Muni Credit News Week of February 12, 2018

Joseph Krist

Publisher

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Editor’s Note: The posting is late to reflect the issuance of the Trump infrastructure plan this past Monday.

ISSUE OF THE WEEK

Intermountain Power Agency (IPA)

$102.5 million Subordinated Power Supply Revenue Refunding Bonds, Series 2018A.

Moody’s: A1

Maybe you can teach an old dog new tricks. Conceived in the eighties as a way to site coal fired power plants to serve California without running afoul of the nation’s strictest state air pollution regulations, IPA seemed to check off all of the boxes for large scale base load power generation resource development. A couple of decades of climate change later, the coal orientation and desert location outside of California were not enough to offset the environmental regulatory demands of the California electric market.

So in March, 2016, IPA and its 35 participants executed a Second Amendatory Power Sales Contract under which IPA plans to repower its existing coal units into combined cycle natural gas units by July 1, 2025. IPA and its participants have agreed to extend the term of the existing power sales contracts that expire in 2027 by another 50 years through the Renewal Power Sales Contract (RPSC). The RPSC will provide energy generated by the natural gas units following the conversion from 2025 to 2077.

To recall, the primary purpose of IPA is the operation of the two-unit 1,800 MW Intermountain Power Project (IPP) coal-fired generation facility. IPP is located in Millard County, Utah and a significant portion of the energy is transmitted about 490 miles from the Intermountain Converter Station to the station at Adelanto, California via the Southern Transmission Line (STS). The STS line is owned by IPA with the improvements finance by the Southern California Public Power Authority (SCPPA). The generation and transmission facilities are operated by the LADWP.

Going forward, the primary risks to the credit are regulatory related cost risks. Increased regulatory pressure from Federal or California agencies on municipal electric utilities to reduce GHG emissions in the near-term. Main among these are Increased regulatory pressure from Federal or California agencies on municipal electric utilities to reduce GHG emissions in the near-term.

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INFRASTRUCTURE PLAN FALLS FLAT

After the long wait for the formal release of the trump Administration infrastructure plan, the resulting document is a huge disappointment. By emphasizing financing over funding, private over public, and uneven distribution of support relative to where the needs are, to plan comes up short effectively across the board.

The amount of spending – $1.5 trillion over ten years – was but a reinforcement of an effective 85% plus state/local share dampened state and local enthusiasm. Financing is not the issue for states and localities. They know how to finance these projects. The challenge is how to meet the need for funding. That is where the plan is likely to come up short. The draft does not comport with recent legislative realities. It envisions the use of tax-exempt private activity bonds (PAB) and advance refunding of tax-exempts. PABs withstood a significant assault before being retained under tax reform but advance refundings were eliminated.

Incentives for states to spend will be established under formulae weighted toward projects with private participation and there are limits on the percentage of federal funding. It seeks to loosen environmental reviews and encourages usage charges (tolls) to provide revenues for local shares. The end result is a program which generates benefits for the private sector while shifting much of the cost of these projects to the states and localities.

The plan can be seen as constructive for bonds from the view of the financing side of the market but credit negative for the credit side of the market through its cost shift to the states. While not explicitly referenced, asset recycling where the sale or lease of existing facilities to generate toll revenue for funding of additional projects and profits for the private asset purchasers is likely a philosophical centerpiece of any plan . These assets would likely include highways, airports, and rail facilities. In the area of federal assets, the draft suggests several electric utility assets owned by the Federal government as examples of potential asset sales.

On the funding side, the draft raised many concerns on the part of state and local governments who will see increased funding responsibilities under the anticipated state and local/federal shares of the proposed trillion dollar plan.  The allotted $200 billion comes from cuts to programs including the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants and transit funds.

Whether the proposal when it is formally released can garner enough support is not clear. Upon release, the plan will face challenges. Rural areas will want greater support for things like broadband provision and expansion above the proportions envisioned in the draft. States will be disappointed that traditional cost sharing ratios will be less favorable. Let’s look at three examples of major infrastructure programs requiring massive capital investment. The prime example of this would be the much discussed Gateway Tunnel. The proposed funding ratios in the draft plan would shift even more of the cost of this clearly necessary project onto the taxpayers and fare paying public in New York and New Jersey even though the trains using it serve a much wider area.

High speed rail is another area of infrastructure with a fair measure of public support. In California, high speed rail has encountered opposition from some of the state’s congressional delegation who have strongly fought to obstruct any efforts at even indirect federal funding. Yet the only recent new high speed rail project to begin service (in Florida) fought long and hard for as much of a federal subsidy as it could get through the use of tax exempt municipal bonds. And finally, the Delta water tunnel project in California would provide water resources serving large swaths of the state and a variety of arguably national economic interests. High speed rail and projects like the Delta Tunnels do not seem to have an outlet in this program.

