Market Commentary: Tidings of Comfort and Joy

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by Gayl Mileszko

The holidays are upon us so this is the last full trading week of December and our last market commentary of 2020. We sigh because this year on the trading desks there is none of the usual cheerful talk about travel plans, baby gifts, and family gatherings. In fact, the trading desks are vacant as they have been for the last 10 months. Like others in so many industries, our fixed income traders have been hard at work in home offices in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, communicating by Skype and cell phone, email and Bloomberg, Webex and landlines for most of the year. Like our banking, sales, and operations teams in Connecticut, Texas, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Illinois, Minnesota, California and Puerto Rico, they have juggled busy work and home lives without missing a beat in serving our valued clients thanks to their professionalism and our marvelous tech staff. And, like the rest of us, they are united in their desire for the next two weeks to be joyful and peaceful ones, grateful for the opportunity to count blessings with loved ones and count down to a brand new year, a turnaround year for our economy and the people, businesses, schools, institutions so badly hurt by the pandemic.

In Washington, these are the final days of the 116th Congress, a lame duck session. As is typical for this time of year, lawmakers are late in trying to hammer out the details of the $1.4 trillion omnibus government spending bill for the fiscal year that began on October 1. They are also moving toward an agreement on that frustratingly elusive second stimulus to bring relief and some measure of comfort to small businesses and non-profits, the unemployed, those in health care and education, and all in need of vaccinations. Main Streets are quiet, pedestrians and decorations are sparse. Households are advised to limit holiday celebrations, order gifts on-line, reinvent caroling, and Zoom with Santa. It is only on Wall Street where things jingle as the Fed-fabricated Santa Claus rally which began in late March is still underway.

This has been a year like no other. The world experienced its first deliberate policy-induced recession in a concerted effort to suppress the spread of a virus. Governments took control over almost every aspect of life and corner of the world. There have been tragic losses. As the brightest minds, the largest dollars, and highest priorities have been devoted to finding treatments and vaccines, negative rates continue to dominate global markets, and government borrowing has risen to mind-numbing levels. But U.S. stocks and bonds have had a wonderful life. The usual correlations are askew and returns disconnected from the reality experienced by billions around the globe. Central banks have opened wide all the money spigots. Their massive asset purchases have created some artificial markets. The Bank of Japan, for example, has become that country’s largest single owner of equities. Here, the target federal funds rate was lowered from the target of 1.50-1.75% at the start of the year to 0.00-0.25% on March 16 and appears likely to remain in that range for several more years. Our Fed has been buying $80 billion a month in Treasuries and $40 billion in mortgage securities since June. Within a very short period, they created and ran 11 new funding, credit, liquidity and loan facilities supporting everything from commercial paper to corporate and municipal bonds to foreign monetary authorities. As a result, market confidence has soared and new issuance and performance records have been set and re-set.

At this writing, the Dow has risen more than 4.6% this year to surpass 30.000. The S&P 500 is up nearly 13% to 3,647. The Russell 2000 has gained almost 15% and stands at 1,913. The Nasdaq has been the biggest winner at 12,440 with gains of more than 38%. More than $140 billion has been raised in nearly 400 initial public offerings this year, exceeding the last full-year high in 1999 during the dot-com boom. Volatility has flared and abated throughout 2020 on lockdown, vaccine, election, Fed, and stimulus news. The VIX currently stands at 24.72 after starting the year at 13.78 and hitting a high of 82.69 on March 16. In the commodity markets, oil prices have fallen 23% from early January but have now steadied in the $47 range after sinking to the unheard of negative $37.63 on April 20. Gold prices are up 20% this year to $1,828 but rose as high as $2,060 on August 6. Bitcoin is among the year’s biggest winners, having advanced 167% to $19,135.

