(Forbes) As we head into 2014, you may be asking why we are concerned about a small island located in the Caribbean Sea, about a thousand miles southeast of Miami. Geographically, it is a mere speck on the map… practically irrelevant. In fact, 70 islands the size of Puerto Rico could fit comfortably into the state of Texas. However, the debt burden currently burying this economy may eventually send nasty tremors into the United States’ municipal bond market.
Surprisingly, of all the US muni bond funds, a staggering 75% of them are lending money to Puerto Rico, leaving millions of US investors and a large portion of US brokerage accounts exposed to this beleaguered little island. We suspect Puerto Rico will become America’s Greece. If swans could fly this far south, they would without question be the color of night.
Texas’s state government debt is relatively modest, near $40 billion, or $1,577 per resident. Puerto Rico’s public debt of $53 billion is nearly $15,000 per person, but when we add inter-governmental debt the mountain rises to $70 billion, or $17,500 per person. Throw in a violently under-funded pension and healthcare obligations, the noose approaches $160 billion. That’s $46,000 per person, enough to make one think about trying a swim for Miami.