It looks like the end of 2015 may be the end of the road for Puerto Rico.
The island’s development bank is expected to exhaust all of its cash by the end of December, according to a recent New York Times article. Making matters even more dire, a large payment is due in January on general obligation bonds which, if missed, would be a “declaration of war” on investors, according to an analyst quoted in the article.
Meanwhile, lawmakers in Washington are letting Puerto Rico, which is underwater due to its current recession, years of public borrowing and a debt total close to $72 billion, twist in the wind. During a hearing Tuesday regarding Puerto Rico’s financial strains, a top Senate Republican made it clear that the U.S. government wasn’t about to offer an easy fix.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch said Puerto Rico faces “enormous fiscal and economic challenges” as he opened a committee hearing about the island’s problems, according to a report from Reuters by Megan Davies and Jessica DiNapoli.
According to their report, a bailout from Washington is not expected, and while some on Capitol Hill are pushing laws or reforms that could help Puerto Rico, their prospects are uncertain.
“While the government of Puerto Rico has taken some steps in recent years to address these matters, many more changes – significant and fundamental changes – needed to be made,” Hatch told the committee.
And while lawmakers dither, the clock is ticking. Puerto Rico’s government has recently proposed a five-year restructuring plan which calls for a renegotiation of its debt and would require creditors’ consent, austerity measures and tax increases.
The plan seems to spread the pain around investors and citizens alike but has been met with great skepticism by financial institutions.
An analysis by Morgan Stanley claims that the plan overstates the island’s financial needs. Another research report questions the government’s ability to deliver austerity measures through an independent control board.
Not to mention that austerity in an election year is hard to do and the Puerto Rico legislature needs to weigh in.
The Times report by Mary Williams Walsh earlier this month lays out the battle lines between Puerto Rico and its creditors.
“A week after the governor of Puerto Rico laid out a plan for attacking the island’s heavy debt, analysts are beginning to publicly question the proposals and even the financial assumptions on which they are based,” according to Walsh. “The doubts suggest that Gov. Alejandro García Padilla’s strategy to persuade bondholders and other investors to voluntarily help the island restructure the debt — and take losses on their investments as a result — is a long shot.”
According to Walsh, one credit analyst, Ryan Brady of Morgan Stanley, said it appeared that the planners had greatly overstated Puerto Rico’s financial needs over the next five years. As a result, he said in a private presentation to clients, Puerto Rico was hoping to get $14 billion in concessions from its creditors, when in fact it might need as little as $5.7 billion.
And while the Puerto Rican legislature is expected to take up the issue of a control board in the next two weeks, lawmakers have said other elements of the five-year plan will not be considered until January, according to Walsh.
The message should be crystal clear to Puerto Rico’s government and the financial institutions that own its debt. Time is running out. Both sides need to keep Mom and Pop investors in mind and figure out a way to restructure the debt. If they don’t, this will turn into a financial tsunami
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