In the bond markets, debt issuance has surpassed expectations and smashed records. With interest rates at historic lows and liquidity needs at all-time highs, issuance has soared. Investment grade companies have sold about $1.7 trillion in the primary market, a new record. High yield corporate debt sales have exceeded $428 billion. Municipal bond issuance at roughly $425 billion will likely exceed the records set in 2007 and 2016. In the global flight to safety, investor demand for short Treasuries brought yields to new lows. When adjusted for inflation, many yields turned negative. The 3-month Treasury yield stands at 0.08%. The 2-year yield has plunged 93% from 1.56% to 0.11%. The 10-year Treasury yield at 0.89% has been cut in half and since the start of the year. A new 20-year Treasury bond began trading on May 21 and currently yields 1.47%. And the 30-year yield is down 32% from 2.38% to 1.62%. In the corporate bond market, 10-year BAA rated bond yields have fallen 100 basis points to 2.70%. In the tax-exempt space, mutual funds have seen inflows of $31.1 billion and muni ETF’s have taken in $13.1 billion. AAA muni benchmarks have all toppled more than 70 basis points. The 2-year MMD has fallen by 86% to 0.14%, the 10-year is down 51% to 0.70, and the 30-year at 1.38% is 34% lower than where it began the year at 2.09%.

Years from now, when rates eventually rise, we look back and marvel at the low rates available to borrowers and the miniscule yields confounding investors from households to mutual funds, life insurers, banks and foreign buyers. Last week, the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority was able to sell $1.37 billion of non-rated bonds at a premium to yield 4.15% in 2047. New York’s JFK International Airport sold BBB rated bonds for the Terminal 4 project yielding 2.11% in 2042 last week. Scholarship Prep Schools in California sold non-rated bonds at 5.00% in 2060. The University of Connecticut just issued $279 million of A1 rated bonds yielding 1.69% in 2041. HJ Sims brought a $30 million financing through the Westchester County Local Development Corporation for The Knolls continuing care retirement community in Valhalla that we structured with noon-rated bonds due in 2055 priced at a premium to yield 4.90%

Investors who have been in the market all year have done very well across asset classes. On top of all the gains in the equity market, U.S. Treasuries are up 8.28%, high yield corporates 4.2%, investment grade corporates 9.3%, convertibles 44.3% and preferreds 5.1%. Municipal bond indices are up 4.99% and within the muni sector, taxable bonds are up 11.52%, and hospital bonds are returning 6.05%. High yield munis are up 4.48% and are likely to be among the stars of 2021.

Before the year comes to a close, we have the 13th and final Federal Open Market Committee meeting of 2020, data releases on retail sales, housing starts, home sales jobless claims, inflation, spending, consumer sentiment. We approach the end of 2020 with sadness over coronavirus losses and angst over the damage wrought on our nation. There are 10.7 million unemployed, and 17 million behind on rent and mortgage payments. Just two months into the new fiscal year, our federal deficit totaled $429.3 billion. The national debt at $27.4 trillion amounts to $218,704 per taxpayer. U.S. corporations owe more than $10.5 trillion to creditors in the form of loans or bonds. Household debt stands at $14.35 trillion.

But we end on a merry note, with the hopes of millions resting in small doses as one vaccine is being delivered to hospitals and nursing homes, and another one is nearing FDA approval. We will be back in a few weeks to take a look at the some of the market-moving trends carrying us into 2021. For now, all of us at HJ Sims simply wish you and yours a joyful holiday season with all the comforts of home and family, and only healthy and successful days in the new year.

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HJ Sims Provides Financing for Expansion for Jefferson’s Ferry; Completes Forward Delivery Bond Issue for Peconic Landing

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

December 10, 2020

CONTACT: Tara Perkins, AVP | 203-418-9049 | tperkins@hjsims.com

HJ Sims Provides Financing for Expansion for Jefferson’s Ferry; Completes Forward Delivery Bond Issue for Peconic Landing

FAIRFIELD, CT– HJ Sims (Sims), a privately held investment bank and wealth management firm founded in 1935, is pleased to announce the successful closing of a November 2020 financing in the amount of $88,975,000 for Jefferson’s Ferry, a CCRC (continued care retirement community) in Brookhaven, NY. In November 2020, Sims also closed a $22.3 million forward delivery bond issue as part of a December 2019 financing for Peconic Landing, a CCRC located in Peconic, NY.

Sims underwrote the initial construction bond financing in 1999 for Jefferson’s Ferry, followed by a refunding of this financing in 2006. For 2020, Jefferson’s Ferry’s Journey Toward Renewal project includes a comprehensive improvement and expansion of the residential and healthcare space. The project incorporates construction of a 20-unit building dedicated to assisted living residents with dementia, construction of 60 additional independent living apartments as extensions to the existing apartment buildings, and numerous improvements to the Community Center to enhance the residents’ lifestyle.

