Puerto Rico’s government economic and financial leaders, seeking to reassure investors in its municipal debt, unveiled a five-year plan to diversify the economy.
The plan was among the disclosures during a wide-ranging webcast broadcast Tuesday to calm investors and funds who have been asking for increasing yields on Puerto Rico bonds. Long maturing Puerto Rico bonds have been trading in a range from 8% to the low 9% region in recent days. Slides from the webcast can be found at: http://www.gdb-pur.com/documents/GDBPresentationHighlights101513FinalFinal.pdf.
“We have tackled investor concerns in a swift and decisive manner,” Gov. Alejandro García Padilla said during the webcast, referring to progress in revenue and expenditures.
The five-year plan aims to create a more diversified, knowledge-based economy. It focuses on improving five sectors: life sciences, knowledge services, tourism, small and medium enterprizes, and agriculture.
For life sciences, the government plans to defend its base in pharmaceuticals and pursue new opportunities in generics, biologics, and contract manufacturing. It also hopes to consolidate the island’s position as a medical devices manufacturer and do agricultural biotechnology research and development.
For knowledge services, the government wants the island to become the center of this in the Americas and to grow insurance and financial services. It will focus on clients in the Americas and go after select large integrated outsourcers.
Puerto Rico wants to grow its tourism in general and target emerging niche markets in ecological, cultural, and medical tourism in particular.
Small and medium sized businesses provide 65% of the island’s employment. To help them the government will improve coordination of support services and take other steps.
Finally, the government hopes to grow agriculture. Its focus will be on expanding diary and sugarcane production and processing and expanding the acreage available for coffee growing.
On Monday the government had announced that general fund revenues were running 0.6% ahead of projections in the first three months of the fiscal year. Preliminary results show that there was $56 million less spending in the past fiscal year than had been budgeted, Carlos Rivas, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said in the webcast. This money will be rolled over to the current fiscal year.
Rivas also said that the year-over-year payroll expense in the first quarter of this fiscal year was down 5.3%. He also said that actual payroll compared to the budgeted payroll was down 0.6%.
Government Development Bank of Puerto Rico chairman David Chafey said the government won’t be forced to use “extraordinary measures” to avoid the capital markets this fiscal year. The bank has adequate liquidity to finance government needs, if necessary.
As things stand, the government plans to sell between $500 million and $1.2 billion in COFINA sales tax bonds this fiscal year, GDB general counsel José Coleman-Ti- said.
Officials said they would take additional measures to improve communications with the market.
Treasury secretary Melba Acosta Febo said that the government would soon post its monthly revenue projections for the rest of the fiscal year to the GDB web site.
Coleman-Ti- said the GDB will hold investor webcasts at least once per quarter. The GDB will also publish a report on commonwealth financial and economic data once a quarter. The Treasury and Office of Management and Budget will provide revenue and expenditure updates at least once a month.
Finally, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority has begun to post quarterly results. The Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority and the Highways and Transportation Authority will follow suit, Coleman-Ti- said.
H.J. Sims & Co. director of credit analysis Dick Larkin said he heard nothing negative from the webcast of which he had not already been aware. Larkin said he heard several positive things: assurance that liquidity is not a problem for at least fiscal year 2014, a commitment to improved financial disclosure, and details on an economic development strategy.
Ideally, Larkin would have liked to hear the government was moving up the elimination of the deficit to fiscal year 2015. Larkin would also have been happy if it had announced the adoption of a four year financial plan similar to what New York City adopted in the 1970s.
“The commonwealth didn’t have any room for error,” said Triet Nguyen, managing partner at Axios Advisors, about the webcast. “To the extent they achieved that, it was successful. I don’t think there were any new negatives that came out of it.”
Joseph Rosenblum, senior vice president at AllianceBernstein, was also generally positive. The government made a comprehensive presentation and recognized the challenges in front of it. Rosenblum said he was happy that there would be improved disclosure.
In the coming months, observers will have to keep an eye on how the economic strategy plays out, how the COFINA sales go, and how government revenues and expenditures perform, Rosenblum said.