Blog » Municipal Borrowing
Around the world, cities require capital investment for infrastructure such as streets, storm drainage, sanitary sewers, water treatment facilities and water mains, schools, hospitals, and other public facilities. However, cities in most developing countries do not have the cash on hand to finance these investments on a pay-as-you-go basis.
Municipal borrowing offers one answer to this development challenge. This article discusses long term borrowing for the purpose of financing urban infrastructure. It is intended to identify key issues involved in municipal borrowing from both national and local perspectives; provide a framework for considering what role municipal borrowing might play in a given country; and discuss the approaches taken in different countries, and their advantages and disadvantages.
The topics covered below include:
Why should municipalities want to borrow, and why should national governments be interested in a legal and regulatory framework that helps them do so? The main reason municipalities borrow is to build infrastructure, beyond what they could afford to do with current revenues. The link between urban infrastructure investment and economic growth is well-documented.
Responsible long term borrowing leverages existing municipal revenue streams, and can allow a city to provide residents and firms with more and better services, sooner.
This article does not address short term borrowing e.g. to deal with cash flow or liquidity issues. Here, we are concerned with long-term borrowing, i.e. borrowing with a term of more than one year. In practice, long term borrowing is often for a term of at least 5 to 10 years, and in developed markets, terms of 30 years or more are common.
A given local government may, or may not, have the responsibility for mobilizing this capital investment itself. This depends on the powers and functions of local government in a given country, and on intergovernmental fiscal arrangements.
It should be borne in mind that borrowing should not be thought of as an additional source of revenue. Rather, it is a mechanism for using future revenues now. Typical revenue streams against which municipalities borrow include:
Municipal borrowing, like other use of debt, has its pros and cons. Among the potential advantages are:
Among the potential disadvantages of municipal borrowing:
In considering how to approach issues of municipal borrowing in any given country, or in a city within a country, there are a series of "diagnostic" questions that have proven useful. Understanding the answers to these questions will provide the necessary context to understand what role municipal borrowing might play in that country. Here are those questions:
What are local government's revenue sources?
To provide reliable services, any local government unit needs revenue streams that are stable, predictable, and adequate. This is true for rich and poor local governments, and for urban and
rural local governments. For reasons of social contract at the local level, and to support decentralization and local autonomy, own source revenues have certain advantages.
However, whether a local government's revenues are primarily own-source or primarily received from intergovernmental transfers, revenues that are stable, predictable and adequate can be leveraged through long-term borrowing, and revenues that are unstable, unpredictable, or inadequated are not good candidates for leveraging.
What are local government's infrastructure and capital investment responsibilities?
In some countries, local governments have little responsibility for infrastructure and capital investment. In other countries, such investments are primarily the responsibility of local government. A useful starting point is often to understand how existing infrastructure has been financed, and whether there have been recent policies or laws that would shift that burden going forward.
In general, where there is a mismatch between the level of government responsible for infrastructure investment, and the level of government responsible for operation and maintenance of the infrastructure, perverse incentives are common. A local government which is responsbile for only operation and maintenance will be incentivized to insist on a costly, robust design that minimizes operating costs. A state or national government that is responsible for infrastructure investment, but not operations, will pay little attention to operating costs or ease of operation
and maintenance. An appropriate balance between up-front investment costs and long term operating costs is more likely when the same agency is responsible for both investment and operations.
Long-term capital planning - see ppt by Matthew Glasser (Mar 2014) on linkages between urban development plans and urban financing strategies: Show Me the Money.pptx
Some local governments spend only a small proportion of their resources on infrastructure. Others spend a significant proportion, as much as 30-40% of revenues on infrastructure investment. These annual spending choices have long-term consequences – how much is invested, and how it is spent affects the liveability of a city, its prospects for economic development and jobs, and its competitiveness in the national and global economy. Projecting the long term impact of capital spending choices helps decision makers choose consciously how much to invest, and in what
infrastructure. This is especially important with borrowed funds, since borrowing can increase the returns from wise investments, but also comes with increased risk. The impact of bad investment choices is also leveraged, when borrowed funds are used. Borrowing has a an important role in the context of a strategic capital plan precisely because it leverages the
choices a city makes, whether good or bad. Borrowing without a long term plan is a gamble.
