Friday, February 19, 2010

The Debts of the Spenders: Cities Weigh Chapter 9

Chapter 9 is a seldom used term to describe municipal bankruptcy provisions (re-organizations) if a city or other local government branch falls behind in its financial obligations; e.g. where its cash flow has turned substantially negative. This is not new. Similar fears afflicted the muni debt market in fall 2008 when nearly every financial sector turned south.

But savvy players like PIMCO's Bill Gross saw a chance to buy muni debt and those managers who followed made a tidy return on the severely marked down bonds. Their surge in price was part of a greater tide lifting all boats in the 2009 fixed income rally where HY (high yield; aka junk bonds) outperformed every other sector - equities, commodities, and FX. Munis have historically been considered "safe" as their default rates are a lot lower than private sector actors. The wealthy also use muni's as tax shelter vehicles because many states and jurisdictions make their bond returns tax free for local residents.

Is there another opportunity available here?

Maybe. Maybe not. The environment of fear that led to a technically and fundamentally oversold market does not exist today. Or at least not yet.
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