01/2019: The Banking Sector’s Current Impasse

Remaking Puerto Rico's Banking SectorThe remaking of PR’s economic landscape will reshape banks
The last fifteen years witnessed a remaking of PR’s banking sector that continues to unfold. The process has been largely uneven as consolidations, the bursting of a real estate bubble, an economic depression, population decline, and the default of public debt have all had a direct impact on the sector’s core capabilities and operations. In response to this, banks were forced to retrench their activities, mitigate risk, and become risk-averse. This, understandably, has resulted in a more passive sector, one that, in the future, stands to react rather than lead the creation of new economic opportunities. In this sense, unless the recovery funds are managed to create the right incentives for them to remain on the Island, the banks will simply not leverage capital to jumpstart much needed economic growth, or support development, regardless of continued interest rate hikes. The stakes at the moment could not be higher. PR must get it right this time.

Puerto Rico Economic Pulse ©

12/2018: 2018 – A Year of Lost Opportunities

Lost OpportunitiesSerious challenges continue to estrange the economic outlook everywhere
2018 came in on the heels of a devastating last three months in 2017, with the anticipation that it would finally bring the opportunities that PR needed to debunk its economic malaise. Yet, 12 months later we are about to exit it with basically more questions than answers and an almost universal dismay with the ongoing situation. To make matters more unsettling, we continue to lack consensus—and with it a sense of collective purpose—on what needs to be done in the best interest of PR, its people and the holders of the Commonwealth´s defaulted debt. Matters elsewhere have not helped either as the accumulation of tension and disruption continued unabated throughout the year. The US-China trade war and the accompanying political instability in the developed world stand to leave unintended consequences on the Island sooner rather than later. Businesses will need to focus on risk mitigation at all levels in 2019 as PR continues its painfully slow reconstruction process, hoping for the best but, certainly, preparing for the unexpected.

Puerto Rico Economic Pulse ©

11/2018: A Plan with More Questions Than Answers

Opportunity Zones may just provide a much-needed response
Puerto Rico Opportunity Zones MapThe latest Federal Oversight Board’s (FOB) certified fiscal plan (October 2018) reveals a coherent, but dangerously limited understanding of PR’s present economic situation. In effect, it provides a one track-logic, based on reform and austerity measures, expected to yield the necessary cash flows to both repay the renegotiated public debt and achieve economic self-sustainability. Unfortunately, the problem is not so simple. Sustainable debt repayment requires a viable expansion of the Island’s tax base, which, in turn, requires long-term sustainability of economic activity. On a more fundamental level, the attainment of these goals requires economic development and growth. In this sense, the Opportunity Zones (OZ) initiative is a definite step in the right direction that could provide what the plan lacks. It remains to be seen however, particularly given PR’s dismal record of execution and operationalizing such initiatives, whether OZ can channel the investment capital that PR badly needs now.

Puerto Rico Economic Pulse ©

10/2018: The Making of the Next Crisis at COFINA

The making of the next crisisA weak economy may make the recent agreement unviable
Two recent events have rattled the prospects for a sustainable solution to PR´s debt restructuring process. First, the Fiscal Oversight Board (FOB) filed three key documents to legally enshrine the debt restructuring agreement with COFINA bond holders. A few days later, the same entity published a new version of its Fiscal Plan (the sixth in 2018). What emerged, however, was an indirect confirmation of the risks that await PR. On the one hand, the agreement establishes a haircut of 7% for senior debt and 44% for junior debt (where most local bond holders fall). The new Fiscal Plan, on the other hand, bluntly stated that the economy is expected to run out of growth by 2023—with negative or near-zero growth from then on. In other words, according to the FOB, the economy will be severely constrained to meet its obligations under the debt restructuring agreement in five years-time. What it did not say was that, as it stands, it sets the way to a new default.

09/2018: A Landmark Institution in Distress

UPR Río PiedrasFewer students and less money will shape UPR’s future

The University of Puerto Rico (UPR), one of the Island’s longest serving, and most respected institution is facing a dire process of retrenchment. Realities on the ground simply caught up. The combination of a contracting population and stagnant personal income over the past 15 years (as well as several strikes) led to a slow decline in enrollment. The ongoing fiscal crisis is just the last straw on a long process of deterioration as debt restructuring stands now to override—for some time—any other consideration. The stakes, however, could not be higher with a reduction of over $200 mn. in its FY18 budget and its own debt restructuring to sort out, the UPR now risks losing its academic accreditation and, with that, access to Pell grants. Without these, enrollment could end up unraveling. Whatever the final outcome, this is the story of the inevitable.

