Policy makers are working behind the scenes to come up with a way to let states declare bankruptcy and get out from under crushing debts, including the pensions they have promised to retired public workers.
Unlike cities, the states are barred from seeking protection in federal bankruptcy court. Any effort to change that status would have to clear high constitutional hurdles because the states are considered sovereign.
But proponents say some states are so burdened that the only feasible way out may be bankruptcy, giving Illinois, for example, the opportunity to do what General Motors did with the federal government’s aid.
Beyond their short-term budget gaps, some states have deep structural problems, like insolvent pension funds, that are diverting money from essential public services like education and health care. Some members of Congress fear that it is just a matter of time before a state seeks a bailout, say bankruptcy lawyers who have been consulted by Congressional aides.
I would like to place this seminar’s topic, ‘Global Governance,’in the context of global control, which is what ‘governance’ is mainly about. The word (from Latin gubernari, cognate to the Greek root kyber) means ‘steering’. The question is, toward what goal is the world economy steering?
That obviously depends on who is doing the steering. It almost always has been the most powerful nations that organize the world in ways that transfer income and property to themselves. From the Roman Empire through modern Europe such transfers took mainly the form of military seizure and tribute. The Norman conquerors endowed themselves as a landed aristocracy extracting rent from the populace, as did the Nordic conquerors of France and other countries. Europe later took resources by colonial conquest, increasingly via local client oligarchies.
The post-1945 mode of global integration has outlived its early promise. It has become exploitative rather than supportive of capital investment, public infrastructure and living standards.
In the sphere of trade, countries need to rebuild their self-sufficiency in food grains and other basic needs. In the financial sphere, the ability of banks to create credit (loans) at almost no cost on their computer keyboards has led North America and Europe to become debt ridden, and now seeks to move into Brazil and other BRIC countries by financing buyouts or lending against their natural resources, real estate, basic infrastructure and industry. Speculators, arbitrageurs and financial institutions using “free money” see these economies as easy pickings. But by obliging countries to defend themselves financially, their predatory credit creation is ending the era of free capital movements.
Does Brazil really need inflows of foreign credit for domestic spending when it can create this at home? Foreign lending ends up in its central bank, which invests its reserves in US Treasury and Euro bonds that yield low returns and whose international value is likely to decline against the BRIC currencies. So accepting credit and buyout “capital inflows” from the North provides a “free lunch” for key-currency issuers of dollars and Euros, but does not help local economies much.
The natural history of debt and financialization
Today, financial maneuvering and debt leverage play the role that military conquest did in times past. Its aim is still…
So I’m sitting here trying to turn a pile of (mostly terrifying) data on muni bonds into a post that explains why this is the next domino to fall, and here comes Time Magazine with a feature on that subject:
Municipal Bonds: The Next Financial Land Mine?
As Wall Street nervously watches the sovereign debt crisis unfold in Greece, another potential landmine is looming closer to home, one that could bring U.S. cities and towns to their knees, force the federal government to cough up another bailout package, and potentially send the unemployment rate much higher. The danger this time? Municipal debt.
State and local governments are frantically scrambling to meet budget shortfalls as high unemployment and shaky consumer confidence mean less income tax and smaller sales tax revenue for government coffers. At the same time, falling home prices and rising foreclosures will start to hit municipalities hard this year as all those property reassessments done over the past 18 months kick in.
A couple of municipalities, such as Los Angeles and Detroit, have even whispered the “B” word. Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan argued in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month that the city will likely have little choice but to declare bankruptcy between now and 2014. Also, several smaller markets, such as Harrisburg, Pa., and Jefferson County, Ala., have openly talked about filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy — a reorganization available only to municipalities.
