Avoiding what would have been the largest municipal bankruptcy in our nation’s history, Jefferson County, Alabama has agreed to a settlement with creditors over the $3.14B in bond debt that it owes. This debt comes from the county borrowing too much to overhaul its local sewers.
Jefferson County went into financial crisis in 2008 after Wall Street’s own credit crisis cost the bond loss that should have been paid for with revenue from the county’s sewer system. The combination of debt and aggressive use of derivatives buoyed by the collapse of bond insurers also didn’t help.
The vote to settle was approved by 4 out of 5 county commissioners. Per the settlement, $1.1 billion of debt will be forgiven by creditors. JPMorgan, which arranged the debt deals and is the largest creditor, will taken on the majority of losses.
To make the agreement work, local sewer rates will go up 8.2% during the first three years and after that at no more than 3.25%. The State of Alabama will have to set up new legislation that would establish an entity to run the sewer system and sell bonds. About $2 billion of the debt that remains will have to refinance and the new bonds will have to be sold.
It was in December 1996 that Jefferson County said it would fix and reconstruct its sewer system to settle a complaint contending that federal Clean Water Act was being violated because untreated waste was getting into rivers. The following year, the county sold bonds to pay for the project, making $55 million in offerings that was led by underwriter Raymond James & Associates.
While the sewer system was expected to cost about $1.5 billion, the cost actually ended up being $2.2 billion, which resulted in the sewer system having debt of over $3 billion. Over the next decade, sewer rates went up significantly.
In 2008, the collapse of the housing market caused the credit ratings of XL Capital Assurance Inc. and Financial Guaranty Insurance Co. to be cut because of losses sustained on securities linked to home loans. Buyers weren’t able to hold the bonds and investors started getting rid of them in mass quantities. Banks also stopped buying auction-rate securities to build up their own cash reserves. When many auction failed, Jefferson County was left with numerous interest rates.
In August 2008, JPMorgan reached agreements with state regulators that it would buyback ARS sold to investors. JPMorgan had been the broker for $1.8 billion of Jefferson County’s ARS bonds. The following month, the Jefferson County’s trustee said the county was in default under agreements involving $3.2 billion of sewer bonds because it didn’t make $46 million in sewer payments. The county’s financial state wasn’t helped by the number of corruption-related charges over the last few years resulting in guilty pleas and convictions related to financing and sewer construction.
Related Web Resources:
Jefferson County’s Path From Scandal to Settlement: Timeline, Bloomberg Businessweek, September 16, 2011
Ala. county votes to settle debt, avoid bankruptcy, Associated Press, AP/Google, September 16, 2011
Jefferson County, Alabama
More Blog Posts:
Jefferson County, Alabama Officials Want JP Morgan Chase & Other Wall Street Creditors to Accept Proposal that Would Eliminate Almost Half of Its $3.2 Billion Sewer Debt, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, September 28, 2011
Muni Debt Reform: SEC to Proceed with Field Hearing in Alabama, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, May 29, 2011
JPMorgan Chase to Pay $211M to Settle Charges It Rigged Municipal Bond Transaction Bidding Competitions, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, July 9, 2011