Puerto Rico Economic Pulse ©

08/18: Code of Conduct – Fiscal Oversight Board

Insights into the fiscal discipline of PROMESA staff in Puerto Rico

Code of Conduct – Fiscal Oversight Board Puerto RicoPuerto Rico’s fiscal and economic crisis has thrust people into unlikely roles. On June 2016, President Barack Obama signed the legislation Puerto Rico Oversight Management, & Economic Stability Act to address Puerto Rico’s economic crisis. The Act established a 7-member oversight board with an Executive Director and staff to, among other things, provide Puerto Rico with tools to impose discipline over its finances, meet is obligations, and restore confidence in its institutions. The Board has sweeping powers over the Island and its staff has a significant and increasing budget, paid by PR taxpayers, to execute those powers. After the devastation of Hurricane Maria on September 2017, the economic reconstruction of the Island becomes even more important for PR to meet its fiscal and debt obligations. Is the entity in charge of balancing fiscal budgets and controlling expenses in PR applying these same principles to its expenses? It is in this context that this issue analyzes how the administrative staff of the Fiscal Board stacks against results.

Puerto Rico Economic Pulse ©

07/18: A New Incentives Code: Problem or Solution?

Proposed incentives may hurt or benefit PR’s economic sectors
A New Incentives Code: Problem or Solution?PR is once again at a crossroads. This time, however, with a much more critical end-game. The combination of continued public-debt negotiations—with no easy-fix in sight—and an uneven reconstruction effort have transformed what otherwise would be normal processes into make-or-break events. Nearly everything—from fiscal budgets to public officials’ salaries—has become contentious. The recently proposed incentives code adds yet another layer of complexity to this conundrum. Long gone are the days where public policy “only” had to ensure that the Island remained attractive to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) vis-à-vis other jurisdictions. Now, incentives need to balance the Island’s multi-level economic reconstruction needs with its changing sociodemographic fundamentals. This issue examines the impact of the proposed incentives measures on key economic sectors and its desirability in its drafted form.

Puerto Rico Economic Pulse ©

06/2018: In Search of Better Ways for Puerto Rico

In Search of Better Ways for PROn labor reform and job creation options

Puerto Rico desperately needs new sources of jobs, but the labor reform proposed by the Puerto Rico Federal Oversight and Management Board (FOMB) has not been convincing. By requesting an end to long-standing employee benefits, like Law 80, FOMB intended to align the local labor market with that of the US and allegedly remove what is seen as an impediment for higher labor participation, job creation, and economic recovery, in general. However, the proposed labor reform set forth by FOMB seems to draw a lot from the Bible of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) but misses critical points of the very particular economy of Puerto Rico. In fact, we could wind up in a worse situation. This issue of Pulse analyzes some myths regarding Puerto Rico’s labor market and suggests better alternatives to incentivize jobs in the Island’s labor market.

05/2018: Is Employment At Will A Solution?

Labor LawAnalysis of proposed changes to labor laws in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is currently debating amendments to labor laws intended to improve competitiveness, attract investment, create new jobs, and halt migration, among other things. House Bill 1634 and Senate Bill 1011 – address the repeal of Law 80, which, among other things, provides a severance formula for computing the amount an employer must pay when a regular employee is dismissed without just cause. Although the Government is clear this “…will not create the jobs Puerto Rico needs, it justifies its support to repeal the law because “.it was necessary to reach an agreement with the Financial Oversight & Management Board (FOMB) and avoid eliminating the Christmas bonus for all workers, public and private, and the seven-day reduction to vacation and sick leave for private employees.” The Board argues repeal of Law 80 will contribute 1% to PR’s GNP. Senate Bill 919 aims to legislate the Labor Reform Law of 2018. Find out if the arguments for these bills are reasonable and documented.

04/2018: A New Privatization Model for PREPA

Competition can support Puerto Rico’s future

PrivatizationThe aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria essentially sealed PR Electric Power Authority’s (PREPA) fate, at least in its current legal form. The magnitude of the physical destruction experienced both by its generation capacity and its distribution networks renewed historical calls for its privatization. That possibility now seems irreversible, particularly given the Fiscal Oversight Board’s (FOB) drive to impose austerity across the public sector and the government’s market-friendliness inclination. However, not all privatization processes are the same and, by extension, not all lead to the same outcome. This issue of Pulse presents a novel approach to privatization—one based on the controlled introduction of competition in regional markets. The approach described herein has been successfully applied elsewhere. More importantly, it is designed to align electricity generation with PR’s changing socioeconomic landscape at zero cost to the government, consumers and businesses. Sometimes, privatization does work.