how a news item can come back to bite us in our corr sent butts. So what if housing prices, for example, are tanking? Why would a bridge collapse affect our prison populations? Or this one, a particularly obtuse connection, an insurance company having serious trouble raising funds to bolster its balance sheet?
One of the largest US firms that insures the bonds issued by municipal authorities, especially in the US, to raise cash for projects such as new transport links, abandoned efforts yesterday to raise $1bn (£512m) to bolster its balance sheet only two days after its board approved the initiative.
Ambac Financial, which has seen its share price drop by 60%, said the fundraising was "not an attractive option" against a backdrop of jittery markets.
Ambac is one of a number of so-called monoline insurers that have become the focus of economists' attention in recent weeks. These companies, many of which were set up in the 1970s when US municipal authorities raised funds for projects by issuing bonds, insure those bonds against default. Such insurance makes it cheaper for local governments to raise cash as the risk of default is reduced for investors. Two of the original monoline firms, Ambac and MBIA, are estimated to provide guarantees to bonds worth $2.4tn.
They are called monoline because they have one line of business: insuring bonds. But in recent years, lured by the profits being made elsewhere in the financial markets, these companies have started insuring financial instruments based on less obviously creditworthy assets, such as mortgages issued to people with poor credit histories. As US house prices decline, investors have become increasingly concerned about the exposure that the monoline insurers have to the sub-prime market.
Not clear yet? Well, here's the article's punchline:
The worry is that these downgrades will reduce these companies' ability to insure further bonds, making it more expensive for local authorities to raise cash to support projects. In the UK, for instance, this could mean that building projects such as hospitals and schools being paid for under the government's private finance initiative will become prohibitively expensive.
If major infrastructure projects cannot find a highly rated insurance company willing to underwrite their bond issues, the government will have to dig into its own pockets, holing the whole PFI concept below the water line. The Treasury is understood to have already drawn up plans to help PFI schemes fund themselves by the issuance of government bonds.
In the U.S., too. Government having to find more money when it doesn't have enough as it is for every demand we put on it. Including locking people up and throwing away the key. IOW, corrections sentencing.