Most U.S. defined benefit and defined contribution plans, endowments and foundations don't invest in tax-exempt debt, but some of their money managers, especially high-yield debt managers and distressed debt hedge funds, have exposure to the island's financial crisis through their bond holdings.
According to specialty researcher Municipal Market Analytics Inc., Westport, Conn., hedge funds, mutual funds and retail investors each hold about one-third of the debt.
Those hedge fund firms include Angelo Gordon & Co., BlueMountain Capital Management LLC, Brigade Capital Management LP, Centerbridge Partners LP, Davidson Kempner Capital Management LP, Fir Tree Inc., Knighthead Capital Management LLC, Marathon Asset Management LP, Monarch Alternative Capital LP, Stone Lion Capital Partners LP and D.E. Shaw Group, according to court documents and Bloomberg reports.
Traditional money managers that own Puerto Rican municipal bonds include Franklin Advisers Inc., Fundamental Advisors LP, Goldman Sachs Asset Management and OppenheimerFunds.
Some bondholders have formed ad hoc restructuring groups, depending on the specific kind of bonds they hold, such as those of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.
Questions about Puerto Rico's ability — both legal and financial — to restructure its debt has bondholder groups digging in while Congress and the White House try to come up with solutions.
The main challenge before Congress is to address U.S. bankruptcy law that specifically excludes Puerto Rico from that option. After proposals to change that failed to gain traction, the House Committee on Natural Resources, which has jurisdiction over U.S. territories, on March 29 floated a discussion draft of legislation seeking a middle path. It included an independent oversight board to appease critics of Puerto Rico's spending habits, ideas for spurring private investment and provisions for voluntary restructuring with some creditors.
The new board could authorize bankruptcy petitions “as a last resort,” according to the draft.
The legislation is slated for official release April 11 and a hearing two days later, with “conversations between now and then,” said a committee staffer who attributed much of the urgency to concern for pensioners. For debtholders, “we don't seek to preserve one right over another. ... Our goal is try to get things done as quickly as possible,” he said.
A leading group of bondholders wasted no time criticizing the proposal.
“The discussion draft bill is worse for creditors than Chapter 9,” said financial adviser Stephen Spencer of Houlihan Lokey, Washington, who represents major Puerto Rico creditors, including OppenheimerFunds and Franklin Advisers.
The PREPA Bondholder Group, which includes BlueMountain Capital Management, Marathon Asset Management, Knighthead Capital Management, Franklin Resources, Oppenheimer, D.E. Shaw Galvanic Portfolios and Angelo Gordon, “are lobbying the issue very actively,” said a financial services lobbyist who declined to be identified.
Some general obligation bond investors are less committed, he said. “They may feel like they don't have a stake, and might be better off under” the bankruptcy process or other restructuring.
One proposal from a Puerto Rico working group would have creditors holding $49 billion of tax-supported debt exchange it for two new securities with better collateral security and liquidity.
Another group of Puerto Rico bondholders with $7 billion of senior bonds issued by government entity Cofina has proposed a payment plan protecting their holdings and allowing the commonwealth to limit and extend interest payments, as opposed to eliminating protections to investors who thought bankruptcy was not a remote possibility.
Despite the political sensitivity of a control board, “the reality is that, if Congress is going to provide Puerto Rico with reasonable debt restructuring authority, it will be coupled with a fiscal oversight board,” Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi said in a statement March 29. “However, the oversight board must have teeth, but not fangs.”