In general, municipalities try to avoid Chapter 9 filings. Although such filings make it easier for a city to break onerous labor contracts or make other politically tough cost cuts, they can have hidden costs, such as distracting politicians, alienating business and making it more difficult for a city to raise cash in the capital markets going forward. The city of Vallejo, Calif., for example, has been in Chapter 9 since spring 2008, and observers say the process has been costly and hurt the city’s ability to attract new business. “It’s been two years and the case is still going on and there’s still significant disputes with the unions,” says Eric Schaffer, a partner at Reed Smith LLP. “Ultimately you hope to bring everybody to the table and share the pain, but that can be a messy
This what the end will look like, at least the beginning of the end.
Let’s use the suburban sprawl-community of Colorado Springs as an example…
From the Denver Post:
COLORADO SPRINGS — This tax-averse city is about to learn what it looks and feels like when budget cuts slash services most Americans consider part of the urban fabric.
More than a third of the streetlights in Colorado Springs will go dark Monday. The police helicopters are for sale on the Internet. The city is dumping firefighting jobs, a vice team, burglary investigators, beat cops — dozens of police and fire positions will go unfilled.
The parks department removed trash cans last week, replacing them with signs urging users to pack out their own litter.
Neighbors are encouraged to bring their own lawn mowers to local green spaces, because parks workers will mow them only once every two weeks. If that.
Water cutbacks mean most parks will be dead, brown turf by July; the flower and fertilizer budget is zero.
City recreation centers, indoor and outdoor pools, and a handful of museums will close for good March 31 unless they find private funding to stay open. Buses no longer run on evenings and weekends. The city won’t pay for any street paving, relying instead on a regional authority that can meet only about 10 percent of the need.
"I guess we’re going to find out what the tolerance level is for people," said businessman Chuck Fowler.
By all means, keep trading stocks and flipping real estate and eating Chipotle and watching 24. Everything is fine.
The pension crisis is affecting budgets in city after city and in ever increasing amounts. Please consider the latest in San Diego: Millions needed for city pensions.
Just when San Diego city officials thought they had closed a $179 million budget gap, another has opened up because more money will be needed to pay for employee pensions.
The city will have to contribute $231.7 million to the retirement fund in the fiscal year that starts in July. That’s up $19 million from the forecast used when the last budget gap was closed in December.
The increase is a result of the fund’s investment losses and more employees signing up for pension benefits because of fears they will be cut.
The higher payment most likely will be funded by cutting more services in the next few months, as opposed to the 18-month balanced budget promised when a deal was reached to reduce library hours, lay off 200 workers and end public-safety programs such as horse-mounted patrols.
“This cutting and reducing is going to go on until somebody takes seriously the solutions for solving the city’s pension mess,” Councilwoman Donna Frye said yesterday.
A new report from the city’s pension system indicates that the city has 66.5 percent of the money it needs to cover promised pensions — the lowest level since 2004. The amount the city lacks to meet its long-term pension liability is $2.1 billion as of June 30, up from $1.3 billion in June 2008.
Frye said she sees a trend of pension obligations gobbling up more of the city’s general fund, which pays for fire, police, parks, libraries and recreation centers. Unless labor unions and the city come together to find solutions, “I believe the city will someday go into bankruptcy,” she said.
Mayor Jerry Sanders has resisted any such suggestion.
San Diego Already Bankrupt
San Diego is already bankrupt, they just don’t know it yet. There is no way it can fund its pension liabilities.
I commend Councilwoman Donna Frye. She should run for mayor.
Tax hikes and fees are not the answer. The core issue is unsustainable pension benefits. The system is broke. Toying around with little cuts here and there will not help. And as bad as…
Las Vegas’ firefighters union has taken a hard stance against the city’s budget cuts, alleging that reductions will hurt emergency responses along with fire insurance rating for homes and businesses.
City officials, meanwhile, said the union is engaging in irresponsible “scare tactics” at a time when the city is facing economic difficulties.
The back-and-forth comes as the city readies for a series of town hall meetings scheduled from January to March to hear resident feedback on what city services are most important.
