There are only 54 days to Election Day (at the time of this writing). We can tell by the attack ads on TV, the robo calls, the mailers, the endorsements, the increasingly slanted campaign coverage from all sides. The fight is often framed in terms of Democrats versus Republicans, conservatives versus. liberals, progressives versus moderates, left versus right, Red versus Blue, incumbents versus challengers, the Coasts versus the Heartland, or Us versus Them. It is said to be the most important election ever, once again. And, as the sportscaster in Rocky IV exclaimed, “It’s a gutter war – no holds barred!” On the presidential ballot, we do not hear much about the fifteen third party and independent candidates. So, for those taking due diligence seriously, it may seem that considering all the alternatives, the choices are more difficult. But, as the big day draws nearer, our choices dramatically narrow to essentially two as we examine our options from the perspective of our vested interests to either find the candidate who will best represent us or “pick the lesser of the evils” as some believe. As Henry Kissinger once said, “The absence of alternatives clears the mind marvelously.” Speaking of alternatives…
The alternative minimum tax (AMT) and the ordinary income tax are two parallel income tax systems in the U.S. The former was enacted in 1969 by Congress after the public became outraged to learn that a significant number of higher income filers had so many itemized deductions that they paid no income tax. So, to ensure that everyone pays what is viewed as their “fair share,” taxpayers must calculate their taxes under each system and pay whichever is higher. But, since the AMT was not indexed for inflation until 2013, over time more and more retirees and middle class taxpayers became subject to the higher rate. About five million filers were paying the AMT in 2017 when the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was enacted. The new law applies to tax years 2018 to 2025. It increases the AMT exemption (generally $113,400 for married couples in 2020), indexes it to inflation, and sets the income levels at which the exemptions phase out at much higher levels (generally $1,036,800 for married couples filing jointly in 2020). Many of the tax breaks that triggered the AMT for middle class taxpayers have been changed, so there needs to be quite a few tax preference items to trigger it. These include incentive stock options, a large amount of long-term capital gains, some types of accelerated depreciation, and interest on private activity bonds. Fewer than 200,000 households are now impacted and corporations are no longer exposed to AMT liabilities.
Income from private activity bonds that fund private company projects that benefit the public such as stadiums, airline terminals, and solid waste facilities may be subject to the AMT, meaning that interest income would be taxed at the applicable AMT rate. This could be 26% or 28%. That would be a major hit to muni yields already at or near historic lows. It is easy to tell if a bond is subject to the alternative minimum tax. Since 1986 it has been required that a tax attorney provide an opinion stating whether or not the interest on each muni bond is a tax-preference item subject to the AMT. The opinion is clearly printed on the cover of each official statement. Investors must read any muni bond fund prospectus more carefully. Some funds, including Vanguard’s, may invest as much as 20% of their assets in private activity bonds so a portion of their income distributions may be subject to the AMT.
Investors are advised to speak with their tax advisors before buying bonds, or funds with bonds, that are subject to the AMT. For those who are not subject and not likely to become subject, we encourage you to contact your HJ Sims advisor. AMT bonds can offer some incremental yield pickup in the range of 20 basis points in the current market. They also provide access to different sectors of the muni market such as pollution control projects, student loans, single-family housing, and public-private venture expressways. Among major issuers of both AMT and non-AMT bonds are the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the City and County of Denver, Colorado. Last week, The New York Transportation Development Corporation issued $1.51 billion of Baa3 rated special facilities revenue bonds subject to the AMT for the Delta Air Lines Terminal C and D redevelopment project at LaGuardia Airport. The 2045 term bonds priced at 4.375% to yield 4.55%.
HJ Sims was in the market last week with a $134.9 million Palm Beach County Health Facilities Authority bond issue for the Toby and Leon Cooperman Sinai Residences of Boca Raton expansion. We structured the non-rated Series A bonds with a 2055 maturity priced at 5.00% to yield 4.60%. The Series B-1 bonds due in 2027 were priced at 3.00% to yield 3.05%, the Series B-2 bonds due in 2025 were priced at 2.625% to yield 2.75%, and the Series C taxable bonds due in 2024 had a 3.875% coupon priced to yield 4.00%. Among other senior living financings, the Economic Development Corporation of the City of Grand Rapids and the Michigan Strategic Fund brought $47.1 million of BBB-minus rated refundings for United Methodist Retirement Communities and Porter Hills Presbyterian Village with final maturities in 2044 priced at 5.00% to yield 3.88%.
This week’s muni calendar is expected to total $7 billion but the investment grade corporate market may see as much as $50 billion of new issues.. At this writing, the 2-year AAA municipal general obligation bond yield stands at 0.15% versus the 2-year Treasury at 0.14%. The 10-year muni benchmark is at 0.83% while the comparable Treasury yield is 0.68%. The 30-year tax-exempt yield is 1.57% and the Treasury is lower at 1.43%. The 10-year A rated corporate bond yields 2.22%. Stocks are weaker for the third session, sinking to a four-week low. Oil at $36.87 a barrel has fallen to prices last seen in mid-June. Gold at $1,930 an ounce is 6% off its record August high. This week’s economic calendar includes Job Openings, the Producer and Consumer Price Indices. The Senate returns from recess to vote on an alternative stimulus measure and the nation pauses on Friday, the 19th anniversary of September 11 to honor the memory of those lost and pay tribute to heroes we will never forget.