TEXT - Fitch rates New York City's GOs 'AA'

Fri Feb 22, 2013 3:50pm EST

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Feb 22 - Fitch Ratings assigns an 'AA' rating to the following New York City
general obligation (GO) bonds:

--Approximately $850,000,000 GO bonds, fiscal 2013 series F, consisting of:
--Approximately $500,000,000 tax-exempt bonds, subseries F-1;
--Approximately $100,000,000 taxable bonds, subseries F-2;
--Approximately $20,000,000 tax-exempt bonds, series G;
--Approximately $230,000,000 tax-exempt bonds, series H.

In addition, Fitch affirms its 'AA' rating on the city's $41 billion in 
outstanding GO bonds including the following subseries of bonds converting modes
as described below. 

Converting from variable rate to fixed rate:
--Approximately $12,500,000, 1995 subseries B-5;
--Approximately $21,000,000, 1995 subseries B-7;
--Approximately $70,220,000, 2004 subseries H-6 and H-8.

Converting from variable rate to index rate:
--Approximately $100,000,000 subseries J-4;
--Approximately $74,060,000 subseries J-7;
--Approximately $74,060,000 subseries J-8.

The Rating Outlook is Stable. 

The 2013 bonds are expected to be sold via negotiation on Feb. 25.  Concurrently
with the sale, the city will convert the above-named bonds. 

SECURITY

The bonds are general obligations of the city secured by a pledge of the city's 
full faith and credit and the levy by the city of ad valorem taxes, without 
limit as to rate or amount, on all real property within the city subject to 
taxation. The city is not subject to New York State's property tax cap.

KEY RATING DRIVERS

HIGHLY EFFECTIVE BUDGET MANAGEMENT: The city's sound approach to budget 
development features conservative revenue and expenditure forecasting and 
effective budget monitoring. Management is thus able to react quickly to 
changing conditions through periods of economic stress, constrained state aid, 
and rising spending pressures.

CONSISTENT RESOLUTION TO OUT-YEAR GAPS: Fitch expects the city's long history of
effectively eliminating annual budget deficits to continue. Currently forecasted
gaps are well within historical norms, but notable risks to the forecast 
continue given the number and magnitude of variables involved.

SOLID ECONOMIC UNDERPINNINGS: The city has a broad economic base and serves a 
unique role as a national and international center for commerce, culture, and 
tourism. Recession-related job declines have been well under comparable national
averages although the unemployment rate remains elevated. Income levels are 
high.

REVENUE CYCLICALITY: Economically sensitive revenues, including personal income,
business, and sales tax, comprise a major share of the city's budget and are 
highly vulnerable to variability in the financial services industry.

HIGH DEBT LEVELS: Fitch anticipates a continued high debt burden given the 
city's significant capital commitments and future tax-supported issuance plans. 
Post-employment liabilities are also sizable.

RATING SENSITIVITIES

BUDGET GAPS: An inability to close current year budget gaps with mostly 
recurring measures, or notable growth in the magnitude of out-year imbalances, 
could lead to negative rating action. 

LONG-TERM LIABILITIES: A change in the city's long-term liability profile could 
affect the rating.  Given the above average burden of debt and post-employment 
benefits, Fitch believes positive rating movement is unlikely in the near to 
medium term.

CREDIT PROFILE

EXPECTATION FOR CONTINUED BUDGET BALANCE

The preliminary budget for fiscal 2014 (released in January 2013) totals $70.1 
billion, slightly below the revised estimate for fiscal 2013 spending. The drop 
is due largely to a decline in categorical federal grants.  Fiscal 2013 revenue 
and spending are now each forecast to be about 2% higher than in the November 
2012 forecast. The out-year revenue forecast (fiscal 2014-2016) remains similar 
to the November presentation, with expenses down slightly, yielding somewhat 
reduced out-year gaps. 

Fitch views positively the city's tight monitoring and control of revenues and 
expenses, including monthly reporting and three full budget updates annually. 
Fiscal year-end results generally show modest variation from budget.  

The city's inability to carry a fund balance somewhat limits financial 
flexibility. Management has offset this constraint by using operating surpluses 
to prepay debt service and other expenses in subsequent years. Prior to the 
economic downturn, with several consecutive years of operating surpluses the 
city had accumulated a surplus of $8 billion to roll forward. Since fiscal 2009,
however, annual operating deficits have eroded the amounts available for future 
years' budgets.    

Fitch believes the size of the recent operating deficits is manageable (1%-2% of
spending) but would view negatively the elimination of this cushion. The current
forecast assumes fiscal 2013 will end with a $1.3 billion operating deficit 
(1.9% of spending), which will be funded with a portion of the $2.4 billion in 
surplus rolled forward from fiscal 2012. The remaining $1.1 billion will be 
carried into, and spent in, fiscal2014. 

Consistent with most recent fiscal years, Fitch believes that this is a somewhat
conservative forecast.  For example, the fiscal 2012 preliminary budget assumed 
the accumulated surplus would be depleted by the end of that fiscal year. Fitch 
expects the city to eliminate if not reverse the annual deficits and retain a 
modicum of accumulated surplus.

