Money & Company

Tracking the market and economic trends
that shape your finances.

« Previous Post | Money & Company Home | Next Post »

California muni bond deal sees light demand from individual investors

September 19, 2011 |  9:52 pm

A steep drop in interest rates on tax-free municipal bonds this year has curbed individual investors’ appetite for a new California debt offering.

The state’s brokerage network took in orders Friday and Monday for $640 million of a $2.5-billion general obligation bond deal offered by Treasurer Bill Lockyer, his office said late Monday.

By contrast, individual investors put in orders for nearly $1 billion of bonds at the last such offering, in November.

The difference between then and now: Market yields on California muni bonds have fallen sharply, pulled down by the slide in U.S. Treasury bond interest rates this year and by the relative calm in the muni market after a major sell-off last fall and winter fueled a spike in yields.

When it issued bonds in November the state paid an annualized tax-free yield of 4.23% on 10-year securities in the offering. This time around the state set the preliminary yield on its 10-year bonds at 3.17%, more than a full percentage point less.

The state is offering 4.80% on the 30-year bonds in this week’s deal, down from 5.50% on 30-year bonds it sold in November.

The decline in rates is good news for taxpayers who will foot the bill for the bonds, which will refinance previously issued debt. But individual investors “are very wary of these yields being so low,” said Joe Lee, a muni trader at bond firm De La Rosa & Co. in L.A.

Because of its protracted budget woes, California has the lowest bond ratings of any state, at A1 from Moody’s Investors Service (tied for last place with Illinois) and A- from Standard & Poor’s.

The relatively light demand from individual investors means the state is more dependent on institutional investors, such as mutual funds, to buy the bonds. Those investors will put in orders on Tuesday, which is when final yields on the securities will be set.

Some investors may be shying away from muni bonds because of President Obama’s proposal to limit the amount of muni bond interest that high-earners can exclude from their taxable income beginning in 2013. The proposal would help pay for the economic-stimulus program in the jobs bill Obama sent to Congress earlier this month.

It’s not at all certain that Congress will agree to limit the muni tax exemption. Lockyer and other state officials already have raised objections, warning that the move could mean investors would demand higher yields on muni bonds, driving up state and local governments' cost of issuing debt.


California sells out $5.4-billion short-term note sale

Muni bond market was a big winner as stocks dived

Fed expected to launch new program to push long-term interest rates lower

-- Tom Petruno

Photo credit: Makaristos