What Does The Illinois Budget Crisis Mean For Your Bond Fund?

A recent Capital Economics (CE) report shines an unforgiving light on Illinois’ ongoing budget woes—and what it finds isn’t pretty. The crisis, which has affected every level of government in the state, is a cautionary tale for not only public spending run amok but also independent investors taking too large of a risk by seeking high yields.

The Land of Lincoln’s credit is already the lowest-rated in the union and, until recently, its debt came precariously close to being downgraded to “junk.” Were this to happen, it would become the first state ever to receive such an ignoble rating.

The state’s 10-year bond yield has soared in recent months, which might attract certain unwary speculators. It’s our belief, however, that such debt should generally be avoided, as the risks are especially high.

As I write this, a state budget could possibly be successfully negotiated, making it the first time in over two years that Illinois has operated with a budget. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner already vetoed the first bill that reached his desk, which includes tax hikes, but the veto was immediately overridden by the State Senate and is now headed for the House.

No matter the outcome, the point here is that political dysfunction is unfavorable—to put it lightly—and muni investors should remain cautious.

Illinois isn’t the only state facing problems. Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island and Wisconsin are all (or were) mired in similar budgetary impasses. New Jersey public beaches reopened just in time for July 4 celebrations after a high-profile government shutdown closed them down.

For many muni investors, navigating around these numerous pitfalls might seem overwhelming. That’s why I believe an actively-managed municipal bond fund such as our Near-Term Tax Free Fund (NEARX) could be the solution.

More than 95 percent of NEARX is invested in munis that hold between an A and AAA investment-grade rating as of March 31. What this means is we’ve historically avoided exposure to debt issued by poorly-managed municipalities.

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Author: Travis Esquivel

Travis Esquivel is an engineer, passionate soccer player and full-time dad. He enjoys writing about innovation and technology from time to time.

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