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Riley: Did Magaziner & Raimondo Invest in Vulture Hedge Funds?

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

 

Governor Gina Raimondo

Puerto Rico appears ready to file for bankruptcy tomorrow. An attempt to negotiate a “haircut” of 23% to general obligation bondholders of Puerto Rican debt has failed.

In Rhode Island, general obligation bondholders get first lien on tax revenue and as such would not take a “haircut." This fact explains why Rhode Island cities and towns have avoided junk ratings despite horrendous financials. Last year in early 2016, Puerto Rico Governor Padilla notified the US senate that Puerto Rico could not repay its debts.

Rather than make a decision, the US Government and President Obama did what every politician does and formed a committee. 

Padilla testified, “Absent an orderly process, [the default’s] effects will be catastrophic. That is why, starting today, the commonwealth of Puerto Rico will have to claw back revenues pledged to certain bond issues in order to maintain essential public services. We have taken this difficult step in the hopes that Congress will act soon, but let us be clear: we have no cash left.”

PROMESA is Formed

The Obama administration teamed up with Congress to pass “The Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act” (PROMESA), which turned over the island’s finances to a federally appointed committee and created a “Title III” bankruptcy process.

This Federally appointed committee has been in tough last minute negotiations with several Hedge Funds who bought Puerto Rican Debt at 30 cents on the dollar who now refuse to take a 23% haircut on their holdings. 

Observers and US Congressman have expressed fear that a mass exodus of a million or so Puerto Ricans to the US mainland if bondholders don’t budge. Services have already been suspended across the Island. Puerto Ricans are in panic and leaders are expressing grave concern.  Puerto Rico Catholic Archbishop Roberto Gonzáleziocese and Reverend Heriberto Martínez, the head of the Puerto Rico Bible Society, issued a joint statement this week:  “If the oversight board and Governor do not act by April 28, we fear that Puerto Rico could be held hostage by predatory actors and ‘vulture’ funds.”

Here in Rhode Island, citizens are sadly oblivious when they should be paying close attention. The travails of Puerto Rico will inevitably come to Rhode Island. It may trigger distress soon as Puerto Rican residents come to enjoy our benefits and minimum wage.

Vultures versus Politicians

The fight has gotten especially nasty since the bonds first defaulted a few years back when the Governor, instead of paying bond interest due, finally actually contributed that money into the pension system.

An audit showed the effort was hopeless and likely an attempt by the Governor to avoid rioting or assassination. The audit of the union controlled Puerto Rico Employees’ Retirement System and two smaller public pension plans revealed that there are only about $1.8 billion in assets to pay $45 billion in pension liabilities.  That Funding ratio of 4.2% is even worse than Providence sub 20% funded ratio.

Raimondo and Magaziner may own vulture funds

A review of the Hedge Fund Vulture firms known as “the Ad Hoc Committee” that collectively refuse to negotiate with “PROMESA” for tomorrows largest Public Bankruptcy ever, shows several Hedge Funds also owned by Treasurer Seth Magaziner and Gina Raimondo prior to Seth.

Although it shows several familiar names, the particular investments made by Rhode Island may or may not be part of the “Ad Hoc Group” of hedge funds that seek to collect in full and plunge the Island into a humanitarian crisis. Either way, it is clear that Providence and the State of Rhode Island are on the same destructive path as Puerto Rico and somebody owns our bonds. Given our 2010 law they expect to be paid off before taxpayers or public retirees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michael G. Riley is vice chair at Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity and is managing member and founder of Coastal Management Group, LLC. Riley has 35 years of experience in the financial industry, having managed divisions of PaineWebber, LETCO, and TD Securities (TD Bank). He has been quoted in Barron’s, Wall Street Transcript, NY Post, and various other print media and also appeared on NBC News, Yahoo TV, and CNBC.   

 

Related Slideshow: Timeline - Rhode Island Pension Reform

GoLocalProv breaks down the sequence of events that have played out during Rhode Island's State Employee Pension Fund reform. 

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2005-2010

In the five years before Raimondo was elected, pension changes included a decrease in established retirement age from 65 to 62, increased eligibility to retire, and modified COLA adjustments.
 
Read the Senate Fiscal Office's Brief here.
 
(Photo: 401(k) 2013, Flickr)
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January 2009

Governor Don Carcieri makes pension reform a top priority in his emergency budget plan. His three-point plan included:

1. An established minimum retirment age of 59 for all state and municipal employees.

2. Elimination of cost-of-living increases.

3. Conversion of new hires into a 401(k) style plan.

 

See WPRI's coverage of Carcieri's proposal here.

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2009

Rhode Island increased mandatory employee contributions for new and current employees. New Mexico was the only other state to mandate current employees to increase their contributions. 

 

Read the NCSL report here

(Photo: FutUndBeidl, Flickr)

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2010

Rhode Island's state administered public employee pension system only held 48% of the assets to cover future payments to its emplyees.

"This system as designed today is fundamentally unsustainable, and it is in your best interest to fix it" - Gina Raimondo

 

Check out Wall Street Journal's coverage here.

