What Happens if US Debt Defaults? Just Short-Term Pain, Sages Say

Link: https://www.ai-cio.com/news/what-happens-if-us-debt-defaults-just-short-term-pain-sages-say/

Excerpt:

So what is likely to occur this year?

Everything will be settled without a big problem for investors, predicts Robert Hunkeler, International Paper’s vice president of investments.

“I guess Congress and the White House will eventually finish their game of chicken, and the debt limit will be raised,” he opines. “There might be a little more drama and brinksmanship this time around, because there are more cooks in Congress than usual, and that’s saying a lot. Either way, I wouldn’t change my investments because of it.”

To Kostin and his Goldman staff, the risk that Congress fails to boost the debt limit by the deadline is “higher than at any point since 2011,” but “the team believes it’s more likely that Congress will raise the debt limit before the Treasury is forced to delay scheduled payments.”

If the debt ceiling is not raised in time to make those payments, in Goldman’s estimate, the economy would shrink by about $225 billion per month, or 10% of annualized gross domestic product. That’s provided that the Treasury does what policy wonks call, “prioritize,” meaning somehow continuing to pay interest on the national debt, but to stop payment on other obligations.

For Thomas Swaney, CIO for global fixed income at Northern Trust Asset Management, another credit downgrade for the government is possible.

“The practical implications of a credit downgrade are not entirely clear,” he writes in a report. “But we don’t expect a modest downgrade to result in market disruptions for Treasuries, U.S. agency debt or overnight repurchase agreements.”

Author(s): Larry Light

Publication Date: 6 Feb 2023

Publication Site: ai-CIO

GOP-led House committee launches working group to combat ESG proposals

Link: https://www.pionline.com/washington/republican-led-house-committee-launches-anti-esg-working-group

Excerpt:

Congressional Republicans on Friday took another step in their quest to dismantle the Biden administration’s environmental, social and governance rule-making initiatives.

The House Financial Services Committee has formed a working group to “combat the threat to our capital markets posed by those on the far-left pushing environmental, social and governance proposals,” the committee’s Chairman Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., announced.

The group will be led by Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., and include eight other Republican committee members.

Among its priorities, the group will examine ways to “rein in the SEC’s regulatory overreach;” reinforce the materiality “standard as a pillar of the nation’s disclosure regime;” and hold to account market participants who “misuse the proxy process or their outsized influence to impose ideological preferences in ways that circumvent democratic lawmaking,” according to a news release.

“This group will develop a comprehensive approach to ESG that protects the financial interests of everyday investors and ensures our capital markets remain the envy of the world,” Mr. McHenry said in the news release. “Financial Services Committee Republicans as a whole will continue our work to expand capital formation, hold Biden’s rogue regulators accountable, and support American job creators.”

Author(s): Brian Croce

Publication Date: 3 Feb 2023

Publication Site: Pensions & Investments

More and Better Uses Ahead for Governments’ Financial Data

Link: https://www.governing.com/finance/more-and-better-uses-ahead-for-governments-financial-data

Excerpt:

In its lame duck session last month, Congress tucked a sleeper section into its 4,000-page omnibus spending bill. The controversial Financial Data Transparency Act (FDTA) swiftly came out of nowhere to become federal law over the vocal but powerless objections of the state and local government finance community. Its impact on thousands of cities, counties and school districts will be a buzzy topic at conferences all this year and beyond. Meanwhile, software companies will be staking claims in a digital land rush.

The central idea behind the FDTA is that public-sector organizations’ financial data should be readily available for online search and standardized downloading, using common file formats. Think of it as “an http protocol for financial data” that enables an investor, analyst, taxpayer watchdog, constituent or journalist to quickly retrieve key financial information and compare it with other numbers using common data fields. Presently, online users of state and local government financial data must rely primarily on text documents, often in PDF format, that don’t lend themselves to convenient data analysis and comparisons. Financial statements are typically published long after the fiscal year’s end, and the widespread online availability of current and timely data is still a faraway concept.

