Illinois is Broke

Wednesday, July 7, 2010 \AM\.\Wed\.

Long time readers of this blog know that I reside in the Land of Lincoln.  Illinois now has the distinction of perhaps being in the worst fiscal mess of any state in the Union, as this recent article by Josh Barro for Real Clear Markets indictates:

If you go to Sacramento this week, don’t be surprised to hear champagne corks popping and chants of “We’re #2! We’re #2!” The cause for celebration? Illinois has overtaken California as the worst credit risk among American states.

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.
Despite this environment, Illinois chose to issue an additional $300 million in taxable Build America Bonds last week. Unsurprisingly, the markets were not keen and demanded a high price: the new 25-year bonds were sold with a yield of 7.1%, a spread of 297 basis points over 30-year treasuries. Illinois’ last long term issues, in April, had spreads of 205 and 210 basis points, meaning investors were already nervous about Illinois and are growing moreso.
This issuance provides further evidence that the ratings agencies haven’t fully appreciated the dire nature of state finances, at least in states like California and Illinois. While Illinois carries a Moody’s rating of A1, six notches above junk status, the markets put Illinois’s debt close to the borderline between junk and investment grade. Read the rest of this entry »