Sunday, June 27, 2010

RealClearMarkets - Is Illinois the New California?

RealClearMarkets - Is Illinois the New California?
As of Monday, the credit default swap spread for Illinois general obligation bonds climbed to 313 basis points for a five-year contract -- meaning a bondholder must pay over 3% of the bond's face value per year to be insured against default.

That's a higher price than for all but seven sovereign entities tracked by CMA, and slightly higher than California, whose five-year CDS spread sits at 293. Investors rate Illinois's debt as slightly riskier than Iceland's or Latvia's, but not quite as big a gamble as Iraq's.

This is an essay by Josh Barrow that was cited in a Chicago Tribune editorial (one of many) pointing out that the State of Illinois is in a terrifying downward financial spiral that places it, in terms of the risk of defaulting on its public debt, worse than Portugal and California, and just below Dubai and Iraq. The data on government probability of default can be found here. What I find disturbing--above and beyond the desperate situation this state is in--is the la-de-da attitude that prevails everywhere in elite circles except the editorial board of the Trib. The public can't be bothered, of course. When I bring this up in conversation with anybody I feel like one of those scientists in the movies who keep ranting about how Planet X is going to crash into the earth, and people just say, "Yeah, sure, but how about the Cubs?"

And of course, California is on it's own path to perdition, but as the Barrow article notes, California's public pension plans are not as badly underfunded as those in Illinois. Here's a taste from the Barrow article about how bad this is: Illinois's pension funding irresponsibility may come home to roost soon. Joshua Rauh, a professor at Northwestern University, estimates that the state's pension funds will run out of money in 2018 at the current funding pace. "He estimates the plans' total funding gap at $219 billion -- a liability that dwarfs the $117 billion in bonds outstanding from the state and localities within it."


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