Puerto Rico (Sort of) Declares Bankruptcy

Puerto Rico declared a form of bankruptcy protection this week that puts it in uncharted territory for U.S. governments and municipal finance.

As a territory, Puerto Rico is not eligible to file for Chapter 9 protection. But thanks to the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act, it has a similar option available to it: Title III protection.

The act, which was passed by Congress and went into effect last July, put a temporary moratorium on litigation regarding Puerto Rico’s more than $70 billion in bond debt and created a seven-member financial oversight board with final say over the commonwealth’s finance decisions. The litigation moratorium was lifted on May 1, and with creditor negotiations going nowhere, the government is allowed to file debt restructuring petitions in federal court.

The Takeaway: Puerto Rico has been in a financial downward spiral for years. When it first started defaulting on debt, there were concerns that it could have a negative ripple effect on the municipal market. As it turns out, those concerns have not been justified. So, while this latest move by the commonwealth is a great concern for anyone with money tied up in Puerto Rico, there have been few concerns that the event will cast a shadow over other U.S. governments now issuing bonds.