If there is such a thing as financial hell, it is probably Greece… with Illinois coming in close second.
For those unfamiliar, here’s a quick recap: Illinois (rate just one notch above junk) is drowning under a mountain of debt, unpaid bills and underfunded pension liabilities and it’s largest city, Chicago, is suffering from a staggering outbreak of violent crime not seen since gang wars engulfed major cities from LA to New York in the mid-90’s, while rising taxes have prompted a mass exodus with the state lost 1 resident every 4.3 minutes in 2017.
Seen in this light, any irrational actions undertaken by the near-insolvent state would almost make sense, if not be expected. Actually make that irrational and utterly bizarre, such as a proposed offering of a mind-blowing $107 billion in debt – a never before attempted amount in the world of munis – to “fund” the state’s insolvent pension system, which would also assure that Illinois would default (even faster) in the very near future.
According to Bloomberg, Illinois lawmakers are so desperate to shore up the state’s massively underfunded retirement system that “they’re willing to entertain an eye-popping wager: Borrowing $107 billion and letting it ride in the financial markets.”
If that number sounds oddly large, is because it is: an offering of this size would be by far the biggest debt sale in the history of the municipal market, and amount to roughly 50% more debt than bankrupt Puerto Rico accumulated in the run up to its record-setting insolvency.
Putting the proposed deal in context, Illinois had $26.3 billion of general-obligation bonds as of July and the state sold $750 million of bonds in November to pay down unpaid bills that had accumulated during its two-year budget impasse. The state still has $8 billion of unpaid bills even after that issuance, according to the comptroller’s office.
An Illinois Democrat came up with the perfect soundbite framing this head-scratching proposal:
“We’re in a situation in Illinois where our pension debt is just crushing,” Martwick, a Democrat who chairs the committee, said in a telephone interview. “When you have the largest pension debt in the world, you probably ought to be thinking big.”
In other words, with left nothing to lose, Illinois may as well go big. So big, in fact, it’s never been seen before.
What is just as shocking is that not even $107 billion would be enough to fully fund the Illinois pension system, which owes $129 billion after years of failing to make adequate annual contributions.
China Pressuring Wall Street To Stop Trump On Trade War
If anyone still doubted President Trump’s determination to slap tariffs on all – or even more than all – Chinese goods flowing into the US, they probably don’t anymore. So far this week, the president has taken to twitter to trash his own Treasury Secretary’s efforts to restart talks with the Chinese, before Trump publicly declared on Friday that he intends to move ahead with plans to slap 25% tariffs on another $200 billion worth of goods.
Given the president’s unflinching resolve in pursuing his trade agenda, it’s understandable why a shrewd businessmen would go to great lengths to avoid getting in the middle of what looks to be a protracted geopolitical dogfight.
But unfortunately for top Wall Street firms, many of which harbor ambitions of expanding their business in China, that may no longer be an option. Because while the Trump administration has largely left them alone, the Chinese are now trying to use whatever leverage they can (i.e. preferential access to the world’s second-largest economy) to push America’s top bankers to intervene on Beijing’s behalf.
Reuters reported Friday that top Chinese officials have hastily organized an investment conference in Beijing and requested the presence of several top Wall Street firms. The conference will be chaired by former PBOC Governor Zhou Xiaochuan and ex-Goldman Sachs President John Thornton, and feature an appearance by Chinese vice-president Wang Qishan. Dubbed “the firefighter” by the Chinese people, Quishan, in addition to being the most powerful of China’s vice presidents, is also one of the senior Communist officials involved in managing the trade dispute.
While market liberalization is certainly a priority for the Chinese, it’s difficult to imagine that these top officials are planning to attend this conference – especially with so much else going on – just to brainstorm ideas about how China can proceed with opening up its financial sector.
The subtext here is obvious: China wants to figure out who in the US financial services community can help them get through to Trump and help stop this conflict before losses in China’s currency and stock market spiral out of control. And if the carrot of access doesn’t work, China has already proven adept at leveraging the stick.
America vs China: $200 Billion in New Tariffs Coming Soon?
In the latest installment of the story that just won’t go away, the WSJ reported on Saturday that – as Bloomberg reported first yesterday – the Trump administration plans to announce new tariffs on up to $200 billion in Chinese goods as soon as Monday and otherwise “within days”, in a move that will likely render moot the high-level, U.S.-China talks set for later this month, will prompt an immediate retaliation from China, and may lead to a sharply lower futures open on Sunday night.
The silver lining in the imminent announcement is that while previously Trump had said he would proceed with a 25% tariff level, the WSJ reports that the US will start with tariffs of “around 10%.” The level was lowered “following extensive public hearings and the submission of written comments where importers and others complained of the possible impact of the duties” as well as to try to reduce the bite on American consumers ahead of the year-end holiday shopping season, these people said.
But the people familiar said that the tariff level could be raised back to 25% if Mr. Trump concludes that Beijing doesn’t soon show signs that it is acceding to U.S. demands to change its economic policies.
Furthermore, WSJ sources said that while details were still being completed over the weekend, the tariff level could change, or that Trump could change his mind entirely. As of Saturday, an announcement was planned for Monday or Tuesday.
California Has Highest Rate of Poverty in the Nation at 19%
Despite efforts by state legislators at creating a socialist utopia, California still has the highest poverty rate in the nation at 19%, despite a 1.4% decrease from last year according to the Census Bureau
Poverty and income figures released Wednesday reveal that over 7 million Californians are struggling to get by in the second most expensive state to live in, according to the Council for Community and Economic Research’s 2017 Annual Cost of Living Index.
And while California has a “vigorous economy and a number of safety net programs to aid needy residents,” according to the Sacramento Bee, one out of every five residents is suffering economic hardship – which is fueled in large part by sky-high housing costs, according to Caroline Danielson, policy director at the Public Policy Institute of California.
“We do have a housing crisis in many parts of the state and our poverty rate is highest in Los Angeles County,” she said, adding that cost of living and poverty is often highest in the state’s coastal counties. “When you factor that in we struggle.”
Silicon Valley residents in particular are leaving in droves – more so than any other part of the state. Nearby San Mateo County which is home to Facebook came in Second, while Los Angeles County came in third.
“They’re looking for affordability and not finding it in Santa Clara County,” said Danielle Hale, chief economist for realtor.com.