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.
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