The financing was structured as two series of tax-exempt bonds with the long-term bond series featuring a 35-year final maturity and a 5-year call feature, providing future refunding flexibility. The short-term Entrance Fee Principal Redemption Bonds® (EFPRBs) are expected to be repaid within 3 years from entrance fees paid by new independent living residents. Principal amortization on the long-term bonds is deferred until after the existing debt matures in 2036. The bonds were rated BBB (Stable) by Fitch. The yield on the EFPRB’s was 1.75%, while the long-term bonds maturing in 2055 have a yield of 3.75%.

“We are so pleased to secure bond financing for our Journey Toward Renewal expansion and renovation project. The Sims’ team, led by Andrew Nesi, did an outstanding job of executing the transaction quickly in an uncertain market due to the COVID-19 pandemic and presidential election. Our long-term debt service costs came in under what we had projected and funds secured will provide the capital needs to reposition our community for the future. Job well done,” said Bob Caulfield, President/CEO of Jefferson’s Ferry.

HJ Sims Successfully Completes Forward Delivery Bond Issue for Peconic Landing

As part of a $24.3 million bond issue in December 2019 HJ Sims issued Forward Delivery bonds to secure favorable interest rates and debt service savings for long-standing client Peconic Landing. While Peconic Landing had a series of high interest rate bonds outstanding, tax law precluded a refunding of those bonds until the call date in 2020. Sims structured a series of bonds whereby the interest rate was fixed in 2019, but not “delivered” or closed until eleven months later.

Peconic Landing was one of the first CCRCs in the country to experience COVID-19. Sims worked with management on a robust disclosure plan to keep investors apprised of developments. The management team was at the forefront of implementing strict protocols to minimize the impact of the virus on residents and the organization benefitted from strong capital reserves and government assistance programs to weather the challenges.

Financed Right® Solutions—Andrew Nesi: 203.418.9057 |  anesi@hjsims.com

 ABOUT HJ SIMS: Founded in 1935, HJ Sims is a privately held investment bank and wealth management firm. Headquartered in Fairfield, CT, Sims has nationwide investment banking, private wealth management and trading locations. Member FINRA, SIPC. Testimonials may not be representative of another client’s experience. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.  Facebook, LinkedIn, TwitterInstagram.

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Market Commentary: Cascades and Stratovolcanoes

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by Gayl Mileszko

The Cascade Mountain range, named for the great cascades found near the Columbia River Gorge on the Oregon-Washington border, extends for more than 700 miles from Lassen Peak in northern California through the Fraser River in southern British Columbia. The highest peaks in the range include Mount Hood and Mount Ranier. These mountains are part of the Pacific Ocean’s Ring of Fire where nearly 90% of the world’s largest volcanic eruptions occur. There are said to be 452 volcanoes in the Ring, and they fall into three main kinds: cinder cones, shield volcanoes, and composite volcanoes. The latter, also known as stratovolcanoes, have steep profiles and periodic explosive eruptions with swift, avalanche-like, ground sweeping pyroclastic flows of gas and rock, steam and water. Of the three types, stratovolcanoes pose the greatest hazard to civilizations.

Forty years ago, the most deadly and economically destructive eruption in U.S. history occurred at Mount St. Helens in Washington, a stratovolcano located 96 miles south of Seattle. On May 18, 1980, an earthquake caused the entire north face to slide away, creating the largest landslide ever recorded on Earth. An eruption column rose 15 miles into the atmosphere and deposited ash in 11 states and 2 Canadian provinces. The debris avalanche was of such proportion that it would fill all 32 NFL stadiums in the country 31 times over. In total, Mount St. Helens released 24 megatons of thermal energy. Approximately 57 people were killed, hundreds of square miles were reduced to wasteland, and damages exceeded $2.7 billion. President Carter surveyed the damage and said that the area looked more desolate than a moonscape. Two years later, President Reagan designated the area as the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, to be used for research, education and recreation. Although seismic activity continued there for the next 28 years, hundreds of thousands still visit.

