Puerto Rico’s debt crisis re-emerged with a bang on Wall Street Wednesday.
Shares of bond insurers tumbled and the price of a tranche of the island’s bonds sank to levels equal to those in Venezuela after U.S. President Donald Trump suggested the debt may need to be “wiped clean," while bonds issued by the U.S. Virgin Islands also came under pressure.
MBIA Inc., Assured Guaranty and Ambac Financial Group — bond insurers with exposure to the U.S. territory — were likewise hit, though they pared losses after Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said not to take the president’s remarks "word for word."
Isaac Boltansky and Lukas Davaz, analysts at Compass Point Research & Trading LLC, suggested investors should take Trump’s remarks "seriously, but not literally," echoing remarks made by billionaire investor Peter Thiel during the presidential campaign.
"Our sense is that President Trump’s comments were meant to empathize and possibly catalyze, but we do not believe his statements represent an actual threat to extrajudicially wipe out bondholders," they added.
While that may be the case, they’re helping to weigh on the prices of bonds from the Virgin Islands, the other U.S. territory in the Caribbean devastated by hurricanes.
Analysts at BTIG also questioned Trump’s capacity to affect Puerto Rico’s debt restructuring, and advised clients to buy the dip in the bond insurers. Any aid provided by the administration and Congress in the wake of the catastrophe could prove a boon to Puerto Rico’s creditors, they added.