Jun 06, 2011 6:25 PM GMT
The outspoken municipal bond bear follows up with more evidence that the fiscal troubles in many states are far greater than we've been told.
FORTUNE -- Meredith Whitney is issuing a fresh warning to mutual funds, banks, and politicians: The state of state finances is far worse than you think, or at least than what you've been willing to tell the investors and taxpayers who will eventually carry the burden. In a new report released today to her clients, Whitney summons what appears to be the most comprehensive set of data ever assembled on state budgets and debt.
Her conclusion is that the future deficits that need to be closed either by new taxes or draconian cuts in social services are far bigger than the official numbers show, and that debt levels, when all liabilities are counted, vastly exceed the official estimates.
Late last year on 60 Minutes, Whitney predicted hundreds of billions in defaults on municipal bonds in the next five years. That controversial call was widely condemned, especially on Wall Street, where the muni market is an enormous profit spinner.
Now, Whitney tells Fortune she never meant to make more than a general forecast. "I never intended on framing the scale of defaults as a precise estimate, but I continue to believe that degree of municipal defaults will be borne out over the cycle. I meant to point out that the state debt problem is a massive headwind for the U.S. economy, second in importance only to housing."
Whether you agree with it or not -- and she's still getting little support from rating agencies or anywhere else -- the numbers she's assembled, and the risks they pose, are daunting.
Whitney's latest report is even more thorough than last year's analysis that started the uproar. It covers 25 of the largest states, adding ten new ones to the list, including Arizona, Nevada, Connecticut, and Wisconsin. The problem starts with spending. Since 2003, state governments have raised annual outlays from $1.5 trillion to almost $2.2 trillion, or $700 billion, yet tax receipts have risen only $400 billion or $300 billion less, to $1.4 trillion. In fact, spending kept surging all during the recession, while income from sales, income and corporate taxes went totally flat in 2007.