The Administration has made clear that the document is the mere starting point for negotiating legislation. In favor of passage is the fact that the concept of infrastructure does have bipartisan and widespread regional support. At the same time, the funding of the plan through the elimination of some popular existing mass transit funding sources will make it harder to drive a bargain. One thing we know is that the adopted plan will be far different than what we see in this effort.

ADVANCE REFUNDING LEGISLATION

U.S. Representative Randy Hultgren, an Illinois Republican, and U.S. Representative Dutch Ruppersberger, a Maryland Democrat announced that they are cosponsoring bill to restore the federal tax exemption for a type of debt refunding used by U.S. states, cities, schools and other issuers to lower borrowing costs . Advance refundings were eliminated in the sweeping tax bill signed into law by President Donald Trump in December.

Advance refunding bonds are used to refund outstanding debt beyond 90 days of its call date to take advantage of lower interest rates in the municipal market. Advance refunding bond issuance totaled $91 billion in 2017, accounting for 22.2 percent of supply last year, according to Thomson Reuters data. The termination of the tax break for interest earned on the debt is expected to generate $17.3 billion for the U.S. government between 2018 and 2027.

In addition to providing cost savings due to favorable turns in interest rate trends, the refundings are an important tool for the restructuring of debt especially in the case of distressed credits. The termination of the tax break for interest earned on the debt is expected to generate $17.3 billion for the U.S. government between 2018 and 2027.Given the size of the revenue loss associated with the overall tax cut, the negative policy implications for municipal credits just don’t seem worth the loss of refudning ability.

CA REVENUES REMAIN STRONG IN JANUARY

California’s total revenues of $17.35 billion for January beat the governor’s 2018-19 proposed budget estimates by $2.37 billion, or 15.8 percent, and outpaced 2017-18 Budget Act projections by $1.45 billion, or 9.1 percent, State Controller Betty T. Yee reported today.

Personal income taxes (PIT) and corporation taxes, two of the “big three” sources of General Fund dollars, exceeded estimates for the second consecutive month and are both surpassing assumptions for the fiscal year. For the first seven months of the 2017-18 fiscal year, total revenues of $74.56 billion are higher than expected in the January budget proposal by 4.0 percent, 7.5 percent above the enacted budget’s assumptions, and 11.7 percent higher than the same period in 2016-17.

For January, PIT receipts of $15.60 billion were $2.25 billion, or 16.9 percent, above the proposed budget’s projections and $1.33 billion ahead of 2017-18 Budget Act estimates. For the fiscal year, PIT receipts of $54.70 billion are higher than anticipated in last summer’s budget by $3.61 billion, or 7.1 percent.

Corporation taxes for January of $551.6 million were $211.3 million, or 62.1 percent, higher than expected in the proposed budget and $143.4 million above the enacted budget’s estimates. This variance is partially because refunds were approximately $38.0 million lower than anticipated. For the fiscal year to date, total corporation tax receipts of $4.81 billion are $1.08 billion, or 28.8 percent, above assumptions in the 2017-18 Budget Act.

Sales tax receipts of $1.01 billion for January were $138.0 million, or 12.0 percent, lower than anticipated in the governor’s budget proposal unveiled last month. Notably, for the fiscal year, sales tax receipts of $13.03 billion are $151.2 million lower than January’s assumptions but $396.6 million, or 3.1 percent, above the enacted budget’s expectations.

Unused borrowable resources through January exceeded revised projections by $7.83 billion, or 30.8 percent. Outstanding loans of $5.64 billion were $5.19 billion, or 47.9 percent, less than the 2018-19 proposed budget estimates and $5.02 billion, or 47.1 percent, less than the 2017-18 Budget Act assumed the state would need by the end of January. The loans were financed entirely by borrowing from internal state funds.

Disclaimer:  The opinions and statements expressed in this column are solely those of the author, who is solely responsible for the accuracy and completeness of this column.  The opinions and statements expressed on this website are for informational purposes only, and are not intended to provide investment advice or guidance in any way and do not represent a solicitation to buy, sell or hold any of the securities mentioned.  Opinions and statements expressed reflect only the view or judgment of the author(s) at the time of publication, and are subject to change without notice.  Information has been derived from sources deemed to be reliable, but the reliability of which is not guaranteed.  Readers are encouraged to obtain official statements and other disclosure documents on their own and/or to consult with their own investment professional and advisors prior to making any investment decisions.

 

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