LOS ANGELES - Several of the discretionary depositors in the San Diego County, Calif., investment pool will decide this week whether to abandon the sagging fund following the disclosure of a $357 million decline in value.
About 30 special districts in the $3.0 billion fund will confer today to elect representatives and develop a consensus before a schedule meeting tomorrow with county treasurer-tax collector Paul Boland, who has asked all 150 depositors to remain in the pool or risk a "run on the bank."
The meeting with Boland will include representatives of cities, water districts, and other discretionary depositors that are nervous about the fund's losses in light of Orange County, Calif.'s ongoing bankruptcy crisis.
"As long as Orange County continues to whip things up, you never know what's going to happen," said Robert Powell, finance director of Chula Vista, Calif.
The San Diego suburb is one of two depositors in tile county that have publicly asked to withdraw all of their money from the fund. The city wants to take out its $14.5 million, while the Padre Dam Municipal Water District would like to eventually withdraw all of its $10 million. In the meantime, the district will continue making deposits.
Chula Vista requested its withdrawal in late November, just days before Orange County's dramatic announcement of a multibillion-dollar loss on its highly leveraged portfolio, Powell said.
The city wanted to move its money into a higher yielding investment, as the San Diego County fund's annual return dropped from 5.8% to 4%, Powell said. But since the Orange County disaster, he said, San Diego County officials have resisted his request.
Powell said he was told that Chula Vista would have to take a loss on its investment equivalent to the 10.7% decline in value that has hit the San Diego County fund.
So far, the loss is just on paper. But in a meeting Friday, the San Diego County treasurer asked a group of local finance directors to stay with the fund or risk a liquidation that would cause the losses to be realized.
Not only must they leave their money in the fund, Boland said, but they also must continue making deposits.
"If you continue normal withdrawals with no deposits, that is creating, in essence, a run on the bank," said Boland, according to a report in the San Diego Union-tribune.
The newspaper likened his plea to that of Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey character in the classic film "It's a Wonderful Life." Boland asked the local governments to remove only the funds they absolutely needed to continue operations.
The treasurer said San Diego County's troubles are not comparable to those in Orange County, which filed for bankruptcy Dec. 6, and has since disclosed a $2 billion loss on its $7.8 billion portfolio.
San Diego County chief administrative officer David Janssen on Friday denied rumors that the county would follow its northern neighbor into bankruptcy.
The rumors are doing "tremendous damage to our credibility in the financial community," Janssen told the Union-Tribune. "It's outrageous to say that San Diego is going to follow Orange County. There is no similarity."
Neither Janssen nor Boland could be reached for comment yesterday.
Standard & Poor's Corp. said late Friday that it will not lower San Diego County's credit rating, despite the loss.
The credit rating agency said it believes county officials will be able to hold most of their investments to maturity, and therefore avoid taking a crippling loss similar to Orange County's.
The agency said it will continue to monitor the fund's performance and ability to meet the scheduled cash flow needs of its participants.
The pool holds money from the county, school districts, water districts, many San Diego-area cities, and the county regional transportation commission.
Except for a $22 million reverse repurchase purchase agreement due today, the pool is not leveraged and will not be subject to collateral calls, Standard & Poor's said.
San Diego County officials are attributing the loss to the use of risky investments called inverse floaters, which plummeted in value this year when interest rates soared.
County officials reported that, as of Dec. 5, "the market value of the portfolio was as follows" $736 million in structured notes and derivatives, $852, million in U.S. Treasuries and agencies, $631 million in trusts, $293 million in medium-term notes, $125 million in repurchase agreements, and $232 million in mutual funds, certificates of deposit, and commercial paper - for a total of $2.979 billion.
An official with the Padre Dam Municipal Water District - the other county entity seeking its money back - said yesterday that the district would continue to make deposits.
We have reviewed the cash flows to some degree, and it's our feeling that the underlying investments are solid and that it's just a matter of having a drop in yield here for a couple of years, said Andy Lovsted, the water district's finance director.
Lovsted said he looks forward to hearing the county treasurer's expected recommendations to improve the fund's disclosure and oversight procedures. Boland is supposed to outline the new rules at tomorrow's meeting.
"There's a lesson to be learned from this," Lovsted said, "and we'll learn it and move on."
Reports could not be substantiated ed yesterday that a run on San Diego County's investment pool might jeopardize plans for holding the 1996 Republican National Convention in San Diego.
A spokesman for the Republican National Committee in Washington said he had not heard about the county's dilemma, and that he doubted it would affect the committee's decision last week to hold the convention in San Diego.