DOWNWARD TREND IN OUT-YEAR GAPS 

Somewhat offsetting Fitch's concern about recurring operating deficits is the 
moderating trend in projected gaps in the out-years of the financial plan. The 
fiscal 2012 preliminary plan showed gaps of $4.8 billion-$5 billion, or 6%-7% of
the budget, in each of the out-years of the plan (fiscal 2013-2015).  The 
just-released preliminary fiscal 2014 plan shows gaps of $1.9 billion-$2.4 
billion or 2%-3% (fiscal 2015-2017). 

The improvement in out-year gaps is a result both of a modestly increased 
revenue forecast and the city's continual efforts to control spending and 
enhance revenue through its programs to eliminate the gap (PEGs). Since 2008, 
these programs have resulted in gap reduction of $6.3 billion in fiscal 2013 and
$6.6 billion in fiscal 2014. The most recent PEG, first announced in November 
2012, reduces the fiscal 2013 and 2014 gaps by $540 million and $1 billion, 
respectively.  

The program calls for headcount reductions of 706 in fiscal 2013 and 1,338 in 
fiscal 2014, nearly all through attrition. The reductions are modest relative to
the city's overall headcount of more than 255,000. In addition to headcount 
reductions, a moderate amount of the PEG represents revenue assumptions or cost 
savings that are not within the city's control and therefore uncertain. However,
Fitch anticipates that savings not realized in the items presented will be 
replaced with other reductions or revenue enhancements, and that those actions 
will largely be of a recurring nature.

HIGHLY DETAILED ESTIMATES OF DIVERSE REVENUE MIX; RISKS REMAIN

Fitch believes that the city's revenue estimates, based on a highly detailed and
frequently-reviewed analysis, are reasonable. The city benefits from a diversity
of revenue sources. The property tax is the largest source, at 26% of forecasted
fiscal 2013 funds, followed by personal income tax at 12% and sales tax at 9%. 
Intergovernmental sources are primarily for education and social services 
programs, and make up 28% of forecasted fiscal 2013 revenue. Combined taxes make
up 63% of total revenue.

In addition to tax forecast variations, areas of revenue risk include proceeds 
from the sale of taxi medallions, which total $1.5 billion over the plan period;
$1.7 billion in state and federal aid related to agreement on a teacher 
evaluation plan, reimbursements for Hurricane Sandy-related costs; state revenue
shortfalls that could result in reduced aid to municipalities including New York
City; and federal actions that could result in reduced funding to the city. 

 

Management estimates the gross cost to public sector facilities from Hurricane 
Sandy to be $4.5 billion, of which $1.4 billion will come from the operating 
budget and the rest from bond proceeds. The entire amount is assumed to be 
eligible for reimbursement, primarily from the federal government. The estimate 
does not include the cost of enhancements for future damage mitigation. 

MODERATE USE OF NON-RECURRING MEASURES

 

A limited amount of one-time resources help compensate for the decline in the 
forecasted operating surplus available at year-end to pre-pay expenses. The 
fiscal 2014 preliminary budget includes $600 million from the sale of taxi 
medallions. This amount is in question given a state court ruling that the 
legislation authorizing the sale of additional medallions was unconstitutional. 
The city has filed an appeal and assumes the matter will be resolved in its 
favor in fiscal 2014. The financial plan includes $860 million in additional 
funds from new taxi medallions through fiscal 2017. 

Another non-recurring resource in fiscal 2013 is the transfer of $1 billion from
a trust established for retiree healthcare costs. The trust has a current 
balance of approximately $2 billion following transfers out of $395 million in 
fiscal 2011 and $672 million in fiscal 2012 to help cover the cost of annual 
retiree benefits. The city plans to transfer the remaining $1 billion in fiscal 
2014. 

LONGER-TERM SPENDING PRESSURES

The budget includes neither retroactive payments for most expired labor 
contracts not yet settled nor salary increases for fiscal 2013. A modest reserve
for collective bargaining assumes increases of 1.25% per year thereafter. Fitch 
believes the resolution of expired contracts, which appears unlikely in the 
current fiscal year, might result in spending pressures going forward.

Debt service will consume $6 billion or 8.4% of the revised fiscal 2013 budget. 
Debt service is forecast to increase to $7.7 billion or 9.8% of total spending 
by fiscal 2017. Fitch recognizes the city's conservative budgeting of debt 
service expense and views positively the city'sability to achieve sizable 
interest rate savings from debt refinancing over the last several years. 

Fitch does not view the possible reduction in the subsidy for federal tax credit
bonds such as Build America Bonds as a risk for the city.  The city estimates 
its exposure at $11.5 million which would be spread between fiscal 2013 and 
2014.

