Cities and states are in a fiscal crisis. Municipal bond defaults are now at their highest in a decade. Despite a $500 billion Federal Reserve intervention, with more potentially on the way, regulators have yet to address a longstanding structural problem—a group of the nation’s biggest banks that has cornered the market for municipal bond underwriting. This concentration of power has the potential to raise the interest rates on the bonds local governments urgently need to salvage their finances and the costs could be in the billions. While some municipalities will default on their debt, others will need to increase borrowing to continue providing public services. But the structural issues in the municipal-bond market could make borrowing costlier and alternatives are needed.
September 22, 2020