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Five questions: Indiana treasurer ponders course for yield rise

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Richard Mourdock, a 62-year-old geologist and former coal-mining executive in his second term as Indiana’s Republican treasurer, has plenty to brag about.

The Hoosier State’s economy has been outpacing Illinois and Iowa since the recession ended in 2009, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Its state and local bonds are also beating the $3.7 trillion U.S. municipal-debt market, with last year’s 2.1-percent decline versus a 2.6-percent drop for the Standard & Poor’s Municipal Bond index.

Indiana’s rebound comes amid the auto industry’s recovery as well as passage last year of the biggest tax cut in state history, including a 5-percent reduction of the levy on income. Gov. Mike Pence, a 54-year-old Republican, on Jan. 14 called for phasing out the tax on business owners’ equipment.

Mourdock was first elected treasurer in 2006 and was re-elected in 2010. A foe of the federal bailout of Chrysler Corp., he lost a U.S. Senate race in 2012 to Democrat Joe Donnelly and will leave the office next year because of term limits. The following is condensed from a recent phone interview:

Q: As the chief investment officer managing $7 billion in state funds, you are restricted by the state constitution to U.S. government and U.S. agency securities. What are you doing to maximize returns as the Federal Reserve keeps its benchmark rate at almost zero?

A: The world being upside down as it is, we certainly have more money in deposit accounts right now than we’ve had in the past. We actually earn better interest there than we do from our normal federal paper.

Q: What would you do if the U.S. economic recovery spurs a rise in interest rates? How would you adjust the maturity of your holdings?

A: It’s all going to be about watching and measuring duration. So we’ll be adjusting duration, I suspect, trying to match the environment. We’d probably be looking at going out somewhat. We don’t trade much stuff; we generally hold it to maturity. So if we can find a way in increasing rates to start sliding a few things that way, we’d likely do so.

Q: How should Pence and his administration handle repaying to the federal government the $1.4 billion Indiana borrowed for unemployment benefits?

A: There will be real consideration of doing a bond issue to try to deal with that. With the potential of the rising-rate environment, I think it would be a good time for them to consider that. And if they ask me my advice, I would certainly suggest they take a serious look.

Q: During an October 2012 debate for your Senate race, you answered a question about pregnancy from rape by saying life is a gift from God. You later said your statement was twisted by opponents to suggest God pre-ordains rape. What was your lesson from that incident?

A: If there is a moral to that story in a political sense, sometimes you just need to express less rather than more. That goes against my nature; I’m a pretty transparent person. And sometimes as a candidate, unfortunately, transparency is not necessarily an attribute.

Q: You have a master’s degree in geology from Ball State University and worked in the energy business for 30 years. Has there been a time when you were able to apply your experience as a geologist to your work as treasurer?

A: I learned years ago as a geologist the fundamental fact of economics is that all wealth comes from the earth. It comes from what we grow, what we harvest, what we dig up, what we mine, what we pump, what we produce. And then we put it in this chain of events we call our economy. Having that bit of background, I think, has always given me a unique look at the world of finance.

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  • "Decode" bond comment
    Good question. I believe Treasurer Mourdock is stating that a possible option for settling the state's $1.4 billion debt to the federal government is to borrow the money in the municipal bond market at today's low interest rates before rates start moving up, thus minimizing interest costs.
  • ????
    My business (and all others) pay thousands of dollars in tax surcharages for the default on these loans. And we have never had a layoff!!! We are just paying for our Pence-Daniels administration irresponsible state finances. Can some onedecode what Mourdock states here??? I don't get it. Q: How should Pence and his administration handle repaying to the federal government the $1.4 billion Indiana borrowed for unemployment benefits? A: There will be real consideration of doing a bond issue to try to deal with that. With the potential of the rising-rate environment, I think it would be a good time for them to consider that. And if they ask me my advice, I would certainly suggest they take a serious look.
    • No, not odd
      The question was not odd...it was a relevant and timely question as Roe V Wade was being assaulted. What's odd id that you don't seem to get that.
    • Five Questions
      Mr. Mourdock's answer was a good one though expressed in a way that allowed his opponent and the press to misconstrue what he said and what he meant. Isn't it odd that a question on rape and abortion was inserted into a race for the United States Senate at the last minute?
      • Note to Richard
        Richard - honestly, you don't seem like a bad guy, but here's some advice: maybe try to express better, not less. Transparency from our politicians is ALWAYS a good thing.

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        1. So much for Eric Holder's conversation about race. If white people have got something to say, they get sued over it. Bottom line: white people have un-freer speech than others as a consequence of the misnamed "Civil rights laws."

        2. I agree, having seen three shows, that I was less than wowed. Disappointing!!

        3. Start drilling, start fracking, and start using our own energy. Other states have enriched their citizens and nearly elminated unemployment by using these resources that are on private land. If you are against the 'low prices' of discount stores, the best way to allow shoppers more choice is to empower them with better earnings. NOT through manipulated gov mandated min wage hikes, but better jobs and higher competitive pay. This would be direct result of using our own energy resources, yet Obama knows that Americans who arent dependent of gov welfare are much less likely to vote Dem, so he looks for ways to ensure America's decline and keep its citizens dependent of gov.

        4. Say It Loud, I'm Black and Ashamed: It's too bad that with certain "black" entertainment events, it seems violence and thuggery follows and the collateral damage that it leaves behinds continues to be a strain on the city in terms of people getting hurt, killed or becoming victims of crimes and/or stretching city resources. I remember shopping in the Meadows area years ago until violence and crime ended make most of the business pack you and leave as did with Lafayette Square and Washington Square. Over the past 10 to 12 years, I remember going to the Indiana Black Expo Soul Picnic in Washington Park. Violence, gang fights and homicides ended that. My great grandmother still bears the scares on her leg from when she was trampled by a group of thugs running from gun fire from a rival gang. With hundreds of police offices downtown still multiple shootings, people getting shot downtown during Black Expo. A number of people getting shots or murdered at black clubs around the city like Club Six on the west side, The Industry downtown, Jamal Tinsley's shot out in front of the Conrad, multiple fights and shootings at the skating rinks, shootings at Circle Center Mall and shooting and robberies and car jackings at Lafayette Mall. Shootings and gang violence and the State Fair. I can go on and on and on. Now Broad Ripple. (Shaking head side to side) Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Ashamed.

        5. Ballard Administration. Too funny. This is the least fiscally responsive administration I have ever seen. One thing this article failed to mention, is that the Hoosier State line delivers rail cars to the Amtrak Beech Grove maintenance facility for refurbishment. That's an economic development issue. And the jobs there are high-paying. That alone is worth the City's investment.

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