It also comes as the city is considering back-to-back 8 percent salary rollbacks and freezes for all employees, including firefighters, although a union official declined to comment today on the union’s positions on these wage proposals.
The union has created a Web site as well as a radio advertisement warning that cuts could increase response times, result in fewer people on duty, reduce the city’s ability to respond to disasters and hurt the city’s fire insurance rating, which is at the highest level.
This discussion is just one part of the ongoing wrangling over the city’s budget, which has seen an ever-widening deficit since the economic downturn began.
The city has already cut operating costs, eliminated vacant positions and announced some layoffs. City management has also proposed an 8 percent wage rollback in each of the next two budget years to avoid layoffs, a proposal being evaluated by the unions that represent city workers.
My recommendation to Las Vegas is to declare bankruptcy and let the unions see what they can get in court.
The Simi Valley City Council on Wednesday approved a new agreement with the Simi Valley Police Officers’ Association for an 18-month employee contract that includes a 3 percent salary decrease for sworn police officers and sergeants.
The unanimous approval came after the council went into a closed session meeting late Wednesday afternoon with attorneys and representatives from both the city and police association.
Significant provisions of the MOU approved Wednesday include:
California is the poster child for dysfunctional state finance. A week past the legal deadline for passing a budget, the state has yet to close a $26 billion hole. State workers are — yet again — being told to stay home. The National Park Service is threatening to take back parks it gave to California should the state try to save money by closing them. Taxpayers are getting IOUs in the mail instead of refund checks since there’s no cash to pay them what they’re owed. You can now buy the IOUs on eBay.
California’s crazy budget laws make it an extreme case, but that doesn’t mean it’s alone in financial duress — there are plenty of other states in serious hot water. (See how Americans are spending now.)
All but a handful of states with fiscal years ending on June 30 have taken wrenching steps needed to pass new budgets: mainly, a raft of tax hikes and service cuts. Vermont is shutting down highway rest stops and decimating its Agency of Natural Resources. In Washington, 40,000 people are losing their state-subsidized health care, and public-college tuition could be going up as much as 14%. New Jersey is hiking taxes on high-income earners, cigarette smokers (an extra 12.5 cents a pack) and drinkers (a 25% increase on wine and liquor).
And there could be plenty more pain ahead. Revenues — from income, sales and property taxes — continue to fall. True, states have already plowed through a lot of tough decisions to close the $102 billion shortfall they collectively faced during the last budget cycle. But already it looks like this year’s gap will be $121 billion, according to a report from the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Two of the worst-off states by that count are Alaska and Nevada. Each of them will need to spend 30% more than what state tax officers think they’ll be collecting. And neither has a state income tax, relying on oil and tourism taxes, respectively, for most of their revenues.
In other states, however, it’s the extra volatility that comes from dependence on personal-income tax that is exacerbating the problem. Research by economists at the Chicago Fed…
The big economic number this week will be the Q4 Advance Estimate for GDP on Friday at 8:30 AM EST. For some perspective on quarterly GDP so far this year, Q1 was negative at -2.1%, followed by a strong rebound to 4.6% in Q2 and a drift higher in Q3 to 5.0%. The standard explanation for the Q1 contraction is the economic impact of an unseasonably cold winter.
What do economists see in their collective crystal ball for Q4 of 2014? Let's take a look at the GDP forecasts from the latest Wall Street Journal survey of economists conducted earlier this month.
Here's a snapshot of the full array of WSJ opinions about Q4 GDP. I've highlighted the values for the median (middle), mean (average) and mode (most frequent). In the latest forecast, the median and mean were an identical to one decimal place at 3.0%. The mode (seven of 65 forecasts) was a tad high...
Ten days ago, before the smashing success of Greece's anti-austerity party, Syriza, we noted that Russia gave Greece a modest proposal: turn your back on Europe, whom you despise so much anyway, and we will assist your farmers by lifting the food import ban.
