How a US downgrade affects the states

Last night’s news of a downgrade of long-term US debt from AAA to AA+ by S&P will have a ripple effect. But whether or not interest rates rise depends on how the market incorporates this information and whether it has anticipated this.

As far as states go, in July, Moody’s put five states on a downgrade watch list: Tennessee, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and New Mexico. And they gave six reasons: 1) employment volatility; 2) high federal employment relative to total state employment, 3)  federal procurement contracts as a percent of state GDP, 4) Size of Medicaid expenditures relative to state spending, 5) variable interest rate debt as a percent of state resources and 6) the size of the operating fund balance as a percent of operating revenues.

On August 4th these states were removed from the list and retain their AAa rating.

Places with a lot of exposure to risk, or a “high dependence on federal economic activity,”  include Virginia and Massachusetts. This doesn’t mean that these states and their local governments will see their interest rates rise, or be downgraded, or that they are in any danger of default.  It simply means their books will be scrutinized with this risk exposure in mind.