Standard & Poor's Corp. Friday put 22 collateralized municipal issues totaling $105 million on CreditWatch with negative implications, saying the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s silence on receivership procedures is creating doubts about the bonds' credit quality.
The deals all have collateralized letters of credit provided by FDIC-insured institutions. If any of the banks were to become insolvent, Standard & Poor's officials said, FDIC's handling of the collateralized assets would have a direct bearing on the bonds. But FDIC has not said how it would proceed.
"We have questions about what would happen in the insolvency of the banks, about the ability to reach the collateral," said Joanne Rose, general counsel at Standard & Poor's.
On July 31, FDIC published a policy statement on the actions it would take during receiverships. The statement did not address how the pledged collateral would be treated, so Standard & Poor's has to admit the possibility that these deals will be downgraded to the banks' respective unsecured certificate of deposit ratings, Ms. Rose said.
The ratings warning is clear evidence that the nation's recession is adversely affecting all aspects of the tax-exempt market, agency officials said. Bonds backed by collateralized letters of credit are considered among the safest possible investments, yet even these are at risk.
"Nothing is bulletproof" in this recession, said Nancy Olson, vice president in Standard & Poor's structured finance department.
Nineteen of the bonds are rated AAA on the strength of ironclad enhancements -- bank guarantees backed by a pool of investments with liquidation values that meet or exceed the value of the bonds themselves.
Only three of the issues have "public" underlying ratings, or those assigned after a formal review and exchange of confidential information. The rest have "qualified" ratings, which are based solely on publicly available information. Underlying ratings range all the way down to BBB-minus.
The issues will be downgraded unless FDIC takes a position on the securities within a "reasonable amount of time," Ms. Olson said, but she declined to be more specific due to the possibility of positive action from FDIC.
Two banks on the CreditWatch list -- Goldome Bank and Maine Savings Bank -- already have been taken over by Resolution Trust Corp. The issues backed by the banks were not accelerated when the banks became insolvent, leaving that decision up to FDIC.
"It's a situation that not many trustees have had to go through," said Ms. Olson. "They should have done something," such as liquidate the collateral and pay off the bonds, she said, "but this is the first time around."
The other banks affected are not insolvent, but the worst-case scenario of an insolvency casts a shadow over the triple-A ratings, Ms. Rose added.
The 22 deals are the only such issues backed by FDIC-insured banks and rated by Standard & Poor's. The vast majority of all collateralized letter of credit bonds were enhanced by institutions guaranteed by the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Co. After that agency was closed and rolled into the Office of Thrift Supervision, Resolution Trust -- the conserving arm -- stated that the collateralized letter of credit obligations would be honored, allowing bondholders to breathe easier.
The FDIC policy statement last month did address the future treatment of puttable tax-exempt unit investment trusts relying on pledged collateral. Consequently, Standard & Poor's affirmed the ratings on 13 unit trusts, with all but one rated AAA.
Ms. Rose said the statement clearly committed the conservator to the UIT's responsibilities. For UIT deals sold prior to the closing of FSLIC, FDIC would, "within 180 days of the insolvency, decide whether to accelerate the put option -- paying off the shares in full -- or keep the trusts fully collateralized," she said. "There's acceleration risk for bondholders, but a least they'll get paid in full."
Following are the issues put on CreditWatch:
* Albany, N.Y., revenue bonds Series 1985A, $3 million.
* Albany Industrial Revenue Agency, industrial revenue bonds Series 1988A, $8.5 million.
* Amherst, N.Y., Industrial Development Agency, industrial revenue bonds Series 1986, $2.5 million.
* Amherst, N.Y., Industrial Development Agency, variable-rate industrial revenue bonds Series 1984, $7.85 million.
* Atlanta, Ga., Housing Authority, revenue bonds Series 1983A, $4.3 million
* Broome County, N.Y., Industrial Development Agency, industrial revenue bonds Series 1986, $1.07 million.
* Broome County, N.Y., Industrial Development Agency, industrial revenue bonds Series, $2.42 million.
* Broome County, N.Y., Industrial Development Agency, industrial revenue bonds Series 1986, $2.62 million.
* Burnsville, Minn., multifamily housing revenue bonds, Series 1989, $16.58 million.
* DeKalb County, Ga., Housing Authority, multifamily housing revenue bonds, Series 1984B, $10.2 million.
* Monroe County, N.Y., Industrial Development Agency, industrial revenue bonds, Series 1986B, $1 million.
* Monroe County, N.Y., Industrial Development Agency, 7 1/8% industrial revenue bonds, Series 1986 A and B, $7.5 million.
* New York State Housing Finance Agency, 7% multifamily housing revenue bonds, Series 1986A, $4.3 million.
* Oklahoma County, Okla., Home Financing Authority, multifamily housing revenue bonds, Series 1985, $5.9 million.
* Oswego County, N.Y., Industrial Development Agency, industrial revenue bonds, Series 1986A, $2.8 million.
* Portland, Me., 9% revenue obligation secured bonds Series 1983, $5.1 million.
* Telford, Pa., Industrial Development Authority, industrial revenue bonds, Series 1987A, $4 million.
* Vermont Education and Health Building Finance Agency, revenue bonds Series 1985A, $875,000.
* Vermont Industrial Development Authority, industrial revenue bonds, Series 1986A, $750,000.
* Vermont Industrial Development Authority, industrial revenue bonds, Series 1085A, $3.8 million.
* Vermont Industrial Development Authority, industrial revenue bonds, Series 1986A, $5 million.
* Williamsburg, Va., Industrial Development Authority, industrial revenue bonds, Series 1982B, $5 million.