…..

So far, so good. But the devil is in the details. The first question is just what kind of information will be required in this new system, and when. Most would agree that a complete download of every byte of data now formatted in voluminous governmental financial reports and their notes is overwhelming, unnecessary and burdensome. Thus, a far more incremental and focused approach is a wiser path. For starters, it may be helpful to keep the initial data requirements skeletal and focus initially on a dozen or more vital fiscal data points that are most important to financial statement users. Then, after that foundation is laid, the public finance industry can build out. Of course, this will require that regulators buy into a sensible implementation plan.

The debate over information content requirements should focus first on “decision-useful information.” Having served briefly two decades ago as a voting member of the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB), contributing my professional background as a chartered financial analyst, I can attest that almost every one of their meetings included a board member reminding others that required financial statement information should be decision-useful. A key question, of course, is “useful to whom?”

Author(s): Girard Miller

Publication Date: 17 Jan 2023

Publication Site: Governing

How Medicare Advantage Plans Dodged Auditors and Overcharged Taxpayers by Millions

Link: https://khn.org/news/article/medicare-advantage-auditors-overcharged-taxpayers/

Excerpt:

A review of 90 government audits, released exclusively to KHN in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, reveals that health insurers that issue Medicare Advantage plans have repeatedly tried to sidestep regulations requiring them to document medical conditions the government paid them to treat.

The audits, the most recent ones the agency has completed, sought to validate payments to Medicare Advantage health plans for 2011 through 2013.

As KHN reported late last month, auditors uncovered millions of dollars in improper payments — citing overcharges of more than $1,000 per patient a year on average — by nearly two dozen health plans.

Author(s): Fred Schulte and Holly K. Hacker

Publication Date: 13 Dec 2022

Publication Site: Kaiser Health News

Lawmakers Discuss How Financial Institutions Should Address Ties to Slavery

Link: https://www.thinkadvisor.com/2022/12/12/lawmakers-discuss-how-financial-institutions-should-address-ties-to-slavery/

Excerpt:

Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, wants to develop legislation that could affect how insurers and other financial institutions address their historical involvement in slavery.

Green and other lawmakers talked about ideas for legislation related to slavery during a  recent hearing of the House Financial Services oversight subcommittee on the role of financial institutions in the horrors of slavery.

….

Berkshire Hathaway, for example, descends partly from The Valley Falls Company, a textile manufacturer owned by members of an abolitionist family, Rockman said.

But members of the abolitionist family “rarely paused to ask where their cotton came from,” Rockman said. “Virtually every cotton fiber they spun and wove would have been slave-grown and slave-picked.”

William Darity Jr., a public policy professor at Duke University, talked about the role of insurers in slavery. He noted that Aetna, AIG, Baltimore Life, Loews Corp., New York Life and Southern Mutual Insurance Company all descend from companies that protected slaveowners against the deaths of slaves.

Author(s): Allison Bell

Publication Date: 12 Dec 2022

Publication Site: Think Advisor

The best climate news you may not have heard about

Link: https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2022/11/the-best-climate-news-you-may-not-have-heard-about/

Excerpt:

A treaty adopted 35 years ago and meant to solve an entirely different problem is also protecting the climate. And with bipartisan support from the Senate and President Joe Biden’s Oct. 26 signature, the U.S. became the world’s 139th nation to adopt a key amendment to that agreement — the first time the U.S. has joined a legally binding global measure specifically to combat climate change.

Global warming was on the back burner in 1985 when scientists from the British Antarctic Survey found a gaping hole in the planet’s stratospheric ozone layer. A natural feature of the atmosphere, the ozone layer is located between about 10 to 25 miles above Earth’s surface. It shields the planet from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, which is harmful in large doses to our skin and to myriad other aspects of plant and animal life.

Researchers rapidly pinned down the cause of the ozone destruction: chlorofluorocarbons, known as CFCs, which are chemicals used as refrigerants and to manufacture aerosol sprays and other materials. CFCs had been recognized for years as a threat to the ozone layer, but the ozone hole found in the mid-1980s was far worse than anything expected by that point.

