Puerto Rico Doesn’t Have To Default: Report

The commonwealth's problem is deficits not its debt load, say former IMF economists.
Katie Kuehner-HebertJuly 28, 2015
Puerto Rico Doesn’t Have To Default: Report

Puerto Rico doesn’t have to default on its $72 billion debt if it cuts expenses and improves tax collection, among other reform measures, according to a report released Sunday by Jose Fajgenbaum, Jorge Guzman, and Claudio Loser, former International Monetary Fund economists and now consultants at Centennial Group.

In the report, “For Puerto Rico, There is A Better Way,” the authors recommended that the country enact a number of fiscal and structural reform measures, including improving its tax collection efforts. Puerto Rico now collects only 56% of the sale tax revenue it is entitled to, compared with an average 83% compliance rate for the 50 U.S. states.

The authors also recommended that the country cut expenses, including for education. Puerto Rico increased education expenditures by 39% in the last decade — even as enrollment dropped 25%. Implementing these reform measures could yield a surplus by fiscal 2017, the authors contended.

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“Puerto Rico has a deficit problem, not a debt problem,” the authors wrote. “[The] deficit is fixable and extensive history exists of other governments that made similar or greater fiscal adjustments and subsequently grew their economies.”

Centennial was retained by a group of holders of so-called general obligation Puerto Rican bonds, including Fir Tree Partners, Brigade Capital Management, and Monarch Capital Group, Reuters said.

“Puerto Rico, trying to right its ship after a decade of stagnation and a shrinking population, wants to negotiate concessions from creditors keen on protecting their investments,” Reuters wrote. “With analysts expecting a default, the island could wind up in messy litigation with creditors.”

Pedro Pierluisi, the island’s representative in Congress, is pushing legislation that would allow Puerto Rico to put certain public agencies into bankruptcy, but the bill has gained little momentum, according to Reuters.

A Puerto Rico official on Monday said the country currently lacks the funds needed to make a payment due next month on bonds sold by its Public Finance Corp.

Victor Suarez, the chief of staff for Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla, also told reporters in San Juan that the country is “working on a short-term borrowing backed by oil-tax revenue,” according to Bloomberg.