In understanding a city's investment needs, it is helpful to understand how much capital is needed for various purposes.
Many cities have "wish-lists: of capital investment projects - and in an environment where cities have no control over the amount or timing of investments, this may be all that is possible. A more strategic approach would involve mapping out planned investments over time, based on the three categories of investment mentioned above:
Planned investment will be under the purview of the long term horizon of factors that would change the characteristics of the city with the universal trend of urban sprawl. How infrastructure needs may change with future land policies (titling) to formalize urban communities, urban regeneration plans with integrated transport management and how economic returns are expected with more citizen engagement and capacity development efforts. Such considertations become important for Municipal borrowing especially for operations and maintenance of infrastructure systems.
By mapping the notional investments over time, and projecting the amount of investment and when it will be needed to fund these investments, cities can get a realistic projection of investment needs for years and decades to come. This is invaluable, since any given use of capital precludes, to that extent, its use for other purposes. Spending money on a stadium today can mean
the capital will not be available tomorrow for a water treatement plant. Alternatively, investing in appropriate infrastructure today can mean greater economic potential, and tax revenues, in the future. Thoughtful planning takes into account not only the investment needs, but also the ways in which those investments influence future revenues.
A well-considered capital planning and financial strategy will answer questions such as:
A city's capital planning and financial strategy reflects choices, e.g. a choice to invest in amenities for the poor, or economic infrastructure to spur growth. Both are necessary and desirable - the question is one of long term balance and financial sustainability. If capital is spent only on things with little or no financial return, then the tax and tariff base eventually weakens. There should be at least some proportion of capital invested in infrastructure of the sort that will facilitate or stimulate private investment in the city and creation of job opportunities by the private sector. This kind of investment helps the local economy to grow, and with it, the tax and tariff revenues that are necessary to support services for all residents. If one takes a long view, at least 10 – 20 years, then it can be easier to balance investments strategically.
Long term strategic planning also allows specific projects to be identified many years in advance of need. This is the first step in a planning chain, which leads to feasibility studies and conceptual designs, then to preliminary plans and environmental assessments, and finally to construction plans and procurement. This preparation allows funds to be spent efficiently
once they are budgeted. A continuous process of planning and refining investment plans puts a city in position to spend money when it becomes available. Too many cities start planning only once the construction funds are available, which can lead to delays and wastage.
Policy issues for national government:
Purposes for which long term municipal borrowing is authorised
(1) capital investment?
(b) only revenue generating?
(2) refinancing existing debt?
(4) private benefit?
What procedural and substantive rules are appropriate
(1) debt limits or ratios?
(3) public participation?
(4) findings by city council, by auditor general, or others?
What kinds of pledges, intercepts, and security interests are appropriate?
(a) project being financed?
(c) if asset is essential for delivery of public services?
(2) revenue streams:
(a) tariffs, fees and charges?
(b) general taxes?
(c) special taxes, levies, or tax increments?
Disclosure of information about the borrower and a proposed borrowing is an important issue for the legal and regulatory framework related to municipal borrowing. It is especially important in the case of tradeable debt instruments, where the eventual bondholder will not have had the opportunity to interact one on one with the issuer, as would be the case with a direct loan to a municipality.
Disclosure can be required (1) by law or regulation, (2) by agreement among securities market participants, (3) by contract between issuers and primary market purchasers (usually as part of a borrowing contract that contains covenants as to issuer behaviour) or (4) by market practice and convention (a voluntary or market-driven approach), or, for socio-political reasons to foster more social accountability and strengthen democracy and transparency in the municial accounting mechanism.
