Texas Public Finance Authority: Class 1 Bonds Won’t Sell

Thanks to a friend, we have new evidence today about how much money TWIA hopes to have to pay claims this summer.  The Texas Public Finance Authority, which has to deal with sober realities like the bond market, told the TWIA board back in March that its Class 1 post-event bonds won’t sell.  Since Texas Insurance Commissioner Eleanor Kitzman blocked issuance of pre-event bonds that TWIA sought as a substitute, that means that in the very best case, TWIA will have about $2.7 billion.  But even this rests on a House of Cards argument that is likely to topple and leave TWIA policyholders in the lurch.  Here’s why.

The document in question are the minutes of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association meeting of March 21, 2013. It sheds some light on TWIA’s own thinking at that time about how much money it was going to have to pay claims. The first clue is contained in the excerpt below.

TWIA board minutes

TWIA board minutes acknowledging reinsurance would attach at $1.8 billion

Notice how TWIA says that if it does not approve — or, one assumes, is denied permission to get — the $500 million Bond Anticipation Note — the reinsurance would attach at $1.8 billion. Now why would TWIA pick such a low number?  In the past they have spoken about reinsurance attaching at around $3 billion.  The next excerpt explains it.  It rests on the advice of Bob Coalter, Executive Director of the Texas Public Finance Authority. Look at this excerpt.

Texas Public Finance Authority: Post-event Class 1 Bonds are doubtful

Texas Public Finance Authority: Post-event Class 1 Bonds are doubtful

“Mr. Coalter stated that TWIA could not reasonably rely on $500 million in class 1 bonds if the Association waited for post-event approval.” That’s prety clear. And it’s why, I am confident, why TWIA sought the pre-event Bond Anticipation Notes. And it explains very well the $1.8 million attachment point for the reinsurance.  TWIA likely thinks it will have $300 million in its Catastrophe Reserve Trust Fund and operating expenses; that’s a number that has been batted around in conversation.  It thinks it will have $1 billion in Class 2 Alternative Bonds under section 2210.6136 added by H.B. 4409 in 2011.  And it thinks it will have $500 million in Class 3 Bonds. That totals $1.8 billion, which is precisely where the reinsurance would attach.

So, if TWIA could get, say, $900 million of reinsurance for its authorized $100 million to attach at $1.8 billion, it would have $2.7 billion to pay claims this summer, one Ike’s-worth.  So, with some rounding, it could, I suppose be said that TWIA has $3 billion, but that’s a bit of an exaggeration.

In any event, let us not, however, quibble about a trifling $300 million.  Let’s instead focus our energies on scrutiny of TWIA’s logic of even thinking that it will have the $1.8 billion in funds at which the reinsurance could attach.  I say that the very reasons the TPFA is giving TWIA for why TWIA’s Class 1 Bonds won’t sell apply almost equally to the Class 2 Alternative Bonds.  Why?  See the next paragraph. In the mean time, recognize that the Class 3 bonds can not legally be sold unless TWIA/TPFA can sell $1 billion of Class 2 Alternative Bonds. If TPFA can only sell, say, $600 million in Class 2 Alternative Bonds, then TPFA can not sell Class 3 Bonds at all, and TWIA’s funding stack would be $900 million, not $1.8 million.  Yes, TWIA might have reinsurance that attached at $1.8 million, but for losses between $900 million and $1.8 million there would be no money. So, for a $1.5 million storm, TWIA would only have enough money to pay policyholders 60 cents on the dollar ($300 million in CRTF + $600 million in Class 2 Alternative Bonds all divided by $1.5 million in claims). And for a $3 billion storm, TWIA would likewise have 60 cents on the dollar. ($300 million in CRTF + $600 million in Class 2 Alternative Bonds + $900 million in reinsurance all divided by $3 billion in claims).

Why the Class 2 Alternative Bonds Are Almost As Bad As The Class 1 Bonds

OK, so why do I say — and why by the way did TWIA suggest in its report to the legislator — that the Class 2 Alternative Bonds are problematic?  Why did several bills in the legislature this session seek to abolish them?  Because their repayment source is largely the same problematic mammoth levy on TWIA policyholders that they might not well be able to pay. Here is section 2210.6136(b) of the Texas Insurance Code. It’s the key to understanding the urgency in calling a special session of the Texas legislature.

