Thursday, July 14, 2011

UC Debt and the Bond Raters

We talk a lot here about construction and debt, about the UC administration's addiction to using student tuition -- and the promise of future tuition increases -- as collateral to finance the sale of construction bonds. That's classic Meister. But it's important to remember that the UC's corporate management uses tuition in other ways as well. Remember, for example, how a couple days ago the state government asked the UC to loan it $1.7 billion, while the UC regents are once again raising student tuition at the exact same time? (The regents just officially approved the 9.6 percent additional tuition increase, on top of the 8 percent that had already been approved. So tuition will officially increase by 17.6 percent this fall.) Bob Samuels explains:
As we get ready for another large tuition increase, and we read about the elimination of several UC degree programs, the bond rating agency, Fitch, has re-affirmed the university’s strong fiscal standing. While the bond raters have been wrong in the past, we can still read the latest analysis of UC’s fiscal health as indicating the real priorities of the administration.

Since the UC has decided to help reduce its pension liability by selling about $1 billion of commercial paper (debt), it has asked to have its financial status rated. As I have argued in the past, due to the UCs high level of debt, it is dependent on getting a high rating from the bond raters so that it can receive a low interest rate, and one result of this dependency on debt is that the bond raters can tell the university how they think the system should structure its finances. Moreover, even though the bond raters pretend to be neutral and free of any ideology, they covertly push the same agenda that we find in the World Bank and the International Monetary fund. This agenda pushes for the privatization of public entities, a taking on of huge debts, and the deregulation of markets. The plan for the UC set out by Fitch is thus in many ways the global plan being pushed by conservatives and bond raters.

In reading the summary of Fitch’s report, we learn that the university has received a high rating because of, “UC's substantial level of balance sheet resources and liquidity; diverse revenue base, which enables the system to weather temporary weakness in any one funding source; and manageable debt burden, despite the expansive, capital intensive nature of its operations.” In other words, UC has many different revenue streams, and although it has a high level of debt, over $14 billion, it has the resources to take care of its financial obligations.

According to Fitch, one of the main signs of UC’s fiscal health is its ability to constantly raise tuition: “Recent reductions in state appropriations, and the potential for additional cuts through the intermediate term, are partially mitigated by the university's still considerable, though now more limited, ability to raise tuition and fees, and its overall limited reliance on state operating support.” In other words, the UC should not worry too much about losing state funds because it has shown a willingness to raise tuition. In fact, this same logic of privatization is driving the state’s reduction of funding for the UC; since the Democrats believe they cannot raise taxes, they cut the UC, which they know will turn around and raise tuition.

Not only does the state feel comfortable reducing the university’s funding, but they are planning to borrow another $1 billion from the UC system, and the reason why the administration will accept this deal is that the university will turn a profit by lending money to the state. This deal make sense on paper because due to UC’s high bond rating and the state’s low rating, the state has to pay a higher interest rate to borrow money, and if the UC lends money, the state can improve its bond rating, and the UC can profit from the difference between its low interest rate and the state’s high interest rate.

What is left out of this equation is that students are paying 6.8% to take out their loans, and these loans not only allow the UC to raise tuition, but the money generated from tuition can be leant to the state at something like 5%, which is better than the 2-3% the UC gets from putting tuition dollars into its Short Term Investment Pool. If we connect the dots, we see that students are lending money to the state, so that the university can bring in more money, but the end result is that the students will have to pay for this interest deal.
The UC administration and the regents, as dettman put it yesterday, "are simply another mechanism by which the state plunders the middle class to feed the rich."

1 comment:

  1. State is borrowing short term, students borrow long term. Of course rates differ! Or are you arguing that students should be forced to pay back loans in a year or two?