(Bloomberg News) California, the biggest U.S. municipal debt issuer, is paying one-third less in long-term borrowing costs than two years ago, when former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger fought lawmakers over deficits and struggled to attract individual investors.
The nation's most populous state is in the second day of a $2.5 billion sale of general-obligation bonds -- Governor Jerry Brown's first long-term borrowing this year. The deal includes 10-year securities offered to individuals at 108 basis points above top-rated tax-exempt debt. That compares with a 160 basis-point premium it paid on similar bonds in March 2009. A basis point is 0.01 percentage point.
The savings reflect a turnaround in investor sentiment toward a state that only two years ago had to resort to selling IOUs to pay its bills. The price of insuring California bonds has plunged by half since 2009 as Brown, 73, has limited borrowing and brokered an $85.9 billion general-fund spending plan with fellow Democrats that addresses long-term budget deficits.
While Standard & Poor's rates the state's debt the lowest in the U.S., "people are more comfortable with the California credit and appreciate what's going on," John Bonnell, who manages a $615 million California bond fund at USAA Investment Management Co., said in a telephone interview from San Antonio.
"They are making the right decisions, or at least heading in the right direction," he said.
Two years ago, the state was forced to pay as much as $123 million more in interest and cut its bond sale by 8 percent, to $4.14 billion, after individual investors shied away from the offer. California faced cumulative budget deficits of $60 billion at the time.
This year's budget included a series of "triggers" that automatically would reduce spending on universities, home health care and social programs if revenue misses targets by $1 billion in December. It would shorten the school year and end busing subsidies if the gap widens to $2 billion.
Brown vetoed a bill Sept. 16 that would have required the state finance director to consult with legislative leaders before the triggers can be activated.
California is offering individual investors a 3.17 percent yield on 10-year debt, according to the Treasurer Bill Lockyer. The largest portion of the deal, $350 million due in September 2041, has a yield of 4.8 percent, 114 basis points above a 30-year index of top-rated tax-exempt bonds. The terms on the second day of the retail sale were unchanged from the first day, according to a person with direct knowledge of the pricing.