Puerto Rican debt to vulture funds, update


This video from the USA says about itself:

Sanders Slams Vulture Funds Ripping Off Puerto Rico

22 October 2015

Sen. Bernie Sanders said today Puerto Rico should be allowed to restructure its debt in a way that protects residents, ordinary investors and pension funds in the United States.

Sad that the name of vultures, beautiful and useful birds, is used for useless ugly organisations.

By Rafael Azul:

Puerto Rico faces default on its debts

28 December 2015

Puerto Rico’s Development Bank (Banco Gubernamental de Fomento, BGF) is in last-minute negotiations with the holders of Puerto Rican bonds over the island government’s $72 billion public debt and an impending default on the next bond payment, due January 4.

The negotiations are occurring following a decision by the US Congress not to grant Puerto Rico protections under Chapter 9 of the US bankruptcy laws.

On December 14 Congress postponed action on a bill that would have provided emergency debt relief for Puerto Rico. That bill, sponsored by Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, included a $3 billion subsidy, reduction in federal Social Security taxes and a federal financial control board.

With bankruptcy protection off the table, the administration of Governor Alejandro García Padilla had lobbied Congress to include the Hatch proposal in an omnibus budget bill for the US federal government. It now appears that Puerto Rico has run out of options and will default on payments next week.

To avoid default, Puerto Rico needs to make a $957 million interest payment January 4, followed by $331 million in February. In July another payment of $956 million is due together with $1.024 billion to redeem maturing bonds at face value.

Despite having embraced a measure that would have subordinated his and future administrations to a Wall Street-run control board, García Padilla denounced congressional inaction: “This fiscal crisis will soon become a humanitarian crisis under the American flag and the Commonwealth will be dragged into massive, costly litigation, which will prevent the Commonwealth from providing essential services to its citizens,” declared the governor.

“By not acting now, Congress has opted for the US Commonwealth to default on its obligations and unfold into chaos. Once again Wall Street has demonstrated its control over Congress; Wall Street rules Congress.”

García Padilla also announced that he would not be running for reelection next November in order to better deal with the payment crisis, thus becoming the fourth one-term governor in a row. The last three carried out layoffs of government employees, school closures, sales tax hikes, attacks on pensions and health benefits and other austerity measures.

In 2009, following the layoff of more than 20,000 employees by governor Luis Fortuño, hundreds of thousands of workers took to the streets in mass protests in a one-day general strike. Another wave of protests of workers and students took place in 2010.

The negotiations between the creditor group and the Puerto Rican government now take place in the heels of an activation, by the García Padilla administration, of a “clawback” clause that would sequester financial resources from various government agencies (transportation, government-owned utilities and others) and transfer those resources to pay holders of Puerto Rican General Obligation bonds (GO bonds) that are constitutionally guaranteed.

Melba Acosta Febo, the BGF’s director, predicted that the “clawback” would force the infrastructure fund AFI to default on their January debt service of $34 million. She declined to predict whether the GO bonds would default on next month’s debt service payment. In previous statements, Acosta Febo has been categorical in declaring that default is a certainty if no action is taken.

The BGF director said that within the next few days it will make a proposal to a bondholders group that includes Millstein & Co., Cleary Gottlieb & Hamilton and CitiGroup. The proposal involves the creation of a new debt instrument, called a “superbono,” as part of an austerity package of restructuring government spending.

It is widely acknowledged that the various hedge funds that hold Puerto Rican bonds, including Oppenheimer Funds and others, and those that insure the bonds, through swaps and other financial derivatives, pressured US congressmen of both parties not to take any action that could potentially force them to accept less than the entire face value of the bonds—which now sell at a steep discount—plus interest payments that are now due.

Anticipating this turn of events, so-called vulture funds have bought Puerto Rican bonds for far less than their face value, with the expectation of making a killing.

Both García Padilla and Acosta Febo recognize that, by turning its back on bankruptcy protection and on debt relief, the US government has effectively made a beggar out of Puerto Rico, forcing it to accept the terms the hedge and vulture funds demand: payment in full on the backs of the Puerto Rican people.

Wall Street and Congress have emphasized the supposed fiscal irresponsibility of successive Puerto Rican governments that were borrowing in response to a decade of economic slump, but in truth, the debt crisis itself was made in Wall Street.

