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Puerto Rico Blues

Sunny Puerto Rico hits the skids. Its debt goes to junk level. Puerto Rico’s in trouble. We’ll go south to ask why.

A demonstrator wearing a Guy Fawkes mask joins a teacher's protest outside the Department of Labor in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014. Striking school teachers are gathering in Puerto Rico's capital to talk with government officials about recent changes to their retirement system as part of a two-day walkout. (AP)

A demonstrator wearing a Guy Fawkes mask joins a teacher’s protest outside the Department of Labor in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014. Striking school teachers are gathering in Puerto Rico’s capital to talk with government officials about recent changes to their retirement system as part of a two-day walkout. (AP)

Sunny Puerto Rico is in trouble.  Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory.  Puerto Ricans are American citizens.  From its beaches and pool bars, Puerto Rico looks great.  But stroll into real Puerto Rico and this American territory in the Caribbean is a mess.  Schools, roads falling apart.  Business way down.  Crime, bad.  Drug trade bad.  Last week, Puerto Rico’s enormous debt was downgraded to junk status.  Puerto Ricans can easily leave for the US mainland, and they are – in greater numbers than any time since the 1950s. This hour On Point:  Puerto Rico blues.  We go to Puerto Rico.

— Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Dan Rosenheck, professional services correspondent and sports editor at The Economist.

Carlos Colon de Armas, professor of finance and acting dean at the University of Puerto Rico’s Graduate School of Business.

Orlando Sotomayor, professor of economics at the University of Puerto Rico.

From Tom’s Reading List

New York Times: Economy and Crime Spur New Puerto Rican Exodus — “Puerto Rico’s slow-motion economic crisis skidded to a new low last week when both Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s downgraded its debt to junk status, brushing aside a series of austerity measures taken by the new governor, including increasing taxes and rebalancing pensions. But that is only the latest in a sharp decline leading to widespread fears about Puerto Rico’s future. In the past eight years, Puerto Rico’s ticker tape of woes has stretched unabated: $70 billion in debt, a 15.4 percent unemployment rate, a soaring cost of living, pervasive crime, crumbling schools and a worrisome exodus of professionals and middle-class Puerto Ricans who have moved to places like Florida and Texas.”

 The Economist: Buying on credit is so nice — “The macroeconomic situation in Puerto Rico is strikingly similar to that of Greece in 2010. It uses an expensive currency it cannot control. Its citizens eagerly dodge paying taxes to a bloated public sector. And its officials protest too much that default is unthinkable. However, there have been no riots or calls for a change of government.”

The Wall Street Journal: Puerto Rico Seeking $2 Billion Debt Offering –“Puerto Rico has said it doesn’t need to borrow before its fiscal year ends in June. But it wants to show investors it can still borrow money in the public bond market despite a sharp rise in yields on its bonds, 15% unemployment and $70 billion in outstanding debt, officials have said.”

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