lowest level since the 1950s. However, many municipalities have huge budget deficits, so the trick is to buy prudently. Eaton Vance published a piece with a state by state analysis of financial health, since the pain of tax revenue losses is not spread evenly. There are multiple ways to look at the info. The states who will see a 20%+ fall in revenue include: Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Missouri, New York, Alaska, Maine, West Virginia, Louisiana, and New Jersey. The top ten states for creditworthiness (meaning the most creditworthy) according to Eaton Vance are Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, Utah, Nebraska, North Dakota, Tennessee, Iowa, Virginia, and Minnesota.


FINSUM: New York and New Jersey are the most alarming ones on this list, since they are seeing big revenue falls and were already in quite poor financial condition. Illinois is obviously troubling too, as it is dead last in creditworthiness and likely to see a 13%+ fall in revenue.

(New York)

Muni bonds have been on a relentless rally. Any advisor is surely aware of this because there is likely a lot of their client’s money in the space. The inflows have been so sharp, and the price action so swift, that average ten-year yields in munis are at 0.7%, the lowest since the 1950s. At the same time, the COVID pandemic has decimated local and state budgets and there is a $1 tn budget deficit. Worse, the federal government has no clear plans in place to help local and state governments, meaning such municipalities may not be bailed out any time soon.


FINSUM: So on the one hand you have soaring prices, and on the other, significantly eroding credit quality. In any normal circumstance this would be seen as a bubble. However, given that Washington does seem likely to offer some aid to local governments, a meltdown will probably be avoided—but not without some volatility along the way.

(New York)

There is alarm growing among muni bond investors as credit quality continues to deteriorate. During COVID there has been a widening gap in pension deficits among municipalities, and investors are keeping a close eye because it is leading to deferred pension payments. This is troubling for a number of reasons. Firstly, it digs municipalities into a bigger hole because they must pay interest on deferred payments; and secondly, it spooks bond markets and makes it harder for them to access liquidity. In other words, deferred pension payments, such as the nearly $1 bn one New Jersey elected to do in May, dig muni issuers into a deeper and deeper hole.


FINSUM: Pension recipients are very likely to be considered senior to bondholders, so this is a very alarming situation for investors.

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