Banks Reject California's IOUs
State faces new problems as creditors turn down promises to pay.
Last week, after state leaders failed to find a solution to an ongoing budget crisis, California began issuing IOUs to banks and other creditors. Now, despite initially agreeing to accept the IOUs in lieu of actual payments, some of the country's biggest banks are refusing to honor the promises to pay past Friday, July 10.
According to the Wall Street Journal, among the newly defiant banks are Citigroup (C), JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Wells Fargo (WFC), and Bank of America (BAC). Along with an announcement yesterday by Fitch Ratings that it had dropped California's credit rating to BBB -- just a few notches above "speculative" levels, this shift in sentiment puts immense pressure on Sacramento to find a lasting solution to the state's woes.
California plans to send out $3 billion in IOUs in July alone. The IOUs mature on October 2, and promise to pay recipients 3.75% in annualized interest -- presumably, in addition to the principal. The state has said that without the IOUs it would run out of cash by the end of July.
The fear -- although there's no reason to assume this yet -- is that California's other disgruntled creditors will jump on the banks' non-acceptance bandwagon in a show of defiance. This would be a crushing blow to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and California state legislators, potentially forcing them to go hat in hand to Washington for a bailout.
Since 2 of the banks refusing to honor the IOUs are controlled by the federal government (and since the remaining 2 are essentially being run by Washington insiders), the Obama administration's hands-off posture suggests it may be taking one of 2 possible stances.
Obama may be taking the hard line -- sending California the message that the state's political wrangling has to cease given what's at stake. After all, if the nation's most populous state were to run out of cash, the impact on its more than 30 million residents -- not to mention the US economy as a whole -- would likely be severe.
On the other hand, Obama may have a more disturbing goal in mind. It's possible that the administration is considering making a power grab of epic proportions. After all, it's had little compunction about seizing embattled automakers General Motors (GPM) and Chrysler, and hasn't shied away from becoming deeply involved in the day-to-day management of the nation's banks.
Perhaps President Obama's true motive is to wrest control of California away from its languishing leadership, sending the other 49 states a stern message: Get your fiscal houses in order, or get absorbed by the massive bureaucratic machine that is the US government.
Naturally, this latter possibility is pure speculation on my part. But given the President's actions since taking office, and given his apparent desire to expand the reach of the federal government to an extent previously unimaginable, it's not inconceivable.
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