By 1987, diplomats had crafted a treaty known as the Montreal Protocol to fix the problem. It was an immense success, ratified by every member state of the United Nations.

There was a major catch, though.

Both CFCs and their leading replacements – hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs – trap heat in the atmosphere, causing global warming.  

….

Enter the Kigali Amendment. 

Adopted at a United Nations meeting held in the Rwanda capital in October 2016, it uses a variety of policy approaches to throttle back on both the production and consumption of HFCs. The amendment has put the world on track to eliminate more than 80% of HFCs by midcentury. 

One reason the Kigali Amendment passed the Senate with bipartisan support (69-27, including 21 of the chamber’s 50 Republicans) is that national action on HFCs along the lines of Kigali was already in gear. The pandemic stimulus bill of late 2020 specified an 85% cut in HFC production by 2030. Many lawmakers, especially those from states with major chemical manufacturing, had recognized that cutting HFCs made sense. For one thing, nations that have not ratified the amendment cannot trade HFCs with those that have. 

Author(s): Bob Henson

Publication Date: 3 Nov 2022

Publication Site: Yale Climate Connections

Letter to FIO and NAIC from Senate Banking Committee

Link: https://www.banking.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/brown_letter_on_insurance_031622.pdf

Excerpt:

  1. What risks do the more aggressive investment strategies pursued by private equity-controlled insurers present to policyholders?
  2. What risks do lending and other shadow-bank activities pursued by companies that also
    own or control significant amounts of life insurance-related assets pose to policyholders?
  3. Are there risks to the broader economy related to investment strategies, lending, and
    other shadow-bank activities pursued by these companies?
  4. In cases of pension risk transfer arrangements, what is the impact on protections for
    pension plan beneficiaries if plans are terminated and replaced with lump-sum payouts or
    annuity contracts? Specifically, how are protections related to ERISA and PBGC
    insurance affected in these cases?
  5. Given that many private equity firms and asset managers are not public companies, what
    risks to transparency arise from the transfer of insurance obligations to these firms? Will
    retirees and the public have visibility into the investment strategies of the firms they are
    relying on for their retirements?
  6. Are state regulatory regimes capable of assessing and managing the risks related to the
    more complex structures and investment strategies of private equity-controlled insurance
    companies or obligations? If not, how can FIO work with state regulators to aid in the
    assessment and management of these risks?

Author(s): Sen. Sherrod Brown

Publication Date: 16 March 2022

Publication Site: U.S. Senate Banking Committee

Senate Finance Chair Broadens Inquiry Into Private Placement Life Insurance

Link: https://www.thinkadvisor.com/2022/09/21/senate-finance-chair-broadens-inquiry-into-private-placement-life-insurance/

Graphic:

Excerpt:

A lawmaker who helps shape federal tax legislation has indicated that he wants to keep wealthy families from using private placement life insurance to replace any federal tax loopholes that Congress closes.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, today announced that he has written to Prudential Financial, Zurich Insurance Group and the American Council of Life Insurers to get more information about the PPLI market, and the possibility that many PPLI policies may serve only to reduce the income taxes of families that rank in the wealthiest 1% of American families, not to provide genuine insurance.

“Is investment in PPLI products marketed to new or existing clients as a means to minimize or eliminate ordinary income, capital gains or estate taxes?” Wyden asks in the letters to Prudential and Zurich. “If so, please explain the legal basis for why these products help minimize or eliminate taxes.”