In 2006 Puerto Rico sank into its most severe recession since the 1930s, a direct consequence of the deindustrialization of the island. During the preceding decade the number of industrial jobs had fallen from 160,000 to 75,000, as textile and pharmaceutical firms fled to more profitable locations.

Faced with the unraveling of a post-war model of attracting investments through tax breaks and low wages for its largely non-union work force, Puerto Rico resorted to borrowing to make up for the capital flight then occurring.

Compounding the economic crisis were austerity policies that further shrank the economy, accelerating the decline in jobs, living standards and the tax base. Serial indebtedness chased ever-declining living standards. During the last nine years, Puerto Rico has cut pensions and government jobs, slashed health benefits for teachers, shuttered public schools, imposed new sales taxes (and then raised them from 7 to 11.5 percent), while steeply raising fees for water and power and taxes on fuel.

Despite these draconian measures, the so-called structural deficit in government spending kept going up, and each administration since 2006 sold tax-free GO bonds to bridge the gap.

Wall Street hedge funds happily obliged, attracted by the low-risk and usurious yields of the bonds—rated as junk bonds since last year—with the expectation that neither the Obama administration, Congress or the Courts would act against its profit interests.

Meanwhile the economy continues to crumble. Since 2004 Puerto Rican GDP has shrunk by 13 percent. More than 40 percent of youth are unemployed. Since 2006 the amount of capital leaving the island exceeds new investments. Per capita income is 7 percent less than in 2006 and social inequality is exploding. The official November unemployment rate of 12.5 percent is more than double the US rate.

Over 10 percent of the population has migrated to the US since 2006, including thousands of medical doctors, engineers, teachers and other highly qualified personnel. Presently less than 40 percent of working-age Puerto Ricans have a job or are looking; one-third of the population survives on US food stamp benefits.

Despite his protestations over congressional inaction, García Padilla has contributed to the increasing human misery facing Puerto Ricans with draconian austerity measures, raising regressive sales taxes, reducing health and vacation benefits for public employees and cutting food stamps and public transit.

As is the case in Greece, Spain and other indebted nations, each austerity measure further sinks GDP and living standards and the capacity of the government to extract resources with which to pay debt holders, requiring yet another round of austerity.

Among the measures that are being contemplated for 2016 are the gutting of Puerto Rico’s schools and health systems, the reduction of minimum wages and legislation making it easier to fire workers.

The New York Times, in an article that appeared on December 19, indicated that the Wall Street hedge funds and speculative “vulture” funds oppose any proposal that would allow Puerto Rico, or any of its cities or state agencies, to declare bankruptcy (like Detroit did in 2013).

The article chronicles the campaign of hedge and vulture funds to use their financial clout for Congress to deny bankruptcy protection to Puerto Rico, using massive campaign contributions, deceiving publicity campaigns and self-serving reports on the state of the island’s finances.

The funds also bitterly opposed and campaigned against a December 4 decision by the US Supreme Court to involve itself in part of the debt, the $22 billion owed by Puerto Rican utilities and other public agencies.

Furthermore, the vulture funds seek to create a precedent that would apply to US states such as Illinois, New York and California, which are heavily in debt, excluding them from bankruptcy courts. Puerto Rico’s outstanding debt of $72 billion in fact is only [a] small part of the $3.2 trillion outstanding US municipal and state debt.

Puerto Rico will default on $37m in debt on New Year’s Day, governor confirms: here.

28 thoughts on “Puerto Rican debt to vulture funds, update

  1. No one except Puerto Rico is responsible for this mess. They saw it coming years ago and did not install new taxes and austerity at that time to combat the problem. All these new taxes and austerity measures are necessary but insufficient to deal with past errors. I have a place in my heart for Puerto Rico and find it so sad that I must state the obvious. It won’t be long before the mining companies move in to tear apart the mountains in central PR for its abundance of copper. Goodbye My Paradise!

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    • Hi Waldo, I won’t deny that some Puerto Rico elite people are co-responsible for this. However, that does not make the majority of Puerto Ricans (the kids whose schools are cut away, sick people whose hospitals are cut away, etc.) solely responsible.

