America’s strapped states and cities took another hit Wednesday, with California seeing tepid demand for its latest bond sale and other governments pulling about $700 million worth of borrowing deals this week as investors continued stepping away from the municipal bond market.
The normally staid market has grown volatile the past week, posting its sharpest selloff in nearly two years, as investors demand higher interest rates to buy paper issued by states, cities and counties to finance their operations. Localities have been hammered by a drop in tax revenue amid the downturnâ€”and unlike the federal government, most are barred constitutionally from running deficits.
“The tax-exempt municipal bond market is a cold, cold world right now for issuers and taxpayers,” Tom Dresslar, a spokesman for the California State Treasurer, said late Wednesday. He added that the state decided to cancel another $267.3 million bond sale it planned to price next week “in light of market conditions.”
California’s $10 billion bond sale this week was seen as a test of access for governments to the bond markets, and the middling interest signaled that municipalities could have to pay more to attract investors. The state further jolted the market by delaying the close of the bond sale, citing a lawsuit filed Tuesday that challenges a separate tactic the state is using to raise funds.
“California’s timing unfortunately couldn’t be worse,” said Gary Pollack, head of fixed-income trading and research at Deutsche Bank Private Wealth Management. “This creates a fear among individual investors and probably could hurt the state in terms of paying a higher borrowing cost than if they’d done a deal at a different time.”
After pouring billions into municipal bond funds most of the year, investors pulled $115 million out of the funds last week, the Investment Company Institute said Wednesday. That was the first weekly outflow in seven months, ICI said.
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