Municipal debt investors are watching the appeals process that will decide whether or not Illinois' pension reform bill ends up in the wastebasket, a decision that would send the Land of Lincoln back to square one in its attempts to battle its pension funding crisis.
"There's so much uncertainty there," Daniel Solender, the lead portfolio manager for municipal bonds at investment manager Lord Abbett & Co., said by phone Wednesday. "It's hard to know what the right valuation is [for the state's bonds]."
So far, investors are waiting and watching. Solender noted that there hasn't been much trading in Illinois' bonds in response to a Nov. 21 Circuit Court decision that said the reform bill was unconstitutional. If the Illinois Supreme Court upholds that decision, Solender expects a negative effect on the state's bond values.
"For investors to get comfortable, there has to be some idea of a plan [for pension reform], and there doesn't seem to be one [now]," he said.
Still, he is confident that Illinois has time to work out its pension issues one way or another.
Solender and other sources are looking optimistically to Governor-elect Bruce Rauner, a Republican, to address the issue. Rauner will replace Pat Quinn, a Democrat, on Jan. 12.
Illinois' unfunded pension liability has ballooned to $111.2 billion, according to a November report by the Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability. The Teachers' Retirement System accounts for about half of that at $61.6 billion, the report said.
A June 24 report by Standard & Poor's revealed that Illinois has, by far, the lowest level of pension funding in the country at 40.4% funded, followed by Connecticut (49.1%).