Municipal Bond Market Strains Amid Federal Aid Decline

Municipal Bond Market Strains Amid Federal Aid Decline

Alessia Rossi
3 min read

Municipal Bond Market Strains Amid Federal Aid Decline

The $4 trillion municipal bond market is showing signs of strain as federal pandemic aid decreases, leading to slower revenue growth. States like California are experiencing declines in tax and fee collections, impacting the market. Rainy day funds, bolstered by strong economies and U.S. stimulus money, are expected to dwindle as fiscal 2025 approaches. Lisa Washburn of Municipal Market Analytics predicts a drawdown and softer revenue growth for the fiscal year. While essential services like water and electric utilities remain stable, sectors such as higher education and healthcare are preparing for downgrades. The airport sector shows resilience, but Peter Block of Ramirez & Co. warns that stability may vary, especially for lower-rated issuers if a recession occurs.

In 2023, credit rating upgrades outpaced downgrades by nearly fourfold, but a normalization is expected in 2024, with a projected three-to-two ratio. Nick Kraemer from S&P Global Ratings notes a deceleration in upgrade pace, with local governments facing the highest number of downgrades yet maintaining a two-to-one upgrade ratio. S&P reports net downgrades in utilities, education, and healthcare. Arlene Bohner from Fitch Ratings suggests reduced inflation could benefit not-for-profit hospitals and higher education, while rising costs could negatively impact ratings. Susan Fitzgerald of Moody’s Ratings foresees a potential decline in the upgrade ratio as U.S. aid decreases and states face budget constraints. Despite these challenges, Nathan Will of Vanguard Fixed Income Group believes most issuers are equipped to handle an economic downturn. Meanwhile, the $800 billion private credit market is under scrutiny for valuation discrepancies, with SEC's Gary Gensler warning of risks similar to those in the 1998 Long-Term Capital Management crisis.

Key Takeaways

  • Federal pandemic aid reduction strains municipal bond market, slowing revenue growth and depleting reserve funds.
  • Higher education and healthcare sectors anticipate downgrades, contrasting with stable essential services like water and electric utilities.
  • Credit rating upgrades projected to normalize in 2024, with an estimated three-to-two upgrade ratio and a moderated pace.
  • Scrutiny of the private credit market intensifies, reflecting divergent valuations in non-traded loans and posing risks for investors.
  • Despite challenges, a majority of issuers are expected to weather economic downturns, though upgrade trends are likely to decelerate as pandemic aid diminishes.


The waning federal pandemic aid is straining the $4 trillion municipal bond market, exacerbating revenue declines and depleting reserve funds. This shift particularly impacts higher education and healthcare sectors, which confront potential downgrades, unlike their stable essential service counterparts. The credit rating landscape is expected to normalize, with upgrades tapering to a three-to-two ratio in 2024. Meanwhile, the $800 billion private credit market faces scrutiny due to divergent loan valuations, posing substantial risks. Despite these challenges, most issuers are resilient, although the pace of upgrades is likely to decelerate as economic support diminishes.

Did You Know?

  • Municipal Bond Market:
    • Insight: The municipal bond market facilitates the issuance of bonds by state and local governments to raise funds for public projects, such as infrastructure, schools, and utilities.
    • Insight: These bonds are often exempt from federal and, in some cases, state and local taxes, rendering them appealing to investors.
  • Rainy Day Funds:
    • Insight: Rainy day funds, also referred to as reserve funds, are financial reserves established by governments to manage unforeseen expenses or revenue shortfalls.
  • Private Credit Market:
    • Insight: The private credit market encompasses direct lending to companies outside traditional banking systems, primarily through private equity or hedge funds.
    • Insight: This market presents unique risks owing to the absence of transparency and standards in loan terms and valuations.

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