Thursday, November 6, 2008

Europe’s Toxic Debt Imperils Wisconsin School District’s Finances

According to Anne Szustek, the Whitefish Bay School Board is now filing a lawsuit alleging misrepresentation against Royal Bank of Canada and Stifel Nicolaus, the companies that sold them Synthetic CDOs.

David W. Noack, an investment banker who had been giving guidance to school boards in Wisconsin for some 20 years, suggested that the Whitefish Bay school board should buy into a series of European investments that he said could only mean steep returns.

The Whitefish Bay School District and four other local school systems spent $35 million and borrowed an additional $165 million from Irish bank Depfa to buy up synthetic collateralized debt obligations, or synthetic CDOs. Synthetic CDOs are a form of insurance that guarantees corporate bonds. Should a company default on its debt, the synthetic CDO steps in to cover that loss.

The only way it would fail? “There would need to be 15 Enrons,” Noack said. It turns out that $200 million of the districts’ pooled funds were used to back $20 billion in corporate bonds. The synthetic CDOs turned out to have been toxic, and the money the Whitefish Bay School District put up is now going toward covering that debt.

Both companies being sued maintain that the school board signed documents knowing what it was getting into. Click here for full article.