Of all of these possibilities, a sound legal and regulatory framework for disclosure is a useful starting point, so that borrowers, appointed officials, and elected representatives are legally required to comply and face the potential of prosecution or civil liability if they do not do so fully and fairly. Voluntary or market-driven disclosure is enforced by way of investor expectations and market habits, as well as by issuers’ desire to gain access and the most favourable terms by giving lenders what they want. Voluntary and market-driven disclosure practices may evolve, but probably work best if there is an underpinning of securities laws and regulations that provides a baseline of minimum required disclosure, together with procedures and penalties for those that are reckless or untruthful. Likewise, socio-politically driven disclosure could/should be further enforced by ways of investor/borrowers'willingness to foster greater social accountability and transparency in the ways in which the entire process is been undertaken. This means that, beyond the simple usual way of defining or enacting laws and regulations, learning from the recent financial crises in both the European Union and the USA, as well as elswhere in the world suggest to shed lights on any of such financial operations. This is further exacerbated by the growing and powerful stature of civil society organizations (CSO), and the social dynamic shift offered by the information burst (informatics, internet, communication medias, etc.). Citizen deserve to be
informed as well as to have access to most (if not all) financial investments tailored towards improving their livelihoods and living conditions. In other words, investment (borrowing/grant, etc.) should require a prior consultation with and participation of primary beneficiaries (i.e. the Mayor's constituents).
Related topics include general questions of market regulation and operational marketplace issues such as provisions for registration of securities, the mechanics of listing securities on exchanges, and the regulation and oversight of underwriting and trading activities. Each of these subjects is a world unto itself, and the treatment below is intended only as an overview.
Disclosure regulation issues can be broken down into several component parts: 1) who is responsible for disclosure, 2) what information is to be provided, 3) how frequently it is to be provided, and 4) how information is to be made available to future buyers of the debt securities.
1) Disclosure by whom?
The responsibility for disclosures to the market should lie with the municipal entity that is issuing debt instruments, and that will be responsible for servicing the debt. That entity is often assisted to a significant extent by underwriters and brokers, or by other levels of government, depending on the nature of the information to be furnished. To support an effective secondary market, a central regulatory institution or repository, whether governmental or established by securities market participants, is important in making this disclosure information widely available.
In some cases, policy makers weigh the investor protection interest against the countervailing interest in permitting easier access to the securities market. Lessened standards may be provided for smaller issuers or classes of securities that are believed to represent less risk. Traditionally, government securities have benefitted from lower disclosure requirements, although that tradition has been eroded in the United States and elsewhere. Where government is seeking to establish or expand capital markets for municipal securities, it is difficult to support an argument for reduced disclosure standards for local government. On the contrary, the investment community may demand high standards of disclosure for instruments that would be sold in the market.
2) Disclosure to and for whom?
Ultimately, the primary target of disclosure is the investor, especially the investor in the secondary market. The purpose of disclosure is to enable investors to make informed investment decisions.There is an incidental benefit to accurate disclosure, which is to enable the market to effectively allocate investment resources through pricing.
Generally, formal disclosure requirements are met through the issuance of a prospectus or disclosure document, which is available to investors and other market participants through some readily accessible mechanism. Today, that would typically be on-line. Brokers, financial information services, rating agencies, and other intermediaries may relay the disclosure documents, or summaries and analyses thereof, to actual investors.
Not all investors need or want the same level of protection. Protection can be differentiated and conditioned by “suitability rules” which require that in dealing with the public, brokers and dealers must observe professional rules or guidelines requiring them to recommend only securities that are suitable given the circumstances and sophistication of a given customer.
If there are complex structures or risks that might be difficult for an ordinary investor to evaluate, either a regulator or an issuer may make an a priori declaration that a security issue is limited to a certain class of investors, typically those that are “sophisticated.” Definitions of sophistication differ, but the general rule is that financial institutions and high-net-worth entities and individuals
qualify as sophisticated.
3) Disclosure when and how often? should there be requirements for continuing disclosure post-issuance?
4) Disclosure of what?
Tax exemptions and other subsidies
(to be developed)
Liquidity structures / market making
A pure market maker quotes bid and ask prices, and makes money on the spread. And, an issuer can also make a market in its own stock, providing liquidity to holders Any liquidity structure needs adequate capitalization. Limits on spreads (and thus on market maker's potential profit) inspires confidence in market participants
Issuer can set aside e.g. 1 or 2 years debt service. If there are resolvable problems, cash flow to bondholders continues while problems are resolved. Can fund a reserve fund out of municipal assets on hand, or out of proceeds of borrowing itself.
these can be especially important where there are lumpy debt service obligations, e.g. zero coupon bonds. It inspires market confidence to know that the issuer is building up savings in order to meet the obligation due at maturity.