Author(s): Allison Bell

Publication Date: 21 Sept 2022

Publication Site: Think Advisor

Social Security Reform: Benefit Formula Options

Link: https://www.actuary.org/sites/default/files/2022-08/SocSecReformBenefits0822.pdf

Graphic:

Excerpt:

From its inception, the formulas
for determining benefits payable
under the Social Security System
have included elements of
individual equity and social
adequacy, so that benefits vary
in proportion to differences
in worker contributions, yet
benefits are sufficient to meet
the deemed financial needs
of most workers and covered
dependents.
• According to the 2021 Social
Security Trustees Report,
accumulated assets will be
depleted by 2034 and income
to the system thereafter will be
insufficient to pay all scheduled
benefits when due.
• Some or all of this shortfall
can be averted by changing
the primary formula for retired
worker benefits, changing the
formulas for determining the
benefits of eligible spouses and
other dependents of workers,
and/or changing the formula for
computing annual cost-of-living
increases.
• This issue brief explores a
wide variety of proposals for
changing the formulas for
determining benefits that
have been made over the
years by members of Congress,
government-appointed panels
and commissions, and outside
experts, with an eye toward how
the proposed changes would
affect the balance between
individual equity and social
adequacy.

Author(s): American Academy of Actuaries Social Security Committee

Publication Date: August 2022

Publication Site: American Academy of Actuaries

Top 10 Medicare Bills Introduced in 2022

Link: https://www.thinkadvisor.com/2022/04/28/top-10-medicare-bills-introduced-in-2022/

Excerpt:

Here’s a look at the top-performing Medicare bills introduced since Jan. 1.

We searched Congress.gov for new Medicare bills, then ranked the bills based on co-sponsorship bipartisanship and numbers.

Some of these bills could pass on their own. Others could surface as provisions in much larger bills, such as a Ukraine aid bill or a COVID-19 pandemic response funding bill.

What It Means

These measures seem to have the legislative mojo to go places.

Each sponsor has managed to overcome the current hostility between Republicans and Democrats and persuade at least one member of the opposite party to sign on as a co-sponsor.

Author(s): Allison Bell

Publication Date: 28 April 2022

Publication Site: Think Advisor

8 New Social Security Bills in Congress Now

Link:https://www.thinkadvisor.com/2022/04/21/8-new-social-security-bills-in-congress-now/

Excerpt:

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, pressed House leaders Tuesday to pass the Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust Act, H.R. 5723, which adopts the consumer price Index for the elderly as the basis of the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) and applies the payroll tax to annual wages above $400,000.

“I wish to indicate our strong support for H.R. 5723 – Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust and encourage its prompt floor consideration this Congress,” Jayapal told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Monday in a letter.

The bill, Jayapal wrote, “increases benefits across the board at a time of higher inflation, protects low-income seniors, widows and widowers, ends wait-times for those with disabilities needing support and more. Crucially, it is paid for by making millionaires and billionaires pay the same rate as everyone else by ensuring the payroll tax is applied to wages above $400,000.”

She urged Pelosi to move the bill to a vote in the House “as soon as possible.”

Author(s): Melanie Waddell

Publication Date: 21 April 2022

Publication Site: Think Advisor

A Politicized Fed Endangers the Economy

Link:https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-politicized-fed-endangers-economy-monetary-federal-reserve-powell-balance-sheet-climate-stress-test-social-justice-11642448983

Excerpt:

It is time to depoliticize monetary policy. First, instead of making the Fed’s mandate broader, Congress should consider narrowing it to one of price stability. The Fed’s contribution to achieving full employment should be through focusing on long-term price stability. Next, as we learn to live with Covid and as the economy continues to recover, the Fed must go beyond merely tapering its bond purchases. It must set out a credible process and timetable to unwind its balance sheet.

Should the Fed be called on again to exercise emergency powers, Congress must ensure those powers are of limited duration and that any credit facilities created are quickly transferred to the Treasury Department. Finally, the more improvisational and discretionary the Fed’s conduct of monetary policy, the more difficult it is to withstand political pressures. The Fed should move to a monetary-policy framework that is more systematic, predictable and transparent.

If politicized monetary policy doesn’t prove transitory, it is doubtful the Fed will be able to deliver either stable prices or maximum employment.

Author(s): Jeb Hensarling

Publication Date: 17 Jan 2021

Publication Site: WSJ