      There is a history here ever since the 1890s, when Puerto Ricans wanted to stop being a colony of Spain, but ended up being a colony of the USA.

      Some of the consequences of that:

      The crisis in Puerto Rico (like in Greece) has a complex of causes. For some of them, see

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puerto_Rican_government-debt_crisis#Causes

      Included there: “Interest income paid to owners of bonds issued by the government of Puerto Rico and its subdivisions are exempt from federal, state, and local taxes (so called “triple tax exemption”).[f] Unlike most other US triple tax exempt bonds, Puerto Rican bonds retain tax exemption regardless of where the bond holder resides in the United States,[e][f][g] a marketing and sales advantage consequent to the restriction typically imposed on municipal bonds with triple tax exemption in which exemptions are available to bond holders that reside within the state or municipal subdivision that issues the bonds.”

      These bonds were largely bought by the hedge fund billionaires, who now advocate closing Puerto Rican schools. Which would lead to a further downward spiral for Puerto Rico.

      One of the other causes:

      “Puerto Rico is subject to the Commerce and Territorial Clause of the Constitution of the United States and, therefore, is restricted on how it can engage with other nations, sharing most of the opportunities and limitations that state governments have, albeit not being one. Puerto Rico is also subject to the different treaties and trade agreements ratified by the United States, as well as all other laws enacted at the federal level.

      One of the most significant economic restrictions imposed to Puerto Rico is the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also known as the Jones Act, which prevents foreign-flagged ships from carrying cargo between two United States ports, a practice known as cabotage.[m][n][o][p][q] Because of the Jones Act, foreign ships inbound with goods from Central and South America, Western Europe, and Africa cannot stop in Puerto Rico, offload Puerto Rico-bound goods, load mainland-bound Puerto Rico-manufactured goods, and continue to U.S. ports. Instead, they must proceed directly to U.S. ports, where distributors break bulk and send Puerto Rico-bound manufactured goods to Puerto Rico across the ocean by U.S.-flagged ships.[r]

      Puerto Rican consumers ultimately bear the expense of transporting goods again across the Atlantic and Caribbean Sea on U.S.-flagged ships subject to the extremely high operating costs imposed by the Jones Act.[s] Elías Gutierrez, an economist, urban planner, and former director of the School of Planning of the University of Puerto Rico, asserts that, “Under the protection of federal statutes, a monopsony has been siphoning scarce resources from the poorest U.S. jurisdiction to sustain a segment of U.S. industry that has become uncompetitive due precisely to the protection it has enjoyed.”[10] He further explains that, “Although the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the United States should be considered the senior partners in a common market, the Cabotage laws, in practical terms, constitute a protective barrier that favors Mexican and Canadian ports of origin and destination against producers in Puerto Rico.”[10] The local government of Puerto Rico, however, has requested several times to the U.S. Congress to exclude Puerto Rico from the Jones Act restrictions. Each request has not been granted. [t]

      Another federal statute that contributed to the crisis was the expiration of the section 936 of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code which applied to Puerto Rico.[u] This section was critical for the economy of the island as it established tax exemptions for U.S. corporations that settled in Puerto Rico and allowed its subsidiaries operating in the island to send their earnings to the parent corporation at any time, without paying federal tax on corporate income. The whole economy of the island based itself around this privilege, and was and has been unable to recoup after its loss.[u]

      Puerto Rico also receives less federal funds when compared to states of the United States, although most residents of Puerto Rico do not pay federal income taxes.[v] The island is usually treated as if it were a state for all legislative purposes, albeit not enjoying all the benefits of being one.[w]

      In terms of monetary policy, Puerto Rico does not control its money supply, nor its coinage, nor its interest rates as it uses the U.S. dollar for currency and is subject to the Federal Reserve as its central bank even though it is not a state of the United States.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Everyone, including the elites, turned a blind eye to what was going on in Puerto Rico. The people were working an underground economy in which minimal or no taxes were paid. No one is exempt from blame in this fiasco. I know. I have spoken to the working class, the banking class and the mortgaged class. All taxes were placed so low that everyone was spending money on homes and cars that they could not afford. Now the vultures have come to roost.

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