Articles Posted in Puerto Rico Bond Funds

In the wake of Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy filing, hedge funds are competing with the U.S. territory’s workers to get paid. The island has guaranteed retirees and workers $49 Billion in benefits. However, the federally appointed oversight board expects that it will have to cut pension costs by 10%.

Even worse for bondholders, they could get less than 25% of what bondholders are owed. This is true even for bondholders with General Obligation debt, which was supposed to have been constitutionally guaranteed. Creditors that own COFINAs, Puerto Rico sales tax bonds, are being offered up to 58 cents on the dollar should the territory’s finances get better. Both sides will appear in federal court in San Juan Puerto Rico in an attempt to try to work out a deal.

It was just recently that Puerto Rico’s oversight board submitted for Title III bankruptcy protection to help lower Puerto Rico’s $74 Billion of debt and deal with the Commonwealth’s pension crisis. Under Title III, the island can make pension recipients accept reduced benefits.

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According to The Wall Street Journal, hedge funds are starting to bet big on municipal debt by demanding high interest rates in exchange for financing local governments, purchasing troubled municipalities’ debt at cheap prices, and attempting to profit on the growing volatility (in the wake of so many small investors trying to get out because of the threat of defaults). These funds typically invest trillions of dollars for pension plans, rich investors, and college endowments. Now, they are investing in numerous muni bond opportunities, including Puerto Rico debt, Stanford University bond, the sewer debt from Jefferson County, Alabama, and others.

Currently, hedge funds are holding billions of dollars in troubled muni debt. The municipal bond market includes debt put out by charities, colleges, airports, and other entities. (Also, Detroit, Michigan’s current debt problems, which forced the city into bankruptcy, caused prices in the municipal bond market to go down to levels that appealed to hedge funds.)

Hedge fund managers believe their efforts will allow for more frequent trading, greater government disclosures, and transparent bond pricing and that this will only benefit municipal bond investors. That said, hedge fund investors can be problematic for municipalities because not only do they want greater interest rates than did individual investors, but also they are less hesitant to ask for financial discipline and better disclosure.

UBS Financial Services, Inc. and its Puerto Rican divisions (UBS) continue to feel the heat in the Puerto Rico Bond crisis, as labor groups in the US territory call on its government to file a bond fraud claim against the bank. They are claiming that the financial firm “tricked” the Puerto Rican government into issuing products that they knew would fail.

Also, lawmakers from the New Progressive Party want the government to investigate UBS’ practices in Puerto Rico. Already Rep. Ricardo Llerandi Cruz is asking for a Capital Inquiry into the firm, while Rep. Ángel Muñoz Suárez announced he would file a bond fraud case with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Meantime, Carlos Ubiñas, the CEO of UBS Puerto Rico, maintains that the firm is not accountable for “market events.” Issuing a statement, Ubiñas said that the loss in the Puerto Rico bonds’ value has more to do with the market and the lingering questions about the US Commonwealth’s credit.

According to Investment News, along with the much publicized-UBS Puerto Rican Bond Funds, the municipal bond funds of OppenheimerFunds appear to have also been hit by Puerto Rico’s financial problems. The Oppenheimer Rochester Virginia Municipal Bond Fund (ORVAX), valued at $125 million, is down by over 15%, which places it last in the lineup of single-state municipal bond funds.

Such losses could prove an unpleasant surprise for investors in Virginia. The media publication blames the fund’s poor performance on the huge bet it placed on the Puerto Rico bond funds, which have not done very well in the wider municipal bond market because of the territory’s financial issues and the bonds’ low rating.

Investment research firm Morningstar Inc. says that the single-state municipal bond funds with over 25% of assets in the beleaguered bonds are The Oppenheimer Rochester North Carolina, Massachusetts, Arizona, and Maryland funds, with each fund down through last week by over 11%. A median single-state municipal bond fund usually holds no more than 2.38% of assets in the bonds from Puerto Rico.

The SSEK Partners Group is investigating claims by investors who bought Puerto Rico municipal bonds from UBS (UBS), Banco Santander (SAN.MC), Banco Popular and other brokerage firms. We are also looking into claims involving other muni funds that have been exposed to Puerto Rico, including the:

• Franklin Double Tax-Free Income A (ticker: FPRTX): 65% of its holdings involve Puerto Rico obligations.

• Oppenheimer Rochester VA Municipal A (ORVAX): 33% of its holdings in Puerto Rico bonds.

As the value of proprietary closed-end bond funds invested created by a UBS AG unit (UBS) in Puerto Rico continue to drop, the financial firm and its 132 financial advisers find themselves facing what is expected to be a protracted legal battle with local investors who want their money back. The value of the Puerto Rico bond funds sank after over $10 billion were sold to investors. UBS is also contending with allegations that a number of its brokers persuaded clients to purchase the bond funds and bonds on a credit line and margin.

The UBS Puerto Rico funds are comprised of 14 close-end funds that were sold through UBS Financial Services Inc. of Puerto Rico’s registered representatives and brokers. As tension over the broader municipal bond market hit the US commonwealth, the net asset value of the funds became eroded, falling from an initial price of $10 to roughly $3 for some of the funds.

Unlike closed-end municipal bond funds domiciled in the US—these are only allowed to have leverage as high as 30% of the assets in the fund—the Puerto Rico bond funds’ leverage can reach as high as 50% of total assets (55%, under certain conditions). Such leverages can only make any losses greater.