Through Facebook and Twitter, mountains of data providing insight on human behavior are available to advertisers and social scientists to study and exploit. Via algorithms used in video gaming, datamining is also being applied to the analysis of behavior in nature, where technology now provides oceans of data documenting the social behavior of fish, for example, to help us better understand and model ecosystems. As it turns out, fish form dynamic social networks well outside of schools, taking cues from each other and telegraphing critical information such as where it is safe to go and eat.
These days it is hard for those of us on solid ground to know where it is safe to go out — never mind what is safe for us to invest in. The Federal Reserve, the executive and legislative branches of government at the federal, state and local levels have taken unprecedented actions to both depress and bolster our economy since January. Social media, social distancing, home delivery services, N95 masks, UV-C light, air purifiers, corticosteroids, Vitamin D, convalescent plasma, all appear to be aiding us in battling this pandemic. Common sense, gut instinct, and trusted family, friends, colleagues, and investment advisers are also guiding us as we endeavor to protect our savings and boost our investments in an evolving ecosystem amid an ocean of uncertainty.
We are six months a pandemic that has felled more than 1 million around the world. Our nation has been struck by a recession of historic proportion. But many students are back in the classroom. Consumer confidence just jumped to 101.8 in September, up from 86.3 in August. Daily TSA Airport Passenger screenings have risen from 87,534 on April 14 to 873,038 on September 27. Retail sales have exceeded pre-crisis levels since June. New home sales have risen at the fastest pace since 2006. The Federal Reserve Chair, in testimony before Congress, refers to our economic recovery as “highly uncertain” and points to the need for additional stimulus. But the last jobs report reflected positive momentum. Data on September, the last we will see before November 3, will be reported on Friday. Third quarter GDP will be reported a mere five days before Election Day.
The stock market has had some significant intraday twists and turns in September trading and many strategists expect volatility to increase as we draw close to the presidential election. At this writing with one more day of data to go, equity indices are all down for the month: after swinging by more than 2300 points the Dow is down more than 3%, the S&P 500 has fluctuated by more than 340 points and has fallen over 165 points, and the Nasdaq has lost 6% with intramonth highs and lows varying by as much as 1400 points. On the commodity side, oil prices have fallen nearly 9% to $38.86 and gold prices are down more than 4% to $1,886 an ounce. Bond markets have been remarkably steady. Treasuries have traded in a narrow range all month, strengthening overall. The 2-year yield stands at 0.12%, the 10-year at 0.65% and the 30-year at 1.42%. The 10-year BAA corporate bond yield is flat on the month at 3.01%. Investment grade corporate issuance now exceeds $1.53 trillion in 2020. High yield corporate issuance at $335 billion is already higher than it has been for any full calendar year on record; this month’s volume exceeds $45 billion but the sector is expected to post a loss of 1.30%.
In the municipal bond market, the AAA general obligation bond 2-year benchmark yield has dropped 3 basis points this month to 0.13% while the 10-and 30-year yields have risen by 2 basis points to 0.83% and 1.58%, respectively. Municipal Market Analytics reports that munis have been essentially unchanged for 22 consecutive sessions, beating a 40-year old record. Approximately 40% of primary market sales in September have been federally taxable. Investors took in $25 billion of cash from bond redemptions and maturities; $2.2 billion flowed back into municipal bond mutual funds. Funds have seen 20 straight weeks of net inflows. Year-to-date, the BofAML Municipal Index is up 3.31%; the High Yield Index has returned 0.93% and the Taxable Muni Index 10.86%
September muni volume will likely exceed $50 billion for the second consecutive month. Among the higher yielding transactions last week, Lake County, Florida sold $126 million of non-rated bonds for Lakeside at Waterman Village in a financing that included 2055 term bonds priced at 5.75% to yield 5.58%. The Washington Housing Finance Commission issued $81.3 million of non-rated bonds for Rockwood Retirement Communities structured with 2056 term bonds priced with a coupon of 5.00% to yield 5.25%. The North Carolina Medical Care Commission came to market with a $53 million BBB-minus rated deal for Friends Homes that had 30-year term bonds priced at 4.00% to yield 3.48%. The Public Finance Authority of Wisconsin was in the market with a $22.8 million non-rated financing for Freedom Classical Academy In North Las Vegas structured with 2056 term bonds priced at 5.00% to yield 4.89%. The Colorado Educational and Cultural Facilities Authority sold $18.7 million of non-rated bonds for Liberty Tree Academy that came with 30-year term bonds priced at par to yield 5.75%.
This week, the markets are focused on the first presidential debate, quarter-end portfolio rebalancing, the Friday jobs numbers, prospects for agreement on a pre-election stimulus bill, Treasury loans to U.S. passenger airlines, economic data from China, outflows from high yield corporate bond funds, and a string of Federal Reserve speakers. As we enter the final quarter of the year, we encourage you to contact your HJ Sims advisor to review your positioning and strategy.