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Moody's Dropped For Questioning Us Cities Pension Assumptions

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http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-06-19/cities-states-shun-moodys-blowing-whistle-pension-liabilities

A little over a month ago, Moody’s downgraded the city of Chicago to junk, triggering over $2 billion in accelerated payment rights for creditors and complicating an effort by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to refinance some $900 million in floating rate debt and borrow another $200 million to pay off the related swaps.

The decision by Moody’s came on the heels of an Illinois Supreme Court decision that struck down a pension reform bid. Although not binding on other states, that verdict effectively set a precedent as it relates to ‘implicit contracts’ between employers and employees, meaning state and local officials across the country will need to find creative ways to fill budget gaps.

When it comes to underfunded pension liabilities one major concern is that in a world characterized by ZIRP and NIRP, it’s not entirely clear that public pension funds are using realistic investment return assumptions. As you can see from the table below, the assumed rates of return for Chicago’s pension funds are nowhere near the risk-free rate, meaning one of two things must be true: 1) fund managers are taking greater risks to hit the targets, or 2) the targets won’t be hit. If the latter is true, then the present value of the funds’ liabilities is likely much larger than reported.

ChicagoPensionReturns.jpg

After 2008, Moody’s stopped relying on the investment return assumptions of cities and states opting instead to use its own models. Unsurprisingly, this led the ratings agency to adopt a much less favorable view of state and local government finances and as WSJ reports, rather than admit that their return assumptions are indeed unrealistic, local governments have opted to drop Moody’s instead. Here’s more:

More than a year before Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Chicago’s bonds to junk status, one of its senior analysts asked top city officials to explain why the third-largest U.S. city was healthier than a troubled island commonwealth flirting with insolvency, according to people familiar with the conversation.

“Help me understand why Chicago is different than Puerto Rico?” said the Moody’s analyst, Rachel Cortez, during a February 2014 meeting that Mayor Rahm Emanuel attended, two of these people said. A spokesman for Moody’s and Ms. Cortez said the firm doesn’t discuss “private meetings with issuers or other capital-market participants.”

So if you don't rate it as we want you don't get the business?

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More than a year before Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Chicago’s bonds to junk status, one of its senior analysts asked top city officials to explain why the third-largest U.S. city was healthier than a troubled island commonwealth flirting with insolvency, according to people familiar with the conversation.

“Help me understand why Chicago is different than Puerto Rico?” said the Moody’s analyst, Rachel Cortez, during a February 2014 meeting that Mayor Rahm Emanuel attended, two of these people said.

There was a time...

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