(b)  The commissioner shall order the repayment of the cost of Class 2 public securities issued in the manner described by Subsection (a) as follows:

(1)  in the manner described by Section 2210.612(a), in an amount equal to the lesser of:

(A)  $500 million; or

(B)  that portion of the total principal amount of Class 1 public securities authorized to be issued under Section 2210.072 that cannot be issued, plus any costs associated with that portion;

 

So, if the “portion of the total Principal amount of Class 1 public securities … that can not be issued” is, as TWIA itself has been told likely to be well north of $500 million, then the first $500 million of the Class 2 Alternative Bonds described in section 2210.6136 are to be paid off in the “manner described by Section 2210.612(a)” of the Texas Insurance Code.  But what section 2210.612(a) calls for is for the bonds to be paid out of TWIA premiums: “The association shall pay Class 1 public securities issued under Section 2210.072 from its net premium and other revenue.” And it is precisely because potential lenders have indicated their doubts that TWIA premiums could sustain the amortization payments that TWIA has been told it can’t sell the Class 1 bonds. I don’t see any reason why the market would be any more trusting of bonds that have “Class 2” labeled on them when they won’t buy similarly sourced bonds with a “Class 1” label on them.

What we have then is, as I said, a House of Cards. In order for TWIA to even have $2.7 billion in its stack, here is what would have to happen: (1) before a storm, TWIA gets $900 million in reinsurance that attaches at $1.8 billion; and (2) after a storm, all $1 billion of the Class 2 Alternative Bonds sell notwithstanding their problematic repayment source. If I were a betting man, I would not place the odds of that House of Cards staying intact very highly.  And when it tumbles, it will not be only be TWIA policyholders on the Texas coast who get hurt, but the economy of Texas as well.

Footnote for Experts

Some might object to my analysis on grounds that the repayment sources for the Class 2 Alternative Bonds set forth in section 2210.6136 are not identical to those set forth for the Class 1 bonds.  That’s true, but I don’t think it matters.  Read 2210.6136(b) carefully.

(2)  after payment under Subdivision (1), in the manner described by Sections 2210.613(a) and (b), in an amount equal to the difference between the principal amount of public securities issued under Subsection (a) and the amount repaid in the manner described by Subdivision (1), plus any costs associated with that amount.

 

The first $500 million in Class 2 Alternative bonds come from TWIA revenue (premiums). As the passage I’ve highlighted indicates, it’s only after that first $500 million is exhausted — and TWIA pays what some likely thought was its fair share — that others have to chip in.  Someone from those other payors (coastal non-TWIA policyholders and, more likely, the insurance industry) negotiated for that in 2011. The fact that those higher in the stack have money to pay won’t give any comfort to lenders who depend in substantial part on the dubiously sourced lower part.  And this is why I persist in saying that if the Class 1 Bonds can’t be sold, the Class 2 Alternative Bonds are in serious jeopardy too.

 

 

Drop down Class 3 bonds: a bandaid for TWIA

A lot of ink has been spilled on this blog about fixing TWIA in the long run.  Having attended the hearing this past week in Austin and looking at my calendar, which shows 41 days until hurricane season, I am becoming less hopeful that a good long-run fix is in the works.  Moreover, two of the leading bills (S.B. 18 and H.B. 2352) do nothing to address the desperate situation for 2013.  I thus offer up the following as a minimalist bandaid for TWIA.  It will not by any means solve TWIA’s problems.  If, however, a solid solution can not be found, what I offer here may at least provide some assistance and, in my naive view, should be politically feasible. The Executive Summary is that the legislature needs to repeal the provisions prohibiting the Class 3 bonds from dropping down and instead permit them to drop down in the event the Class 2 Alternative bonds fail to sell, offering insurers a premium tax credit to the extent the drop down Class 3 bonds increase their subsidization of tropical cyclone losses along the Texas Gulf Coast.

History

I start with some history to explain the current problem.

In 2011, the legislature recognized that the system of post-event bonds it had established in 2009 as the means of recapitalizing TWIA following a significant storm was extremely vulnerable to a cascade of failures. Lenders could refuse to purchase the Class 1 bonds on whose sale higher levels of bonds legally depended and thus leave TWIA with only the money it had in its Catastrophe Reserve Trust Fund to pay the claims of its policyholders. And lenders might very well refuse because repayment of the Class 1 bonds depended on TWIA policyholders remaining with TWIA even after it raised its premiums (perhaps 25%) to pay off the bonds. So, the legislature developed this complex scheme now codified in section 2210.6136 of the Insurance Code.

Unfortunately, the fix, which appears to have been developed deep into the legislative session, suffers a risk of the same infirmity as the legislative provisions it attempted to supplement. Class 1 bonds remained theoretically available but a contingency plan was developed: the Class 2 Alternative Bond (my name). This Class 2 Alternative Bond could be sold in the event that the entire $1 billion authorized in Class 1 bonds failed to sell in whole or in part. But, as with the Class 1 bonds, the Class 2 Alternative Bonds contained in the fix depend for their repayment in significant part in extracting large sums of money from a TWIA pool of insureds (a) after a significant hurricane has struck and (b) who can and may leave the pool if insurance premiums get too high. And while coastal residents and insurers share partial responsibility for the repayment and thus reduce the size of the TWIA premium increase, it is unclear if that contribution will be enough to persuade lenders that TWIA policyholders will remain in the pool and pay enough to amortize the bonds. Moreover, the legislation provided that Class 3 bonds, which provide an additional $500 million of borrowing capacity to pay for windstorm damages, can not be sold — repeat, can not be sold — unless every dime of borrowing capacity under the Class 2 Alternative Bonds is exhausted.

