Have nothing to do with the [evil] things that people do, things that belong to the darkness. Instead, bring them out to the light... [For] when all things are brought out into the light, then their true nature is clearly revealed...

-Ephesians 5:11-13

Tag Archives: Bankruptcy

How to bankrupt a city: lessons from Scranton, Pennsylvania

This article first appeared at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Friday, January 17th, 2014:

Poor Mert Gavin. He’s the owner of Mert’s Piano Bar in downtown Scranton, Pennsylvania, and between the pending 10% “drinking” tax and the extension of parking meter hours in front of his bar to 6PM, he’s finding that his customers are going home after work instead of stopping by for a cold one:

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Time has run out for Scranton, Pennsylvania, says Moody’s

When Moody’s Investors Service said back in November that Scranton, Pennsylvania, had run out of options except for bankruptcy, Scrantonians began to think that was a pretty good idea. tax on local bars.

Economics 101 is kicking in, and Mert Gavin, the owner of Mert’s Piano Bar, complained:

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Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn Releases His Annual “Wastebook”

This article was first published by The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Friday, December 20th, 2013:

In his press release announcing the publication of his annual “Wastebook” summarizing 100 examples of egregious, wasteful, and outrageous government spending, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn tried to make himself appear “holier than thou” by

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Monumental Hubris in Claim of Taxpayer Victory in GM Bailout

 

This article first appeared at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Wednesday, December 11th, 2013:

In Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew’s fawning, obsequious, genuflecting announcement that the president had singlehandedly saved western civilization from a cataclysmic economic disaster, he said that by taking a loss, taxpayers actually scored a victory:

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US Treasury sells the rest of its GM shares at a loss, claims taxpayer victory

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew announced on Monday afternoon that his department had sold the remaining shares of GM that it acquired following the forced bankruptcy of the auto giant in 2009, and made the $10.5 billion loss sound like it was a victory:

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Judge declares Detroit bankrupt, gives OK to cut pensions and burn creditors

In the opening to his hour-long statement to a packed courthouse on Tuesday, federal bankruptcy court Judge Steven Rhodes said:

It is indeed a momentous day. We have here a judicial finding that this once proud and prosperous city can’t pay its debts. It’s insolvent.

It’s eligible for bankruptcy. At the same time it has an opportunity for a fresh start.

He reeled off the list of problems the city is facing:

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The Bubble in the Caribbean: Puerto Rico

This article was first published at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Wednesday, October 30, 2013:

The complacency of municipal bond holders ended in July with the filing for bankruptcy by Detroit, an unhappy town of just 700,000 owing more than $18 billion to investors. Haircuts there have variously been estimated to be between 15 and 60 percent.

Since then, those holders have been looking around to find the next shoe to fall, and they have found it:

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Why are Puerto Rico’s Bond Prices Falling?

Despite the fact that Puerto Rican (PR) municipal bonds are triple-tax-exempt (no federal, state or local income taxes apply on their interest), those interest rates have skyrocketed since the Detroit bankruptcy first ended the complacency among municipal bond investors in July. High quality municipal bonds are paying little more than 1 percent annually but PR bonds, even though they remain investment grade (barely), have spiked

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JP Morgan Buying its Way Out of Legal Troubles

The announcement that a tentative agreement had been reached between the Department of Justice and JPMorgan (JPM) was surprising only in the size of the penalty the country’s largest bank (and second largest in the world) agreed to pay:

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“13th-month” Checks Just One More Indicator of Detroit Corruption

This article was first published at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Friday, September 27th, 2013:

When Kevyn Orr was named Detroit’s interim financial manager by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder back in March, he was picked because he had experience in resurrecting other cities that found themselves in trouble. But it’s doubtful that Orr had any idea of the width, the breadth, and the depth of the corruption and deceit that awaited him when he began.

By June he had a better idea. In announcing that he was going to seek bankruptcy protection he said

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Detroit’s Bankruptcy Hastened by “13th Month” Checks Issued to Pensioners

When Kevyn Orr was appointed as Detroit’s interim financial manager back in March, he launched an investigation into just how deep the city’s financial hole really was. He should have waited until September when,

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The Atlantic magazine laughs off America’s debt burden

When the senior editor of The Atlantic, Derek Thompson, tried to explain away concerns over the massive unfunded liabilities facing the U.S. government repeatedly pointed out by experts such as Peter Peterson (the former chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations), Boston University economics professor Laurence Kotlikoff, and James Hamilton of the University of California, he used a combination of

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First Detroit, Now Chicago?

The unfunded pension liabilities facing Chicago are only the most recent troubles threatening the Windy City, according to the New York Times. The recent credit downgrade of Chicago’s general obligation bonds by Moody’s, Standard and Poor’s and Fitch just brought the matter to the surface. Crime, corruption and a shrinking population also are beginning to make Chicago look like an out-sized version of Detroit.

According to the city, the four pension plans for its police, teachers, firefighters and office staff, are all dreadfully underfunded to the tune of some

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Will Scranton be Next?

Following Detroit’s application for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 9 last week, pundits have had a field day predicting which city would be next. Fox News thinks it’s going to be Chicago, which Moody’s just downgraded because of its $19 billion unfunded pension liabilities. The agency said those liabilities are “very large and growing” and as a result the city faces a “tremendous strain.”

Other cities like

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Detroit: the First Domino to Fall

This article was first published at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Monday, July 22nd, 2013:

 

The city of Detroit is living proof that Herb Stein is right: if something cannot go on forever, it will stop. For Detroit, it stopped last week when

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Detroit Bankruptcy: No Winners

When Michigan Governor Rick Snyder announced his approval for Detroit’s emergency manager Kevin Orr to file for a municipal Chapter 9 bankruptcy, he admitted that Detroit’s problems were decades in the making:

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Securities Agency Sues Jon Corzine, former MF Global head, over theft of customer funds

The sanctions sought against Jon Corzine, the former head of MF Global, by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) in a lawsuit filed in U.S. Southern District Court in New York on June 27th should end Corzine’s career as a Wall Street manipulator and send him into

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House can starve Obamacare, but it won’t.