In 2020, the impacts from the coronavirus pandemic continue to cascade. In the state of Washington alone, cases total 184,404 and deaths total 2,941 as of December 7. More than 24% of staffed adult acute care hospital beds there were occupied by suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients. The Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington projects that, without a vaccine rollout or the re-imposition of social distancing mandates, global cases will peak on January 20. As we approach the end of a deadly and destructive year, one in which several entire industries have been laid to waste and nearly every sector of the economy has been damaged, we cling to more optimistic projections for 2021.

Financial markets trade on expectations and we have seen irrepressible optimism since late March lows. We do not know the exact timing, but we can visualize the return of students to campus and fans to stadiums, the rescheduling of facelifts and knee surgeries, the booking of business flights and hotel stays, the pampering at spas, celebrations at restaurants, train trips to shop in the city, and booms in Boomer generation searches for dynamic life plan communities. The city streets may be desolate right now, but we are thinking long-term, venturing out of our cocoon havens, and willing to assume some investment risk because we know there will be a massive recovery, an economic and ecological regeneration such as the one that occurred at Mount St. Helens after the big blast. During the first week of trading in December, the Dow is up 1.5%, having broken through the 30,000 level, the S&P is up nearly 2% to 3,691 and the Nasdaq has gained 2.6% to 12,519. Oil is up 1% to $45.76 a barrel and gold prices have risen 5% to $1,865. So far this month, 10- and 30-year Treasury yields have climbed 10 basis points to 0.92% and 1.67%, respectively, while 10-year BAA rated corporate bond yields have dropped 6 basis points to 2.72%. Top-rated municipal bond yields have held steady at 0.72% for 10-year maturities and 1.42% for the 30-year primarily due to the lack of supply and demand for tax-exemption.

HJ Sims is in the market this week with a $30 million financing for The Bethel Methodist Home, better known as The Knolls, an entrance fee community with assisted living and skilled nursing in Valhalla, New York. The non-rated transaction is structured with a tax-exempt and taxable series and has a 35-year final maturity. Market demand for higher yielding maturities is exceptionally strong, supply has been light, and borrowers have been rare beneficiaries. Last week, three muni deals with Baa3 or BBB-minus rating came to market with 5% coupon bonds due in 35 years: the Glendale Industrial Development Authority brought a $90.7 million issue for Inspirata Pointe at Royal Oaks in Sun City, Arizona that priced to yield 3.58%; the Maryland Economic Development Corporation had an $80.8 million deal for student housing at Morgan State University yielding 4.09%; and the California Enterprise Development Authority sold $55.9 million of student housing revenue bonds for San Diego State University that yielded 3.02%. The Public Finance Authority of Wisconsin issued $37 million of Ba1 rated bonds for Charter Day School in Leland, North Carolina yielding 3.81% in 2055. And the Utah State Charter School Finance Authority sold $8.2 million of non-rated bonds for Paradigm High School structured with a 2051 maturity that priced at par to yield 5.125%.

There are technically three weeks remaining for issuers to access the markets, but one week from Friday trading and sales will wind down for the year. As you finalize your 2020 tax planning and plan your strategies for next year, we invite you to contact your HJ Sims partner today for guidance and recommendations tailored to your specific profile and needs. In the meantime, for all those celebrating the Festival of Lights, we wish you and your families the warmth of joy, the sparkle of health, and the glow of happiness and prosperity.

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Peconic Landing

Peconic Landing at Southold is a life plan community located in Greenport, New York on Long Island’s North Fork where residents can enjoy 145 acres with 2,700 feet of private beach on Long Island Sound.

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Market Commentary: Shell Shock

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by Gayl Mileszko

Ecdysis, commonly called shedding, occurs when a lobster extrudes itself from its old shell. Unlike animals that are soft-bodied and have skin, a lobster’s shell, once hard, will not grow much more. But all forty species of lobster continue to grow throughout their lives, so when the shells become hard and inelastic they must be shed. This happens periodically. As a result, lobsters spend much of their time preparing for, or undergoing ecdysis and arranging safe burrows for the time it takes for the new shell to harden. The overall process of preparing for, performing, and recovering from ecdysis is known as molting. Lobsters molt five or six times in the first season, but the length of time between molts increases as the lobster ages such that an adult will molt only once or twice a year and females may go two years between molts when they are carrying eggs. Many factors including water temperature, food supply, and availability of shelter control when and where a lobster will molt. The actual shedding process only takes the lobster twenty or thirty minutes, depending on environmental conditions and the size of the animal, but this is when it is most vulnerable to predators.

