WASHINGTON — North Carolina expects to competitively sell $500 million of limited-obligation capital improvement bonds Wednesday in its largest deal in almost four years.
The bonds, rated a notch below the state’s triple-A rating, are subject to appropriation in the biennial budget and do not carry a general obligation pledge. They are part of a $3.28 billion special indebtedness package the General Assembly authorized for state projects. North Carolina will have about $1.1 billion of appropriation debt that is authorized but unissued after the deal.
More than two-thirds of the bond proceeds will fund university projects. Other funds will go to psychiatric hospitals, correctional facilities, and renovations.
The deal comes as North Carolina continues to recover from the 18-month recession that ended in June 2009. It dodged a midyear budget gap for fiscal 2011 and is expected to meet revenue estimates for the rest of the year, rating agencies said.
The state faces an estimated $3.7 billion budget gap as it prepares its fiscal 2012 and 2013 biennium budget. Gov. Beverly Perdue is expected to submit a biennial budget in mid-February.
The bonds mature between one and 20 years. Hunton & Williams LLP and the Charleston Group are co-bond counsel. First Southwest Co. is financial adviser. The bonds are rated Aa1 by Moody’s Investors Service and AA-plus by Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings.
Last June, North Carolina revisited its budget for fiscal 2010 to close a $788 million spending gap due to a 1.4% decline in general fund revenues. The legislature passed $906 million of spending cuts to rebalance the budget, mostly in health, education, and public safety.
“It was a hard two years that every state had to go through,” said Kimberly Lyons, the lead analyst on North Carolina at Moody’s. “North Carolina put a plan in place to bring itself back into a sound budget position.”
Moody’s had previously raised concerns about the state’s banking sector following the credit crisis, which forced two of North Carolina’s largest banking companies into mergers. Bank of America Corp., headquartered in Charlotte, acquired Merrill Lynch & Co. in September. Wachovia Corp., also based in Charlotte, was acquired by San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co. in December 2008.
North Carolina’s banks were “not as hard-hit as we thought they were going to be” as a result of the mergers, Lyons said.
The state employment picture remains troubling. North Carolina’s 9.8% December unemployment rate exceeded the 9.4% national jobless rate. American Express Co. announced the closing of a Greensboro call center earlier this month that affects up to 1,900 workers.
Still, state manufacturing employment was up 6% in 2010 after years of losses.
North Carolina issued $400 million of limited obligation bonds in 2009, at a true interest cost of 4.15%. The state sold $487.7 million of GOs in March at a true interest cost of 3.48%.
Its net tax-supported debt has expanded in recent years but remains low compared to other states. North Carolina had $7.9 billion of net tax-supported debt as of June 30, 2010, and ranks 32nd in the country for net tax-supported debt per capita, according to Moody’s.