The impact of Whitney’s prediction was compounded by the fact that the 60 Minutes report came amidst fundamental factors that weakened muni bonds temporarily:
“The professionals on the Street kept saying, ‘These default numbers make no sense,’ and investors are saying, ‘All right, if you are correct, why is my portfolio down?’” (Citigroup bond analyst George) Friedlander said by telephone on Jan. 21. “The belief in this thesis of imminent mass default was dramatically increased by the fact that munis were falling”…
“She’s trying to shock the market into a panic mode,” said Thomas G. Doe, chief executive officer of Municipal Market Advisors, a research company in Concord, Massachusetts, said in a Jan. 20 telephone interview. “Nothing makes sense.”
Toward the end, Whitney made her prediction that up to a hundred big municipalities would default. Bloomberg puts that number in context:
Municipalities rarely fail to make their principal and interest payments to investors, according to Moody’s, which counted 54 bond defaults over a 39-year period in a report last year on securities it rates. More than three-quarters, 42, were standalone housing and health-care projects, while just three involved general-obligation debt, Moody’s said.
And as other have pointed out, the state and local budget problems, while enormous, can be overstated. The liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out that the debt service on muni debt is less than 5 percent of state and local budgets on average, far less than it was in the 1980’s (fun fact: Those pensions people are going crazy about? Some of them are indeed crazy, but they make up less than 4 percent of state and local spending).
Bloomberg further examines Whitney’s credibility as an analyst. This is fun:
Asked Jan. 30 what improved credibility she could bring to ratings, she said she has “an untarnished track record.”
Bloomberg News reported in October that about two-thirds of her stock picks since starting her company in 2009 had fared worse than market indexes. Visa Inc. fell 14 percent after she called it her “single best buy,” and Capital One Financial Corp. tripled after she urged clients to sell…
A 2008 Fortune cover story ranked Whitney 1,205th out of 1,919 equity analysts the previous year, based on stock picking.
And it does a little media reporting, too, finding that 60 Minutes didn’t bother to ask Whitney to back up her assertions:
Whitney’s prominence on Wall Street and the context in which she appeared were cited by Kevin Tedesco, a “60 Minutes” spokesman, when asked whether the program had asked for research to back up her assertions.
That’s just irresponsible. 60 Minutes shouldn’t have broadcast Whitney’s self-promotional apocalypse call without asking her to back it up.
Fantastic work by Bloomberg News here.