The start to a new decade has made clear our vulnerabilities as well as our adaptability. The predator, a pandemic, has caused us to shed our plans, routines and ways of thinking. Many of us have experienced a sea change in how and where we live, work, travel, learn and communicate. The only constant is change and, in 2020, it has been sudden and massive. The impacts have certainly varied. Some individuals, institutions, communities and systems are well along in the recovery process while others have been shell shocked and suffered painful losses, or still remain in the burrow. There are less than thirty days left in the year and yet we cannot be sure how it will end and what comes next. There are still so many variables – including political, social, scientific and economic ones — at our local, state, national, regional, and global levels.

The financial markets have enjoyed favorable environmental conditions and year-long shelter from central banks. This in and of itself is shocking as is our expectation that it rallies will continue ad infinitum. In spite of global upheavals and tectonic shifts in demand, manufacturing, distribution, and technology, stock and bond markets have been in rally mode for all but about five weeks this year. Stock market volatility as measured by the VIX CBOE Index has risen from 13.78 to 20.57, but it is down 83% from the peak level of 82 in mid-March. So far in 2020, the Nasdaq is up 36%, the S&P 500 is more than 12% higher, the Russell 2000 is up 9%, and the Dow has gained nearly 4%. More than $140 billion has been raised in approximately 383 initial public offerings, exceeding the full-year record high set during the peak of the dot-com boom in 1999. The BAA corporate benchmark yield has dropped 92 basis points to 2.78%. Investment grade corporate issuance is well over $1.7 trillion and high yield corporate bond issuance exceeds $400 billion so far this year. After rising to record highs and dipping again, gold prices are still up 17%.

On the bond market side, the 2-year Treasury yield has fallen from 1.56% to 0.14%. The 10-year yield has dropped from 1.91% to 0.83%. The 30-year yield is down 82 basis points to 1.56%. The AAA municipal tax-exempt benchmark yield has fallen from 1.04% to 0.15%, the 10-year from 1.44% to 0.72%, and the 30-year from 2.09% to 1.41%. Municipal volume is on track to smash all records this year as borrowers have clawed or rolled their way to market to secure funds to undertake new, renovation and expansion projects, bolster liquidity, and refinance outstanding debt at low rates, often including low corporate and taxable rates.

Although the municipal calendar shrank to the smallest of the year at $18.8 billion in November as issuers elected to avoid possible volatility surrounding the elections, year-to-date issuance exceeded $440.8 billion as of November 30. Muni price performance has recently been the best in three decades. Among non-rated senior living deals priced in the past few weeks, Wesley Communities of Ohio brought a $69.5 million transaction with a final maturity in 2055 priced at 5.25% to yield 5.09%. St. Andrews’s at Francis Place in St. Louis had a $37 million deal structured with 2053 term bonds priced at 5.25% to yield 5.75%, Vivera Senior Living of Jeffersonville brought a $20.4 million deal that had 20-year term bonds priced at 5.25% to yield 5.20%, and Morningside Senior Living (TX) had a $15.3 million financing with 30-year bonds priced at par to yield 5.125%. In the non-rated education sector, Crossroads Christian Schools sold $20.5 million of bonds due in 2056 priced with a coupon of 5% to yield 4.75%, Columbia College in South Carolina had a $16 million issue structured with 2045 term bonds priced at par to yield 5.75%, and Blinn College had a student housing bond sale that included a 2057 maturity priced at par to yield 5.00%.

At HJ Sims, we welcome our investing clients to contact us for our thoughts on how to re-invest the $51 billion of muni bonds maturing or being called in December and January, how to prepare for year end, and how to position for 2021. We are always available to our banking clients and prospective borrowers looking for guidance on market rates and access. As we look to bring the best possible conclusion to a year that no one ever envisioned, we welcome your input, comments and questions.

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Giving Tuesday

Join the Movement– It’s GivingTuesday, the global day of giving. Please consider contributing to HJ Sims’ Corporate Social Responsibility partner, Gift of Life, to help find stem cell donors like Sterling who flew 5,000 miles mid-pandemic to save the life of someone she never met! Help Gift of Life reach their goal. Thank you.