The current scandals rocking the IRS are giving an excuse for some in the House to threaten shutting off funding for Obamacare. The optimist side of me says, Yea, Do It! The pessimist side says they’ll get their funding. The realist side says Obamacare will speed up the bankruptcy of the US.

All funding bills start in the House and I’ve long wondered why

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Detroit Creditors’ haircut: 90 percent!

At the conclusion of Friday’s 2-hour meeting of more than 180 of Detroit’s creditors, unions and pension trustees, Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr’s plan to rescue the city from bankruptcy was met with predictable responses: lawsuits and strikes. It was an altar call to accept reality, but denial, anger and threats were the response of many. One unnamed bond holder said, “It’s just too much. It is an unprecedented amount to ask.” Mike Mulholland, secretary of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local # 207, was equally blunt: “When you’re backed into a corner, the only thing you can do is fight and the only way we can fight is to strike.”

Orr was ready for them. In his 134-page proposal, he blamed “financial mismanagement, a shrinking population, [and] a dwindling tax base … over the past 45 years [which] have brought Detroit to the brink of financial and operational ruin.” Indeed, his proposal spelled out the denial of reality that Mayor Dave Bing and his city council had been enjoying for years when it showed that Bing’s people thought that the annual deficit for the city for Fiscal Year 2013 was $47 million when the actual deficit is more than twice that, and for FY 2014 is estimated to approach $200 million. It’s no wonder that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder declared a financial emergency, and appointed bankruptcy attorney Kevyn Orr to take over from the city council in March.

The task facing Orr is horrifying. Faced with more than $18 billion in debts and just $68 million in the bank, Orr started off the meeting by announcing that the city would not make a $40 million payment due that day on a $2.5 billion certificate of participation (COP). He announced further that the city wouldn’t be making $104 million in pension contributions that are currently due either. In addition, retirees hoping that the city would be providing them with health care and full payouts of their pension benefits also received the bad news: they too would be forced to rely on the state’s insurance exchanges to obtain health coverage under Obamacare or Medicare, and could expect significant reductions in their retirement checks as well, approaching $800 a month in many cases.

Orr’s report was equally blunt for those hoping for a miracle: “The City is Insolvent” (Page 7): “the city is not paying its bills,” the city’s infrastructure is deteriorating, “costs associated with unoccupied property” continues to mount, the city’s credit ratings were borderline “bankrupt” by all three agencies, and “Priority One” police response times had increased in just one year from 30 minutes in 2012 to 58 minutes in 2013. In 2012 Detroit “had the highest rate of violent crime of any U.S. city having a population over 200,000 [Detroit’s population is just over 700,000, 40 percent of what it was 1950], five times the national average.”

There are “approximately 78,000 abandoned and blighted structures in the City, nearly half of which are considered ‘dangerous’ [while there are] 66,000 blighted and vacant lots within the City limits.” There are between 11,000 and 12,000 fires in Detroit every year, most of them occurring in those blighted and abandoned buildings.

Orr’s plan, on the surface, is elegant simplicity: if the creditors – pension trustees, unions, bond holders and retirees – will sit still for these massive haircuts, then the city can, under a newly created facility, borrow $2 billion to pay off the $11 billion in unsecured creditors. Orr said that translates, after other demands on that new money, to about 10 cents on every dollar owed. Secured creditors will be better off but they will be asked to take a haircut as well. If the proposal is accepted, lawsuits and strikes notwithstanding, then Orr can take this to court as a pre-packaged bankruptcy, giving him the power to enforce the agreement.

On the other hand, if his proposal can’t get sufficient agreement in the next 30 days from all interested (and now properly chastened) creditors, then he’ll ask the court to grant Detroit bankruptcy protection with himself as trustee. In essence, Orr is dealing from strength: go along with me now and get the best deal possible, or push me and you’ll get less, it’ll cost more and it’ll take longer.  Said Orr: “I have a very powerful statute. I have an even more powerful Chapter 9. I don’t want to use it, but I am going to accomplish this job. That will happen.”

There’s a constitutional issue here as well. Under the Tenth Amendment, “powers not delegated to the federal government by the Constitution … are reserved to the states,” which means that guarantees in Michigan’s state constitution that protect pension and retirement benefits from federal bankruptcy rulings could be put at risk in a court battle. If a high court rules that federal bankruptcy laws override state protections, then every pension plan in the country thinking it has state protection will be affected negatively, with national and perhaps even international ramifications. The municipal bond market is nearly $4 trillion in size, and such a ruling could, at the very last, unnerve that market, raising the cost of borrowing significantly, forcing other cities bordering on bankruptcy over the edge.

Michael Sweet, an attorney at Fox Rothschild who helped the city of Redmond, California restructure its finances in order to avoid bankruptcy, noted: “The last thing [union pension funds] may want is for a judge to rule on that … because if the judge ruled on that against them, it would open the floodgates” for similar cases.

 

The Bankruptcy of Better Place Served Its Purpose

This article first appeared in the McAlvany Intelligence Advisor newsletter:

 

The announcement of the bankruptcy of a tiny electric car company called Better Place barely created a ripple in financial circles. The Financial Times noted that while Better Place was once “hailed as a visionary pioneer,” it was now being relegated to history as

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Many of the articles on Light from the Right first appeared on either The New American or the McAlvany Intelligence Advisor.