Puerto Rico Drops to Level Unprecedented for Bonds: Muni Credit

Photographer: Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty Images Tourists meander through Old San Juan in Puerto Rico.

No state or city with a credit rating as low as Puerto Rico’s has been able to access bond markets since at least 1990, a situation that may cut off the lifeblood of the commonwealth’s finances.

On July 1, Moody’s Investors Service cut the island’s rating to B2, five steps below investment grade. No local government has borrowed at that level, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Prices on its general-obligation debt yesterday plummeted to record lows.

“They’re done,” said Matt Dalton, chief executive officer of White Plains, New York-based Belle Haven Investments, which oversees $2.1 billion in munis. “They’re not going to be issuing any more debt on the island. I don’t see how they can bring people back to the trough at this point.”

Puerto Rico and its agencies have operated for years on borrowed money — racking up $73 billion, Bloomberg data show — and Wall Street made $910 million since 2000 by structuring its debt sales. If the government can’t sell bonds at affordable rates, it will have to curtail services for its 3.6 million residents, 45 percent of whom live in poverty. Continue reading “Puerto Rico Drops to Level Unprecedented for Bonds: Muni Credit”