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Puerto Rico’s “Fuzzy Math”

February 5, 2016 Blog

During the 2000 presidential campaign, George W. Bush famously called Al Gore’s budget plan “fuzzy math.” Bush said Gore promised too much and couldn’t pay for what government programs he had planned.

The notion of “fuzzy math” is particularly appropriate today when discussing Puerto Rico’s $72 billion ticking time bomb of debt.

Indeed, Puerto Rico’s math is so fuzzy, frayed and difficult to understand that it is hindering efforts to save the island commonwealth from default.

Puerto Rico has been paying its debts by borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, taking interest from one bond to pay another – “fuzzy” indeed.

The island commonwealth has already started to default. Looming this summer are bigger bond payments that Puerto Rico’s government will also miss. No one knows where the money will come from.

Puerto Rico has been lobbying the Obama Administration and Congress to allow it to go bankrupt. While the Obama administration supports such a plan, Congress is another story.

Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy discussion was recently met by a cold chill in Congress, which claimed that Puerto Rico was not forthcoming with its financial numbers. Therefore, because of “fuzzy math,” Congress felt it would be improper to act under such circumstances.

But perhaps the most disjointed and screwed up math in the Puerto Rico crisis was evident last month when the Puerto Rican Government revised its plans to reduce debt.

First, back up to September, when Puerto Rico released a five-year plan and warned creditors that it would need $14 billion of debt relief because it did not have enough money to pay them the total amount due of $28 billion, according to a January report in the New York Times by Mary Williams Walsh.

That calculation didn’t last long.

Puerto Rico officials last month announced that they would need a $16 billion break from creditors and $24 billion of reductions in the $63 billion in principal and interest due.

“And that is if the structural reforms that Puerto Rico is planning succeed in fostering renewed economic growth,” according to Walsh. “Without such a recovery, the officials said, Puerto Rico would need $34 billion worth of relief from the $63 billion of scheduled payments.”

The Puerto Rico government officials speaking to Walsh and other journalists claimed that they had to revise the economic plan when they saw the tax revenues were running about $500 million lower than forecast. This should not come as a surprise as taxpayers are fleeing the Island and almost half of the residents are not working and paying taxes.

Cue the ticking time bomb. “And on July 1, so many debt payments are due that the officials said that without relief, there would be defaults from the top to the bottom of the hierarchy of creditors,” Walsh reported. “When questioned further, they said it was still too soon to reveal how much relief they would seek from each creditor group.”

While Puerto Rico’s math is coo-coo, the reality facing investors holding illiquid, UBS closed-end bond funds is crystal clear. Their accounts have been decimated and are likely to drop even further.

Zamansky LLC are securities and investment fraud attorneys representing investors in federal and state litigation against financial institutions. For more information about Zamansky LLC, please visit