Positivity with Paul: Episode 5 | Mary Pat Campbell

Video description:

Welcome to another episode of Positivity with Paul, where I find Fellow Actuaries – pun intended – for a conversational Q&A on their life.  The focus is on their journey along the actuarial exam path and beyond, some of the challenges they faced, and how those challenges helped shape them to become who they are today.   

To give some brief context on becoming an Actuary, there’s a number of actuarial exams that one has to go through.  These exams are very rigorous and typically, only the top 40% pass at each sitting, They cover complex mathematical topics like statistics and financial modelling but also insurance, investments, regulatory and accounting.  Candidates can study up to 5 months per sitting and they will take 7 to 10 years on average to earn their Fellowship degree. To that end, I launched this series of podcasts because I was curious about what drove my guests to surmount trials and tribulations to get to the end goal of becoming an Actuary.    

My guest in this interview is Mary Pat Campbell. Mary Pat is an actuary working in Connecticut, investigating life insurance and annuity industry trends. She has been interested in exploring mortality trends, public finance and public pensions as an avocation. Some of these explorations can be found at her blog: stump.marypat.org. Mary Pat is a fellow of the Society of Actuaries and a member of the American Academy of Actuaries. She has been working in the life/annuity industry since 2003. She holds a master’s degree in math from New York University and undergraduate degrees in math and physics from North Carolina State University. In this podcast, Mary Pat discusses similarities in concepts between physics and actuarial science, the current low interest rate environment and lessons learnt in the insurance sector from the financial crisis in 2008-2009. Hope you enjoy this all-inclusive interview! Paul Kandola

Author(s): Paul Kandola

Publication Date: 11 June 2021

Publication Site: Integral Actuarial at YouTube

Which Groups Are Still Dying of Covid in the U.S.?

Link: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/06/10/us/covid-death-patterns.html

Graphics:

image

Excerpt:

“Previously, at the start of the pandemic, we were seeing people who were over the age of 60, who have numerous comorbidities,” said Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious disease expert at the Medical University of South Carolina. “I’m not seeing that as much anymore.” Instead, she said, hospitalizations have lately been skewing toward “people who are younger, people who have not been vaccinated.”

More than 80 percent of those 65 and older have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, compared with about half of those aged 25 to 64 who have received one dose. Data collected by the C.D.C. on so-called breakthrough infections — those that happen to vaccinated people — suggest an exceedingly low rate of death among people who had received a Covid-19 vaccine.

Author(s): Denise Lu

Publication Date: 10 June 2021

Publication Site: New York Times

National Public Pension Coalition vs. Truth in Accounting: Who is Accurate With Public Pension Unfunded Debt?

Link: https://marypatcampbell.substack.com/p/national-public-pension-coalition

Graphic:

Excerpt:

NPPC, I recommend you think through what will actually inform and protect your members. The TIA folks are not distorting the message, except to the extent that state and local governments are undervaluing their pension and OPEB promises.

Complaining about TIA will not make the pensions better-funded. Complaining about TIA will not prevent the worst-funded pensions from running out of assets, which will not be supportable as pay-as-you-go, as the asset death spiral before that will show that the cash flows were unaffordable for the local tax base.

And don’t look to the federal government to save your hash. So far bailout amounts have been puny compared to the size of the promises.

Author(s): Mary Pat Campbell

Publication Date: 9 June 2021

Publication Site: STUMP at substack

Illinois targets coal plant closures before all bonds retire

Link: https://fixedincome.fidelity.com/ftgw/fi/FINewsArticle?id=202106071513SM______BNDBUYER_00000179-e7af-dd1a-ab7d-efefe4190001_110.1

Excerpt:

A proposed mandate to shutter the $5 billion Prairie State coal energy campus and a Springfield, Illinois? plant by 2035 would hit local ratepayers with the double burden of funding new energy sources while still paying down project bonds, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers warn.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker backs a state mandate to end coal generation by 2035 to meet de-carbonation targets included in pending energy legislation. The package stalled during the General Assembly?s spring session that ended last week, but Pritzker said he expects lawmakers will return in the coming weeks for a vote.

…..

Retiring Prairie State early would mark the latest headache for some of the nine public utilities in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, and Ohio that issued $4.5 billion of debt, some it under the federal Build America Bond program, to finance their ownership in project.

Peabody Energy Inc. initially sponsored the project in Washington County promoting it as an affordable source of energy with an adjacent mine and a cleaner one given its state-of-the-art technology at the time. Bechtel Power Corp. built it. It initially carried a $2 billion price tag that rose to a $4 billion fixed cost under the 2010 contract with utilities but cost overruns drove the price tag up to $5 billion.

