Illinois bonds hit hard after U.S. judge's Medicaid ruling

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 08, 2017 1:16 PM

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Illinois general obligation bond prices plummeted and yields soared in the U.S. municipal market on Thursday, a day after a federal judge ordered the cash-strapped state to find more money to pay Medicaid providers.

Yields on bonds due in 2024 climbed to 5.15 percent in secondary market trading, according to Municipal Market Data, while Illinois' so-called credit spread over MMD's benchmark triple-A scale jumped to as much as 380 basis points.

"It's a real meltdown today," MMD analyst Randy Smolik said.

He added that spreads over the scale widened by as much as 100 basis points for some bonds issued by Illinois, which already had the widest spreads among the 50 states.

Late on Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Joan Lefkow said Illinois' action to make only minimal payments to healthcare providers in the Medicaid program for the poor and disabled due to an ongoing budget impasse does not comply with existing federal consent decrees.

While the judge did not specifically push Medicaid payments ahead of other state priorities like debt service on bonds and pension, she set a June 20 deadline for Illinois and healthcare advocates to reach a deal resulting in "substantial compliance" with the decrees.

That could be tough given the state's nearly $14.8 billion unpaid bill pile as of Wednesday and $1.85 billion of monthly priority payments that flow to bonds, pensions, schools, payroll and other mandated areas that consume 90 percent of Illinois' monthly revenue.

Illinois is limping toward the June 30 end of a second-straight fiscal year without a complete spending plan due to a political stalemate between its Republican governor and Democrats who control the legislature.

Lawmakers ended their spring session on May 31 without a fiscal 2018 budget deal, triggering downgrades that pushed Illinois' credit ratings from S&P and Moody's Investors Service to a step above junk.

The consent decrees, which stemmed from cases filed in 1992, require Medicaid funding despite the state's budget problems.

(Reporting by Karen Pierog; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Matthew Lewis)