The current situation

The result of all this is a potential catastrophe. If, as many observers, including the Texas Insurance Commissioner expect, the Class 1 bonds fail in whole or in part because the market won’t accept them, the Class 2 Alternative Bonds may fail too. Why? Because their repayment source is infected — not as badly, but still infected — with the same problem as the Class 1 bonds. And if the Class 2 bonds fail even a little bit, the Class 3 bonds fail. And if the Class 3 bonds fail, there may well not even be any reinsurance protection. This is so because, if TWIA is not careful and does not purchase reinsurance — at a higher price — that drops down in the event the Class 2 and/or 3 bonds don’t sell, the reinsurer isn’t obligated to pay a dime. The $100 million of policyholder money dumped into reinsurance will have been 100% wasted. (I sure hope TWIA’s lawyers and reinsurance brokers understand this last point.). And so, TWIA will have only the $180 million or so in its Ike-depleted, failure-to-properly-assess-depleted Catastrophe Reserve Trust Fund to pay claims. As my friend David Crump has pointed out, it may not even take a named tropical storm to generate damages of that magnitude to the $72 billion TWIA pool.

We thus end up with a short run problem in addition to a long run problem with TWIA. The long run problem is that the system of post-event bonds on top of a thin Catastrophe Reserve Trust Fund is extremely unstable and potentially depends on massive subsidization by people other than policyholders to prop it all up. That is a hard problem to fix. Perhaps, as been suggested here, an assigned risk plan would be a better alternative. Perhaps, as others believe, the funding structure can be made more stable with yet greater subsidization. Those are hard and politically contentious issues. I am not certain they will be ironed out this legislative session before hurricane season begins in 41 days. And, sorry to say to, but it is a bit irksome to have to bail TWIA out yet again when doing so also rescues from humiliation the legislators who have shortsightedly engineered a system that beautifully served the short run interests of their constituents by underfunding their insurer but that has predictably betrayed those same constituents long run interests. Still, one can not help feeling a bit sorry for those on the coast who may have been fooled, perhaps eagerly so, by these false heroes.

The bandaid

What to do? Triple the minimum amount available for this summer. How?

1. Permit the Class 3 bonds to drop down. Repeal section 2210.6136(c), which currently prohibits the issuance of Class 3 bonds until all the Class 2 or Class 2 Alternative Bonds are sold. Instead, permit the Texas Insurance Commissioner to authorize sale of Class 3 bonds notwithstanding the failure of all Class 2 or Class 2 Alternative Bonds to sell if, in the opinion of the Commissioner, the failure to do so would reduce the amount available to pay claims of TWIA policyholders.

2. To the extent that Class 3 bonds drop down, make the assessments that are required to repay them simply a no-interest loan from insurers to the state rather than an outright payment. This can and has been done by making providing a premium tax credit for the assessments.  I dislike this philosophically because it is less transparent than simply taxing Texans and potentially reduces the amount available for government programs, but it is one way to raise money. To do this will require repeal of section 2210.6135(c) of the Insurance Code and perhaps some other statutory tinkering. The idea, however, is that to the extent an extra obligation has been imposed on the insurers of the state, it is one they should bear only as a vehicle for fronting money rather than in any ultimate sense. I believe sensible insurers should be willing to go along with this alteration. Moreover, as the state bears actual responsibility for up to $500 million, the costs of having the rest of the state subsidize TWIA will be more apparent to the electorate. It will thus be a great — albeit costly — learning opportunity.

Will this solve the TWIA problem for 2013. Absolutely not. This is a bandaid on a gaping wound. $680 million ($180 million in CRTF plus $500 million in dropped down Class 3) is not nearly enough to protect TWIA policyholders from even a minor tropical cyclone. Even $1.68 billion ($180 million in CRTF plus $500 million in Class 2 Alternative plus $500 million in dropped down Class 3 plus maybe $500 million in incredibly costly reinsurance) is not enough. At its current $72 biliion girth, TWIA at a minimum needs a $5 billion stack. But if you don’t have the time, will or ability to do major surgery, a bandaid is better than watching the patient bleed dry in front of you.  So, if the long run problem can not be solved before the start of hurricane season, or if the long run fix starts only in 2014, this extra money this bandaid creates for 2013 should be sorely appreciated when the wind and water starts roiling in the Gulf.