Author(s): Yvette Shields

Publication Date: 7 June 2021

Publication Site: Fidelity Fixed Income

Chicago Park District pension revamp takes fund off road to insolvency

Link: https://fixedincome.fidelity.com/ftgw/fi/FINewsArticle?id=202106081343SM______BNDBUYER_00000179-ec17-d1ac-a5fb-ef37eda90001_110.1

Excerpt:

The Chicago Park District pension funding overhaul approved by lawmakers moves the fund off a path to insolvency to a full funding target in 35 years, with bonding authority.

State lawmakers approved the statutory changes laid out in House Bill 0417 on Memorial Day before adjourning their spring session and Gov. J.B. Pritzker is expected to sign it. It puts the district?s contributions on a ramp to an actuarially based payment, shifting from a formula based on a multiplier of employee contributions. The statutory multiplier formula is blamed for the city and state?s underfunded pension quagmires.

“There are number of things here that are really, really good,? Sen. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago, told fellow lawmakers during a recent Senate Pension Committee hearing. Martwick is a co-sponsor of the legislation and also heads the committee.

?This is a measure that puts the district on to a path to full funding over the course of 35 years,” he said. “It is responsible. There is no opposition to it. This is exactly more of what we should be doing.”

The district will ramp up to an actuarially based contribution beginning this year when 25% of the actuarially determined contribution is owed, then half in 2022, and three-quarters in 2023 before full funding is required in 2024. To help keep the fund from sliding backwards during the ramp period the district will deposit an upfront $40 million supplemental contribution.

The 35-year clock will start last December 31 to reach the 100% funded target by 2055.

Author(s): Yvette Shields

Publication Date: 8 June 2021

Publication Site: Fidelity Fixed Income

The Municipal Bond Cases Revisited

Link: http://blogs.harvard.edu/bankruptcyroundtable/2021/06/01/the-municipal-bond-cases-revisited/

Graphic:

Excerpt:

The invocation of ultra vires to escape bond obligations is nothing new, though. In the second half of the nineteenth century, municipal debtors frequently welched on their debts. In the 1850s and 1860s, cities, towns, and counties across the Midwest and West issued bonds to finance the construction of railroads and other infrastructure. Many ultimately defaulted. Rather than simply announce that they couldn’t or wouldn’t pay, however, they often contended that they needn’t pay: for one or another reason, the relevant bonds had been issued ultra vires and so were no obligation of the municipality at all. Litigation in the federal courts was common. Several hundred repudiation disputes made their way to the Supreme Court in the forty years starting 1859.

With an eye to the modern cases, we set out to understand how the Court reckoned with repudiation. We read every one of the 196 cases in which the Justices opined on bond validity (i.e. the enforceability of a bond in the hands of innocent purchasers). In a recently published article, we correct received wisdom about the cases and remark on the logical structure of the Court’s reasoning.

To the extent the municipal bond cases are remembered, modern scholars usually think of them as exemplary instances of a political model of judging. The caricature has the Court siding with bondholders even when the law called on them to rule for the repudiating municipalities. The Justices—or a majority of them—are imagined as staunch political allies of the capitalist class, set against the institutions of state government and their regard for agricultural interests. We find that this picture is inconsistent with reality. In fact, the Court ruled for the repudiating municipality in a third of all the validity cases. As importantly, the Court’s decisions reflected a readily articulable formal logic, a logic the Justices seem, to our eyes, to have applied soundly.

Paper link: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3699633

Citation: Buccola, Allison and Buccola, Vincent S.J., The Municipal Bond Cases Revisited (September 25, 2020). 94 American Bankruptcy Law Journal 591 (2020), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3699633

Abstract

Recent high-profile attempts to repudiate municipal bonds break from what had become a stable American norm of honoring public debt. In the nineteenth century, though, hundreds of cities, towns, and counties walked away from their bonds. The Supreme Court’s handling of repudiation in the so-called municipal bond cases conjured intense animus at the time. But the years as well as the archaic prose and sheer volume of the opinions have obscured the cases’ significance.

This article reconstructs the bond cases with an eye to modern disputes. It reports the results of our reading all 203 cases, decided 1859–1899, in which the Justices opined on bond validity. At a high level, our findings correct a stock narrative in the literature. The standard account paints the Court as a reliable champion of northeastern capitalists in what resembled regional or class politics more than law. That story does not withstand scrutiny, however. We find, for example, that the Court ruled for the repudiating municipality about a third of the time. Moreover, the decisions had a readily articulable logic at the heart of which lay a familiar law/fact distinction. Estoppel barred issuers in most instances from denying factual predicates of bond validity, but it did not prevent scrutiny of legal predicates. The Justices were willing to hold bonds void on even highly technical legal grounds.

Author(s): Allison Buccola (Independent) and Vince Buccola (Assistant Professor, The Wharton School)

Publication Date: 1 June 2021

Publication Site: Harvard Law School, Bankruptcy Roundtable

Biden Budget Boosts Health Subsidies, Broadens Net Investment Income Tax

Link: https://www.thinkadvisor.com/2021/06/01/biden-budget-boosts-health-subsidies-broadens-net-investment-income-tax/

Excerpt:

The current, emergency health insurance premium tax credit subsidy levels would become permanent.