And, sure enough, Greece's new premier Tsipras did hint with his initial actions that Greece may indeed pivot quite aggressively away from Europe and toward Russia in general and the Eurasian Economic Union in particular (as a tangent recall "...
Dan writes ... I was a soldier in the US Army for 23 years including four years in Special forces Stationed in Germany. I would agree that there is a strong likelihood that this is a US Special Forces soldier.
I can tell you that we were issued AK 74s and would use them on a mission such as this. That is about all I would really want to say at this point.
It is obvious to me that our strategy is the Balkanization of the various hot spots in the world, Syria, Ukraine, Iraq and so forth.
While other commodity prices have further softened recently, Gold rallied – rising from December low of $1,174/oz. to touch $1,300/oz. Joel Crane, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, expressed pessimism that...
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Last week, the S&P 500 put an end to its streak of weekly losses, despite giving back some gains on Friday. Thursday provided the big catalyst, with the ECB’s announcement of its bold new monetary stimulus plan. Investors were cheered and soothed for the moment. And U.S. fundamentals still look strong. But with Greece trying to turn back time, with volatility elevated (and likely to continue as such), and with the technical situation still dicey, the near term outlook is still worrisome.
In this weekly update, I give my view of the current market environment, offer a technical analysis of the S&P 500 chart...
An interview with John Ehlers of Stock Spotter and Mesa Software
Ilene: John, in our last discussion about trading systems in general and yours in particular (Can trading be reduced to cycles, stresses and vibrations?) you mentioned Monte Carlo simulations and their use in measuring performance. Can you explain more about how you measure the performance of a trading system?
John: Let's start with comparing trading with gambling. The two have several things in common. In both ...
So as I was saying yesterday (Bitcoin: The Biggest Clown Show In History?), Bitcoin has several obstacles on the path to potential success as an alternative currency. But I forgot to mention hacking and theft at Bitcoin exchanges and other technical problems. This is related to the lack of government backing and the fact that the value of Bitcoins is based entirely on confidence.
Reminder: Pharmboy is available to chat with Members, comments are found below each post.
PSW Members - well, what a year for biotechs! The Biotech Index (IBB) is up a whopping 40%, beating the S&P hands down! The healthcare sector has had a number of high flying IPOs, and beat the Tech Sector in total nubmer of IPOs in the past 12 months. What could go wrong?
Phil has given his Secret Santa Inflation Hedges for 2015, and since I have been trying to keep my head above water between work, PSW, and baseball with my boys...it is time that something is put together for PSW on biotechs in 2015.
Cancer and fibrosis remain two of the hottest areas for VC backed biotechs to invest their monies. A number of companies have gone IPO which have drugs/technologies that fight cancer, includin...
Stocks got off to a rocky start on the first trading day in December, with the S&P 500 Index slipping just below 2050 on Monday. Based on one large bullish SPX options trade executed on Wednesday, however, such price action is not likely to break the trend of strong gains observed in the benchmark index since mid-October. It looks like one options market participant purchased 25,000 of the 31Dec’14 2105/2115 call spreads at a net premium of $2.70 each. The trade cost $6.75mm to put on, and represents the maximum potential loss on the position should the 2105 calls expire worthless at the end of December. The call spread could reap profits of as much as $7.30 per spread, or $18.25mm, in the event that the SPX ends the year above 2115. The index would need to rally 2.0% over the current level...
This is a non-trading topic, but I wanted to post it during trading hours so as many eyes can see it as possible. Feel free to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
Last fall there was some discussion on the PSW board regarding setting up a YouCaring donation page for a PSW member, Shadowfax. Since then, we have been looking into ways to help get him additional medical services and to pay down his medical debts. After following those leads, we are ready to move ahead with the YouCaring site. (Link is posted below.) Any help you can give will be greatly appreciated; not only to help aid in his medical bill debt, but to also show what a great community this group is.
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