A more notable concern is the cost of pension and other employee benefits which 
total $8.1 billion and $8.5 billion, respectively, in the current fiscal 2013 
budget. The rapid escalation in pension costs (from $1.5 billion in fiscal 2002)
is projected to moderate through fiscal 2017 despite changes in actuarial 
assumptions including a drop in the expected investment return rate to 7% from 
8% and actual investment returns for fiscal 2012 of only 1.4%. 

During this period employee benefits are projected to continue to rise an 
additional $2.3 billion. About $2.1 billion of the fiscal 2013 employee benefit 
costs are for other post-employment benefits (OPEB). Fiscal 2013 pension and 
OPEB costs consume 14.6% of total funds. Adding debt service, carrying costs 
rise to 23% of spending, which Fitch considers to be on the high end of the 
moderate range. 

The city's ability to achieve pension reform or to negotiate pensions with 
organized labor is dependent on state legislation. The state legislature has 
passed pension reform that introduces a new tier for new employees featuring a 
higher retirement age and increased worker contributions among other changes. 
The new tier will not yield immediate savings but would provide much needed 
long-term relief estimated by the city at approximately $21 billion over the 
next 30 years.

ELEVATED DEBT WITH MANAGEABLE VARIABLE-RATE EXPOSURE 

Debt metrics remain high. Fitch-calculated net tax-supported debt including 
Transitional Finance Authority (TFA) future tax secured bonds equals 
approximately $8,026 per capita, and 8.1% of the five-year average of full 
value. The city's capital commitments are extensive, totaling $36 billion 
through fiscal 2016, including $7.8 billion for self-supporting water and sewer 
projects and $9 billion for education. 

Tax-supported issuance plans during fiscal 2013-2017 include $11.2 billion of 
city GOs and $13.4 billion of TFA future tax secured bonds. Forecasted debt 
issuance is similar to the amount of outstanding principal scheduled to amortize
during the same period.

The city and related issuers have approximately $11.1 billion in outstanding 
variable-rate debt or 16% of tax-supported debt. Fitch considers this exposure 
to be manageable given the hedge provided by the city's substantial short-term 
assets and the city's sophisticated management, diversity of liquidity 
providers, and strong demonstrated access to the capital markets.

ECONOMY HAS INHERENT STRENGTHS BUT IS NOT WITHOUT CHALLENGES

Fitch considers the city's unique economic profile, which centers on its 
singular identity as an international center for numerous industries and major 
tourist destination, to be a credit strength. The character of the New York City
economy has contributed to its relative employment stability during the 
recession and ability to regain by March 2012 the number of private sector jobs 
that existed prior to the recession. The city's tourism sector is performing 
exceptionally well. The city attracted a record 52 million visitors in 2012, the
third record year in a row. 

The city's economic profile also benefits from its strong wealth, with per 
capita income 133% of the national average. However, the well above-average 
individual poverty rate of 20.1% in 2011, compared to 15.2% for the U.S., 
indicates significant income disparity.

The city's economy (and operating budget) is strongly linked to the financial 
sector, which accounts for approximately 12% of total employment but 30% of 
earnings. Financial activities employment rose only 0.7% in 2012. The 
high-earning securities and commodities component of the sector showed similar 
trends in 2012 after adding roughly 500 jobs or 0.3%. 

Tightening financial reforms and regulation, reduced bank profits, evidence of a
shift in bonus and compensation practices away from cash, uncertain economic 
recovery, and concerns in Europe are among several factors that figure to weigh 
on financial sector prospects over the near-to-intermediate term.

The city's overall employment base shows consistent year-over-year improvement 
in 2012. The estimated average unemployment rate of 9.5% for 2012 is equal to 
the 2010 rate but above the 9% rate posted in 2011. The December 2012 rate of 
8.8% is equal to the December 2011 rate and remained above the state (8.2%) and 
federal (7.6%) rates. At 0.9%, year-over-year resident employment growth was 
slightly above the state's but well below the nation's. 

The city anticipates a 1.9% increase in the average wage rate in fiscal 2013, 
and a slight decline in securities sector bonus payouts, resulting in flat 
personal income tax revenue. The city assumes continued strong visitor-related 
spending andmoderate economic growth will yield sales tax growth of 4.5% in 
fiscal 2014.  This growth rate recognizes the temporary slow-down in spending 
following hurricane Sandy.

The market value of real estate grew by 4.3% based on the tentative roll.  
Despite recent weakness in the commercial market, growth is driven by office and
commercial properties (class 4) and to a lesser extent multi-family homes (class
2). The city anticipates a moderate adjustment in the final roll for damage 
related to hurricane Sandy, and expects market value to grow moderately in the 
out-years.

Residential real estate continues to struggle. The most recent release of the 
S&P/Case-Shiller Index of home prices indicates that New York's performance 
remains among the weakest of the 20 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) in its
survey. It was the only MSA to post an annual decline in November 2012. Given a 
dearth of single family homes, the S&P/Case-Shiller condo index may be a better 
indication of trends within the city.  This index shows a 7.3% year-over-year 
increase in condo prices in November 2012.
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