Either the net investment income tax or self-employment tax would apply to all individual income over $400,000.

The definition of net investment would expand.

Author(s): Allison Bell

Publication Date: 1 June 2021

Publication Site: Think Advisor

A company you’ve probably never heard of caused half the internet to go dark

Link: https://www.vox.com/recode/2021/6/8/22524024/fastly-web-outage-news-websites?mc_cid=1581e9eab7&mc_eid=983bcf5922

Excerpt:

One of the reasons the Fastly outage seems so wide scale is that cloud computing service companies like Fastly are consolidating, leaving websites dependent on a shrinking number of providers. Even if there aren’t that many total outages, the fact that so many everyday sites rely on fewer cloud providers makes each individual outage feel pretty significant to an average internet user who just wanted to buy some stuff on Amazon and read the New York Times early Tuesday morning.

There are benefits to consolidation, explains Doug Madory, the head of internet analysis at the network monitoring company Kentik. For instance, a smaller number of cloud providers means it’s much easier to get those providers to deploy a particular security change. “The flip side is the liability [of] having a few megacompanies, whether they’re CDNs or other types of internet firms, responsible for a lot of our internet activities,” Madory told Recode.

In other words, when one of these megacompanies updates its systems and inadvertently causes an outage, the damage radius could be quite wide. This is what happened in 2011 when one of Amazon’s cloud computing systems, Elastic Block Store (EBS), crashed and brought Reddit, Quora, and Foursquare offline. After the incident, Amazon explained that engineers inadvertently caused technical problems that trickled down through its systems and caused the outage.

Author(s): Rebecca Heilweil

Publication Date: 8 June 2021

Publication Site: Vox recode

Return of the IRS Scandal

Link: https://www.wsj.com/amp/articles/return-of-the-irs-scandal-11623191964

Excerpt:

 Less than half a year into the Biden Presidency, the Internal Revenue Service is already at the center of an abuse-of-power scandal. That news broke Tuesday when ProPublica, a website whose journalism promotes progressive causes, published information from what it said are 15 years of the tax returns of Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett and other rich Americans.

Leaking such information is a crime, since under federal law tax returns are confidential. ProPublica says it received the files from “an anonymous source” and doesn’t know who provided them, how they were obtained, or what the source’s motives are.

Allow us to fill in that last blank. The story arrives amid the Biden Administration’s effort to pass the largest tax increase as a share of the economy since 1968. The main Democratic argument for a tax hike is that the rich should pay their “fair share.” The ProPublica story is a long argument that somehow the rich don’t pay enough. The timing here is no coincidence, comrade.

….

This still leaves the real scandal, which is that someone leaked confidential IRS information about individuals to serve a political agenda. This is the same tax agency that pursued a vendetta against conservative nonprofit groups during the Obama Administration. Remember Lois Lerner?

This is also the same IRS that Democrats now want to infuse with $80 billion more to chase a fanciful amount of uncollected taxes. As part of this effort, Mr. Biden wants the IRS to collect “gross inflows and outflows on all business and personal accounts from financial institutions.” Why? So the information can be leaked to ProPublica?

Author(s): Editorial board of WSJ

Publication Date: 8 June 2021

Publication Site: Wall Street Journal

Schoolyard Justice in Federal Court

Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/schoolyard-justice-in-federal-court-11623171249

Excerpt:

 The bank administered a loan of some $1 billion, sending payments from Revlon to the lenders. Citibank mistakenly sent a wire transfer of the entire principal amount due when it only intended a single installment.

Under established law, the money that Citibank wired should be repaid because it was sent by mistake. But U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman upset settled law and allowed lenders to keep the money on the ground that the recipients did not have notice that the funds had been sent erroneously. If that became the rule, it would upset the important relationships among lenders, borrowers and trusted intermediaries.

….

Mistakes like this occur with surprising frequency. In 2017, the German bank KfW mistakenly transferred $5.4 billion to lenders. In China, the bank Rural Commercial Bank in Changsha thought that a customer’s 10-digit account number was actually the amount of money to be transferred, and mistakenly sent 1.2 billion yuan (around $190 million) to the customer. Deutsche Bank recently sent $6 billion to a U.S.-based hedge fund in error. In all these cases, the banks recovered the errant funds transfers almost immediately.

Author(s): Jonathan Macey

Publication Date: 8 June 2021

Publication Site: Wall Street Journal

Summary of June 8 outage

Link: https://www.fastly.com/blog/summary-of-june-8-outage

Excerpt:

On May 12, we began a software deployment that introduced a bug that could be triggered by a specific customer configuration under specific circumstances.

Early June 8, a customer pushed a valid configuration change that included the specific circumstances that triggered the bug, which caused 85% of our network to return errors.

Author(s): Nick Rockwell

Publication Date: 8 June 2021

Publication Site: fastly