Another entity, sphere of government, or perhaps a bilateral donor agency can guarantee a municipal debt issue. This can be a partial guarantee, e.g. USAID DCA programme with a guarantee, the good faith and credit of the guarantor is on the line investors will focus on the creditowrthiness of the guarantor, rather than the issuer. The advantage is that the bonds become more marketable. the disadvantages are 1) that the municipality is not subjected to investor/market scrutiny, with its healthy effects on financial management and 2) that the guarantor acquires a contingent liability, which can pose accounting and funding challenges.
Municipal debt securities can be guaranteed by private or government insurers the insurance can be limited to certain risks, e.g. political risks. leaving the investor to evaluate and decide whether to assume financial and economic risks
Revenue or asset pledges
These would give investors/bondholders a priority claim to particular revenues or assets; which can give greater security and predictability, as compared with relying only on the borrower/issuer's general ability to pay
These should not be seen as a substitute for local government's own budgeting for debt service, but as a back-up in case something does go wrong. The advantage is that the lender will be more secure. A risk is that, if the revenue stream being intercepted was intended for other purposes, e.g. operations, those operations may be compromised if revenues are diverted to repay debt. Off-sets against an investors liability to municipality, e.g. for property taxes, can operate like a revenue intercept
Monitoring and interventions?
Amount of debt issues in aggregate and by municipality
Interest rates and other charges being paid amount of debt service per annum by municipality
what should happen in the event of a default?
In the discussion that follows, we use the term "municipality" for convenience. Around the globe, local government terminology varies, and most of what is said can be taken to refer to any city or town, local government unit, district, municipality, or other subsovereign entity.
For what shall the municipality borrow?
particular kinds of infrastructure?
only revenue generating?
How much shall the municipality borrow?
borrowing involves risks and limits future discretion: how do we analyze the costs and benefits of borrowing? What are the trade-offs? What are the lternatives?
what forecasts and projections should we have in hand as we contemplate borrowing?
should we focus on amount of debt, or on annual debt service?
What collateral / security is the municipality prepared to pledge?
What form shall the municipal borrowing take?
With a loan, the investor usually plans to hold the debt instrument (typically a note) to maturity. For this reason, the term of a municipality's capital need must match the financial institution's investment need. Since municipalities' capital investment needs are often large and long term, they sometimes have difficulty finding investors that want to invest large sums of money for decades. As demand deposit institutions, banks need to have a significant amount of capital available as and if their depositors choose to withdraw their funds. And although banks in some countries have been the primary source of lending to municipalities, they are not well-suited to long term lending. Moreover, the coming Basel III standards for minimum liquidity levels (endorsed in January of 2013, and to begin taking effect from 2015) will likely cause banks to hold fewer and shorter term municipal debt instruments. See https://www.bis.org/bcbs/basel3.htm
Two more appropriate sources for long term loans to municipalities are pension funds and insurance companies. Both of these institutions tend to have predictable and long term investment needs. However, they also seek relatively low risk investments. In countries with stable local government, and a history of responsible municipal financial management, pension funds and
insurers can be significant investors.
Municipal bonds essentially represent small, tradeable loan instruments. Rather than borrowing the entire cost of a facility or capital program from one lender, a municipality issuing bonds can borrow small increments from many investors. Initially, bonds can be sold by subscription to financial institutions and individuals, or they can be sold wholesale to an underwriter who will then re-sell them on the retail market.
Municipal bonds can be placed privately, through a negotiated agreement with one or more underwriting firms, or they can be sold competitively at auction, as is often the case with sovereign debt securities.
A key feature of municipal bonds is that they are designed to be tradeable. And, where there is a deep and liquid securities market, an investor who no longer wishes to hold a municipal bond can readily sell it and liquidate his or her investment. This does not affect the municipality directly, because it has already received the capital from the first buyer, but the fact of a liquid market can benefit the municipality by attracting a larger pool of potential investors, making it easier and cheaper to borrow. The potential pool of borrowers is not limited to those willing to tie themselves to 20 or 30 year investments.
