LOS ANGELES — California Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed off on an on-time, balanced $96.3 billion budget, which includes a surplus following years of chronic deficits, but the state is still working on firming up its bond sale calendar.
The latest numbers from May estimate that the state and its agencies will sell around $2.2 billion of new-money general obligation bonds this fall, and about $2.9 billion in spring 2014, for a total of $5.1 billion for the fiscal year, according to Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer.
“Those numbers are going to change,” Palmer said. “We are in the process of surveying our agencies who issue the bulk of the GO bonds to get an updated estimate of what their bond needs are going to be in the coming fiscal year. At the same time, the treasurer’s office is going to determine when and to what extent we can go to the market.”
A revised estimate will not likely be available until later in the summer, he added.
The bond calendar on the state treasurer’s website lists a California State University Systemwide Revenue Bonds deal and a University of California Regents Medical Center issue for sometime in late July and August. The par amounts have yet to be determined.
California also typically issues revenue anticipation notes each year for cash-flow needs, usually in the fall.
The treasurer’s office has already chosen JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley as joint senior managers for the RANs, and De La Rosa & Co. as senior manager.
Marilyn Cohen, founder of Envision Capital Management in Los Angeles, said a short-term deal issued by California in the near future will likely do well, but not because of its recent positive financial developments.
“I think the market will receive it very well because there’s a real big appetite for short-term paper,” Cohen said. “There’s a kind of foxhole mentality — sit this out, in some short-term tax-free paper, and wait to see what’s going to happen.”
She said it’s too far off to estimate how any GO bonds the state may issue in the fall may be received in the market.
“The tone is a lot better for California, but I don’t think this will be a huge event,” Cohen said. “No one’s dancing a jig saying 'California has a surplus!’ ”
While Standard & Poor’s isn’t dancing a jig either, it did give California’s budget a positive response in a recent report, authored by credit analyst Gabriel Petek.
He said California has begun its fiscal year in a stronger position than it has in several years, with its liquidity and structural budget positions both reflecting materially better conditions. The outlook for the state employees’ pension system is also improved from the enactment of recent reform measures.
Petek also said the budget benefits from the progress made in recent budgets to correct the state’s fiscal structure, the presence of temporary tax increases and a strengthening state economy.
“From a credit perspective, we believe the final package is stronger than other alternatives that were under consideration,” Petek wrote in the report. “Nevertheless, it is somewhat weaker than the governor’s May proposal.”
Compared with the governor’s proposal, the final budget delays the repayment of around $650 million in education deferrals in order to provide additional funding for some legislative policy priorities, according to Petek. The budget also uses California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office property tax revenue forecast growth rate, which results in another $294 million of spending flexibility.
Although the repayment shift is relatively modest, S&P said it could set a precedent for similar delays in the future and could undermine the state’s ability to retire its internal debt.
“Balanced against the state’s volatile revenue structure and its long-term liability-related challenges, we view the new budget as consistent with the current rating and outlook,” Petek said.
The rating agency currently assigns California an A rating and stable outlook. Standard & Poor’s had upgraded the state in January from A-minus. Fitch Ratings upped the outlook to positive, with an A-minus rating in March. Moody’s Investors Service rates the Golden State at A1, with a stable outlook.
S&P said the state’s credit quality would benefit from having greater fiscal flexibility. The most direct way for the state to achieve this is to retire as much of its internal debt as possible.