Trump Puerto Rico Debt Wipe-out Crushes Wall Street

Trump Puerto Rico magic light (Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty)
Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty

Bankrupt Puerto Rico’s bond prices plunged by over 30 percent after the White House confirmed President Donald Trump’s commitment to not bailing out Wall Street speculators who bought Puerto Rican debt.

Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney confirmed in an October 4 interview that President Trump was serious when he stated that the U.S. government will not bail out bankrupt Puerto Rico’s municipal bonds. The comment panicked Wall Street’s powerful “vulture capital” hedge funds, who fear that the tens of billions of dollars of Puerto Rico bonds they bought up at severe discounts could be “wiped out.”

Breitbart News reported that 86 percent of Puerto Rico residents do not speak English in the home, despite the U.S. Territory receiving $22 billion a year in U.S. government subsidies and its residents being exempt from paying federal income taxes.

Puerto Rico was already an economic disaster in 2015 with a median household income of $18,626, versus $56,500 for the U.S. mainland. Just prior to the two devastating hurricanes flattening much of the island’s infrastructure, the latest economic survey there found a 10.1 percent unemployment rate and a poverty rate of 45 percent.

Unable to make payroll for its 285,000 government workers in May, the island filed the largest public-sector bankruptcy in history at the U.S. District Court in New York City. Congress passed the “Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act,” turning the island’s finances over to a Title III federally appointed committee.

The debtor’s statement of assets listed $73 billion in municipal debt, equal to a debt for each man, woman and child in Puerto Rico of about $34,000. That does not include another obligation for unfunded pension liabilities of $20,300 per islander.

But Wall Street vultures, including Goldman Sachs, bought tens of billions of dollars in defaulted Puerto Rico municipal bonds for as low as 30 cents on the dollar last year. The speculators were betting that the threat of millions of impoverished Puerto Ricans migrating to the mainland would scare the White House and Republicans into backing a wildly lucrative federal bailout at 100 percent of the bonds’ value.

But President Trump, on his October 3 tour of Puerto Rico’s devastation, seemed to crush hopes for a bail-out when he told Fox Business News, “They owe a lot of money to your friends on Wall Street and we’re going to have to wipe that out. You’re going to say goodbye to that, I don’t know if it’s Goldman Sachs, but whoever it is you can wave goodbye to that.”

Panic selling on October 4 caused Puerto Rico’s most recently issued benchmark bonds, due July 2035, to tank by 31 percent from 44 cents on the dollar to as low as 30.25 cents on the dollar. The price did recover slightly to 32 cents on the dollar late in the day.

Mulvaney did caution that President Trump’s statement that seemed to indicate Puerto Rico’s debt would be canceled should not be taken “word for word.” He stated that the priority of the Trump administration is to help Puerto Rico recover from its natural disasters. But Mulvaney seemed to spike theball on Wall Street when he added: “Puerto Rico is going to have to figure out how to fix the errors that its made for the last generation on its own finances.”


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