While the interest rate on municipal bonds can be lower than on bank loans, there are typically more transaction costs involved in a municipal bond issue. This means that a municipality's borrowing needs must be substantial if it hopes to realise cost savings through the issuance of municipal bonds. Municipalities with small capital needs are not likely to benefit by issuing bonds.
How can the municipality get the best deal?
auctions / competition?
how do we compare different offers?
what will happen if the municipality cannot repay as planned?
remedies at law
remedies by contract
Borrowing vs. public private partnerships (in brief).
This article is not about public private partnerships (PPPs), and will not cover them in depth. However, because PPPs can offer an alternative way of securing capital investment, a few words of comparison may be useful. Typically, a municipality which borrows for capital investment will own and operate the facility itself. A municipality which enters into a PPP may agree with a private partner that the private party will both provide capital and assume operation of the facility.
A PPP which involves investment can have financial implications very similar to those associated with municipal borrowing. For example, a private partner may invest in a facility on the condition that the muncipality agrees to buy an agreed amount of output or services (water, electricity, sewage treatment, solid waste disposal, etc.). The commitment to purchase output
or services takes the place of the city's commitment to repay a pure investor, and provides security to the private partner.
Not all PPPs involve investment. A private sector partner may own and/or operate a utility system, collect tariffs, hire employees, and provide management functions, whether or not that partner also invests in the system. A PPP may be most appropriate where special expertise is needed, which the city does not posess and cannot readily hire in, and where the political environment is supportive. PPP arrangements can provoke political controversy, and these risks should be conciously considered and carefully managed by a city's political leaders, if they elect to go this
It should be kept always in mind that a PPP investor desires profit - the private partner is investing its capital and expertise not as a public service, but in order to earn a return. The PPP is assuming certain risks and responsibilities, depending on the PPP arrangement, including the responsibility to operate and maintain the facility, and perhaps the risk as to whether demand will be as anticipated. The more risks the PPP investor takes, the more profit he will expect.
There are similarities and differences as compared with an investor in municipal debt instruments, who also wants profit - a debt investor's profit comes from the interest on the money being loaned to the municipality. The municipality bears the risks associated with operating and maintaining the facilities constructed, and collecting the necessary tariffs or taxes to repay the
investor with interest. Because more of the risk is on the municipality, the investor's profit should be lower than with a PPP.
municipal bonds as one form of municipal borrowing
over the counter and exchange markets
market risk assessment
credit rating agencies
The World Bank, other development agencies, and our clients all have many years of experience in development efforts to support municipal borrowing. This section provides a place to discuss that experience. Please add what you know!
World Bank Group initiatives
The World Bank Group has various ongoing initiatives to support municipal borrowing. Please add what you know!
PPIAF Sub-National Technical Assistance Program (grants for credit-worthiness improvements) (http://www.ppiaf.org/page/sub-national-technical-assistance)
PPIAF-SNTA Briefing Notes:
Bahl, Roy W., Johannes F. Linn, and Deborah L. Wetzel, eds. Financing Metropolitan Governments in Developing Countries. Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 2013.
Bahl, Roy W., and Johannes F. Linn. "Urban public finance in developing countries." (1992).
Freire, Mila, and John E. Petersen, eds. Subnational capital markets in developing countries: from theory to practice. World Bank Publications, 2004.
Groff, James E., and Marshall K. Pitman. "Municipal Financial Reporting on the World Wide Web-A Survey of Financial Data Displayed on the Official Websites of the 100 Largest US Municipalities." Journal of Government Financial Management 53.2 (2004): 20-33.
Ang, Andrew, Richard C. Green, and Yuhang Xing. Advance Refundings of Municipal Bonds.No. w19459. National Bureau of Economic Research, 2013.
Sirri, Erik R. "Comment on" Tax-subsidized underpricing: Issuers and underwriters in the market for Build America Bonds" by Richard C. Green, Dario Cestau, and Norman Schürhoff." Journal of Monetary Economics 60.5 (2013):609-612.
I just checked out some of the links in the :overview and they are not working.
The link to the "Show me the money" ppt is also not working....
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