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Connecticut Capital Hartford Downgraded To Junk By S&P

One week ago, Illinois passed its three year-overdue budget in hopes of avoiding a downgrade to junk status, however in an unexpected twist, Moody's said that it may still downgrade the near-insolvent state, regardless of the so-called budget "deal." In fact, a downgrade of Illinois may come at any moment, making it the first U.S. state whose bond ratings tip into junk, although as of yesterday, credit rating agencies said they were still reviewing the state's newly enacted budget and tax package. The most likely outcome is, unfortunately for Illinois, adverse: "I think Moody's has been pretty clear that they view the state's political dysfunction combined with continued unaddressed long-term liabilities, and unfavorable baseline revenue performance as casting some degree of skepticism on the state's ability to manage out of the very fragile financial situation they are in," said John Humphrey, co-head of credit research at Gurtin Municipal Bond Management.

And yet, while Illinois squirms in the agony of the unknown, another municipality that as recently as a month ago was rumored to be looking at a bankruptcy filing, the state capital of Connecticut, Hartford, no longer has to dread the unknown: on Tuesday afternoon, S&P pulled off the band-aid, and downgraded the city's bond rating by two notches to BB from BBB-, also known as junk, citing "growing liquidity pressures" and "weaker market access prospects", while keeping the city's General Obligation bonds on Creditwatch negative meaning more downgrades are likely imminent.

"The downgrade to 'BB' reflects our opinion of very weak diminished liquidity, including uncertain access to external liquidity and very weak management conditions as multiple city officials have publicly indicated they are actively considering bankruptcy," said S&P Global Ratings credit analyst Victor Medeiros. Hartford has engaged an outside law firm with expertise in financial restructuring. Officials also mentioned that the city would initiate discussions with bondholders for concessions to implement a debt restructuring if it didn't receive the necessary support in the state's 2019 biennial budget.

S&P also said that Hartford may be downgraded again if the state passage of a budget is significantly delayed, or if the city were not to receive sufficient support in a timely manner that would enable it to manage liquidity and allow it to meet obligations in a timely manner.

In short: the capital of America's richest state (on a per capita basis), will - according to S&P - be one of the first to default in the coming months.

Full S&P note below.

Hartford, CT GO Debt Rating Lowered Two Notches To 'BB' On Growing Liquidity Pressures, Weaker Market Access Prospects

 

S&P Global Ratings has lowered its  rating on Hartford, Conn.'s general obligation (GO) bonds two notches to 'BB'  from 'BBB-' and its rating on the Hartford Stadium Authority's lease revenue  bonds to 'BB-' from 'BB+'. The ratings remain on CreditWatch with negative  implications, where they were placed on May 15, 2017.

 

"The downgrade to 'BB' reflects our opinion of very weak diminished liquidity, including uncertain access to external liquidity and very weak management conditions as multiple city officials have publicly indicated they are actively considering bankruptcy," said S&P Global Ratings credit analyst Victor Medeiros. Hartford has engaged an outside law firm with expertise in financial restructuring. Officials also mentioned that the city would initiate discussions with bondholders for concessions to implement a debt restructuring if it didn't receive the necessary support in the state's 2019 biennial budget.

 

"Maintaining the CreditWatch with negative implication reflects our opinion of continued liquidity pressures related to whether the state will provide timely extraordinary aid to the city as outlined in the governor's proposed biennial budget and included in the city's adopted budget," said Mr. Medeiros. Connecticut is facing its own fiscal challenges, and there has been very little indication by the legislature on how it intends to address local government aid and specifically the level of budgetary support it would provide the city of Hartford.

 

The city's full faith and credit GO pledge secures the bonds and notes outstanding. The 'BB-' rating on the lease-revenue bonds issued by The Hartford Stadium Authority reflects the appropriation risk of the city of Hartford.

 

"We expect to resolve the CreditWatch on the long-term rating with the enactment of a state budget that will provide additional information and allow us to evaluate the level of state support and the city's overall liquidity," added Mr. Medeiros. At the moment, we believe there is a one-in-two likelihood of a negative rating action, potentially by multiple notches. Factors that could lead to a downgrade would be if the state passage of a budget is significantly delayed, or if the city were not to receive sufficient support in a timely manner that would enable it to manage liquidity and allow it to meet obligations in a timely manner. Alternatively, if timely budget adoption translates into stabilized liquidity, and provides long-term structural support, we could remove the ratings from CreditWatch.