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Report: Hawaii unfunded pension liability a risk to investors

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Investors who buy bonds issued by the state of Hawaii are not being compensated adequately given the risk presented by the state’s high unfunded pension liability and debt load, according to analysis by Barron’s, a weekly financial newspaper.

 Hawaii’s unfunded pension liability combined with government debt add up to 16.1 percent of the state’s gross domestic product, the 48th highest ratio of all states, according to the report. The Barron’s analysis was based on the newspaper’s own data and information from Eaton Vance, a municipal bond fund manager. The top-rated state, South Dakota, has a pension liability and debt ratio equal to just 1 percent of GDP.

Normally, bonds issued by states with weaker fiscal positions carry higher yields to compensate investors for the additional risk. In this case, however, the opposite is true. Hawaii 10-year bonds are yielding 20 basis points above comparable Treasury securities, while the yield on South Dakota bonds is 28 basis points higher. A basis point is one-hundredth of a percentage point.

“For municipal bond investors, it all boils down to this: The risk of investing in the debt of some of the country’s least financially sound states, compared with the most sound, is not always reflected in the price of their bonds,” according to the Barron’s report.

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