Graduation Year

Spring 2014

Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Joshua Rosett

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Rights Information

© 2014 Carter J. Wilkinson


This paper utilizes a sample of 6,185 locally-issued, general obligation municipal bonds to examine the relationship between a city’s cumulative pension contributions and its cost of borrowing. Following the Great Recession unfunded public pension liabilities have soared to record highs, which, in theory, represent additional credit risks and may hinder local governments’ ability to service their outstanding debt. After controlling for bond characteristics, bond ratings, and issuer characteristics, the empirical analysis finds a statistically significant correlation between pension costs and borrowing costs, defined as the spread between the effective offering yield on municipal debt and the yield on a maturity-matched treasury on the municipal bond’s date of issuance. The results suggest that a 1% increase in cumulative city pension costs as a percent of city revenue is associated with an increase in yield spreads ranging from 1.2 to 3.5 basis points. These findings indicate that municipal bond investors do in fact consider pension expenses when pricing municipal bonds and suggest that addressing unfunded pension liabilities by mandating higher annual contributions will lead to higher borrowing costs for local governments.

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.