Market Commentary: Cascades and Stratovolcanoes

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.

Exclusive Opportunities For Our Clients