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article imageOp-Ed: Puerto Rico to begin 2016 by defaulting on debt

By Ken Hanly     Jan 2, 2016 in Business
San Juan - Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro Padilla said the island will not make a $35.9 million payment to its Infrastructure Finance Authority nor another $1.4 million payment to its Public Finance Corp.
This is just a small fraction of the $1 billion in debt that is due on Monday. The government already defaulted on payments to its Public Finance Corporation back in August. Paying off general obligation debt is a priority and on January 4th the government will be required to make a payment of $328.7 million. In total, Puerto Rico has $70 billion in total debt it claims it cannot pay. The government would like to declare bankruptcy. It cannot do this without the support of U.S. Congress. Hedge funds and other creditors are lobbying hard to see that this does not happen.
The government, as in Greece, has been forced to implement many austerity measures to finance its upcoming payments. It has already taken $163 million from other agencies including the highway, convention center and busing authorities. There are also rumours that the government will borrow money from the public employee pension funds. The government is also saving money by delaying the release of income tax refunds.
Government austerity measures to meet payments, include the laying off of 30,000 public sector workers. The sales tax was a hefty 7 percent but now has been upped to 11.5 percent. One third of revenues are now used solely to pay down debt. Since 2006 the economy has actually shrunk by 10 percent and the poverty rate is now a staggering 45 percent. Since Puerto Ricans are US citizens many are simply moving away to the continental U.S. as indicated on the appended video.
Unlike a U.S. city, such as Detroit, Puerto Rico cannot just declare bankruptcy and restructure its debt. As a commonwealth it must get approval of the U.S. Congress to restructure its debt. Antonio Weiss of the Treasury Department said that resolving the Puerto Rican debt crisis would require Congressional action.
There are hedge funds that have a huge stake in Puerto Rico's debt situation. Hedge funds bought up their debt: In the last year, as Puerto Rico’s spiraling debt effectively prevented it from borrowing on ordinary credit markets, creditors began selling off Puerto Rican debt, as David Dayen reported in the American Prospect. A select group of big investors, most of them hedge funds, stepped in to buy the debt for a mere fraction of its original value.
These hedge funds are known as “vultures” because of their attempts to squeeze a profit from a penniless debtor’s proverbial carcass. Vultures buy the debt of cash-strapped sovereign nations -- think Greece and Argentina -- at discounted rates from other investors, who have grown scared they will not be paid back
The hedge funds want to have the Puerto Rican debt paid off at full value even though they bought it at a huge discount. The last thing they want is Puerto Rico to be able to declare bankruptcy. Holders of Puerto Rican bonds paid as little as 30 cents on the dollar for them and the bonds have yields of up to 11 percent. These bonds are tax exempt in all 50 U.S. states. General obligation bonds take top priority when it comes to paying off debt. There are conflicts even within the groups holding debts. Some who holds bonds support those holding debt in public corporations being subject to debt restructuring. This would help the government pay them!
The hedge funds demand large returns because their investments are risky. In 2014 they bought general obligations bonds that no one else would touch. They need to protect this risky investment by political lobbying. Sen.Blumenthal (D-Conn) working with Marco Rubio (R-Fla) tried to have a provision that gave Puerto Rico at least some bankruptcy powers: But a group of hedge funds that includes D.E. Shaw -- a firm headed by top Hillary Clinton donor David Shaw -- played a key role in defeating the bipartisan effort with a multi-front lobbying offensive, as The New York Times reported at length. Blue Mountain, another hedge fund in the group, launched a sophisticated astroturf campaign casting the bill, which would cost taxpayers nothing, as a “bailout” that would harm ordinary seniors whose retirement plans rely on returns from Puerto Rican bonds. Rubio withdrew his support under pressure. Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize-winning economist says of the hedge funds and financiers:“What they are doing, by getting all the resources for themselves, is undermining the viability of Puerto Rico as a commonwealth. They want their money now, and they want to get the rules set so that they can make money for the next 20 years.”
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Puerto rico, Puerto Rcio debt crisis, Alejandro Padilla
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