The name is Bond. Municipal Bond.
Giving credit where credit is due.
Cranberry deserves some credit – particularly at a time when most people’s credit scores have gone down the tubes.
Individual mortgage holders and borrowers are generally eager to refinance their loans any time interest rates go down. Cranberry Township is no different, except that in place of a mortgage, it pays debt service on bonds sold to investors so it could finance capital projects such as the sewage treatment plant expansion and the Cranberry Highlands Golf Course.
Unlike consumers who borrow, however, the township can’t just jump into the market whenever it senses a potential saving. The bonds it issues can be refinanced only at certain fixed intervals.
So when bonds that the township sold five and 10 years ago became eligible for redemption this month, officials seized the opportunity to cash in on historically low interest rates.
Of course, not everyone qualifies for those rates. In fact, the credit scores for thousands of local governments, authorities, hospitals and school districts around the country have been downgraded lately by one or more of the three major rating agencies: Fitch, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s.
Even federal treasury notes – the gold standard of financial securities – were recently dinged by S&P.
For example, the city of Pittsburgh now has a BBB rating, which reflects a significant risk of default and a correspondingly high-risk premium in its interest rates. Nationally, the municipal average is Baa.
For local governments, as for many individuals, credit scores have gone down the drain. But Cranberry is not an average community, and prior to re-entering the bond market, it had its credit worthiness reassessed.
The result? An affirmation of its already high Aa2 investment-grade rating.
Last week, that score was put to the test. According to PNC Capital Markets, the township’s bond guru, institutional investors of every sort jumped at the chance to buy Cranberry’s bonds at interest rates that were even lower than projected.
As a result, the sale, which refinanced almost $30 million, realized an upfront savings of $3.4 million. Instead of saving 2 percent in interest payments – which had been the township’s historic practice – the refinancing netted a whopping 10.38 percent savings.
So to capitalize even more on its great market timing, the township floated an additional $10 million in bonds to pay for projects currently in the pipeline for the next three years.
They include a new public safety training facility, a new home for the Cranberry EMS, a second trunk line for the sanitary sewer system, and a new 16-inch water line along Executive Drive. All of them will be paid for at all-time low financing rates.
The key, according to Cranberry’s PNC adviser, is keeping the township’s credit rating where it should be. That’s what gives investors the confidence to invest their money in Cranberry’s future.