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November 2010

Gina Raimondo defeats opponent Kernan King in the election for General Treasurer of Rhode Island using her platform to reform the structure of Rhode Island's public employee pension system. She received 201,625 votes, more than any other politician on the 2010 Rhode Island ballot. 

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April 2011

Raimondo leads effort to reduce the state’s assumed rate of return on pension investments from 8.25 to 7.5%.

Her proposal includes plans to suspend the Cost of Living Adjustment (which allows for raises corresponding with rates of inflation for retirees), changing the retirement age to match Social Security ages, and adding a defined contribution plan.

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May 2011

Raimondo releases “Truth in Numbers”, a report detailing the pension crisis and offering possible solutions. She continues to work to raise public support for her proposal.

"Decades of ignoring actuarial assumptions led to lower taxpayer & employee contributions being made into the system." - Gina Raimondo (Truth in Numbers)

 

Read GoLocalProv's analysis of the report here.

Read the Truth in Numbers report here

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October 2011

Governor Lincoln Chafee and General Treasurer Gina Raimondo present their pension reform legislation proposal before a joint session of the General Assembly.

“Our fundamental goal throughout this process has been to provide retirement security through reforms that are fair to the three main interested parties: retirees, current employees and the taxpayer…I join the General Treasurer in urging the General Assembly to take decisive action and adopt these reforms.”- Gov. Lincoln Chafee

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October 2011

Head of Rhode Island firefighters’ union accuses Raimondo of “cooking the books” to create a pension problem where one did not exist. Paul Valletta Jr. states that Raimondo raised Rhode Islanders’ assumed mortality rate to increase liability to the state, using data from 1994 instead of updated information from 2008, and lowered the anticipated rate of return on state investments.

“You’re going after the retirees! In this economic time, how could you possibly take a pension away?” Paul Valletta Jr (Head of RI Firefighters' Union)

Read more from the firefighters' battle with Raimondo here.

Check out the New York Times' take on RI's  pension crisis here.

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November 17, 2011

The Rhode Island Retirement Security Act (RIRSA) is enacted by the General Assembly with bipartisan support in both chambers. RIRSA’s passing is slated to reduce the unfunded liability of RI’s pension system and increase its funding status by $3 billion and 60% respectively, level contributions to the pension system by taxpayers, save municipalities $100 million through lessened contributions to teacher and MERS pension systems, and lower the cost of borrowing.

 

Read more from GoLocalProv here.

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November 18, 2011

Governor Lincoln Chafee signs RIRSA into law. According to a December 2011 Brown University poll, 60% of Rhode Island residents support the reform. Following its enactment, Raimondo holds regional sessions to educate public employees on the effects of the legislation on their retirement benefits.

 

Read about how Rhode Islanders react to RIRSA here.

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January 2012

Raimondo hosts local workshops to explain the pension reforms across Rhode Island. She also receives national attention for her contributions to the state’s pension reforms.  The reforms are given praise and many believe Rhode Island will serve as a template for other States’ future pension reforms.

 

Read about the pension workshop here.

Read Raimondo's feature in Institutional Investor here

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March - April 2012

Raimondo opposes Governor Chafee’s proposal to cut pension-funded deposits. She continued to provide workshops on the pension reforms.

“The present law is sound fiscal policy and should remain unchanged.” -George Nee (Rhode Island AFL-CIO President)
 
 
See WPRI's coverage of Chafee's attempt to cut pension fund deposits here.
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December 5, 2012

Raimondo publicly opposes Governor Chafee’s meetings with union leaders in an effort to avoid judicial rulings on the pension reform package.  In response, Chafee issues a statement supporting the negotiations.

 

Read more about Raimondo's opposition here.

Read about Chafee's statement http://www.golocalprov.com/news/new-chafee-issues-statement-supporting-pension-negotiations/">here

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March 2013

Led by the Rhode Island State Association of Fire Fighters, unions protest the 2011 pension reform outside of the Omni Providence where Governor Lincoln Chafee and General Treasurer Gina Raimondo conduct a national conference of bond investors.

 

Read about Raimondo's discussion of distressed municipalities here

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April 2013

The pension plan comes under increased scrutiny as a result of the involvement of hedge funds and private equity firms. Reports show that $200 million of the state pension fund was lost in 2012.

"In short, impressive educational credentials and limited knowledge of investment industry realities made Raimondo ideally suited to champion private equity’s public pension money grab." - Ted Seidle (Forbes)

 

Read GoLocalProv's coverage of the State Pension Fund's losses here

Read Ted Seidle's criticism of Raimondo in Forbes.

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June 2013

Reports show that the State’s retirement system increased in 2013 by $20 million despite the reforms being put into effect the previous year.

 

Read GoLocalProv's investigation into the rising pension costs here.

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September 2013

Matt Taibbi publishes an article in Rolling Stone detailing Raimondo’s use of hedge funds as a questionably ethical tool to aid with pension reform. 

Read Taibbi's article in Rolling Stone.

Read GoLocalProv's response to Taibbi here.

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October 2013

As Raimondo eyes the role of Governor of Rhode Island in 2014, more behind-the-curtain information about the 2011 pension reform comes to light.

 

Read more from GoLocalProv about the players in the pension battle here.

 
 

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