The financial crisis in Puerto Rico is coming to a head, as regular readers of this blog know.
Time is running out for Puerto Rico. Its Government Development Bank, or GDB, faces a $354 million principal and interest payment at the start of December.
It appears it won’t be able to pay. The GDB projects that Puerto Rico is likely to run out of cash in the next few weeks.
A default would be disastrous for Puerto Rico bondholders, including Mom and Pop investors who bought UBS Puerto Rico closed-end bond funds. Moody’s Investment Service, a leading bond rating agency, gives Puerto Rico debt its third lowest grade for junk bonds. And Moody’s projects that an interest payment default “would likely trigger legal action from creditors, commencing a potentially drawn-out process absent swift federal intervention,” according to an article by Michelle Kaske of Bloomberg News.
Making matters worse, any negotiations for such a swift federal intervention are now at a complete standstill. “The situation in Puerto Rico is urgent,” a White House spokeswoman told Bloomberg News in a different article this month.
It’s not for lack of trying by the Democrats. The Obama administration has proposed financial help to Puerto Rico, including the possibility to allow the island’s bank and government agencies to file for bankruptcy.
The ability for Puerto Rico to file for bankruptcy does not currently exist under the law.
While Democrats, including New York Senator Chuck Schumer and Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, have introduced bills that would change the bankruptcy laws to protect Puerto Rico, Republicans are simply not interested.
The GOP thinks that Puerto Rico has not provided Congress with the audited financial statements it needs to understand the complete picture of the island’s finances. The Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley stated that Congress is waiting for “some good-faith effort from Puerto Ricans” to provide the financial information.
Puerto Rico’s economy has shrunk about 15% since 2006, while the unemployment rate has skyrocketed above 11%, or twice the current national average. Puerto Rico’s government has already cut crucial services and closed schools, delayed tax rebates and suspended payment to government suppliers. It next could cut work hours for public employees to keep the Island afloat.
The GDB’s President says that the Government “cannot wait any longer” and has attacked the hedge funds investors who hold much of its debt, calling them vultures.
The hedge funds aren’t listening. They want to get paid the full amount of their debt and are some of the most difficult and hard-nosed investors to deal with. According to the Bloomberg News report cited above, Democrats say that hedge funds have discouraged any action, such as extending bankruptcy laws for Puerto Rico, which would make it harder for the funds to get paid.
Clearly, a clash is coming. Absent bankruptcy, Puerto Rico and its investors, particularly those holding UBS-Puerto Rico Bond Funds, are likely to get crushed.
The Island Commonwealth that could desperately use a lifeline is being left for dead.
Zamansky LLC are securities and investment fraud attorneys representing investors in federal and state litigation against financial institutions. For more information about Zamansky LLC, please visit http://www.ubspuertoricofunds.com/.