Market Commentary: Over the River

by Gayl Mileszko

Our seasonal favorite, “Over the River and Through the Wood” was originally published in 1844 as a poem written by Lydia Maria Child and later set to music by a composer still unknown. Over the years, many of us have grown up singing this joyful song en route to celebrate Thanksgiving with family, sometimes changing the lyrics but never the melody:

Over the river, and through the wood, to Grandfather’s house we go;
the horse knows the way to carry the sleigh through the white and drifted snow.

Over the river, and through the wood, to Grandfather’s house away!
We would not stop for doll or top, for ’tis Thanksgiving Day.

Over the river, and through the wood— oh, how the wind does blow!
It stings the toes and bites the nose as over the ground we go.

Over the river, and through the wood— and straight through the barnyard gate,
We seem to go extremely slow, it is so hard to wait!

Over the river, and through the wood— When Grandmother sees us come,
She will say, “O, dear, the children are here, bring a pie for everyone.”

Over the river, and through the wood— now Grandmother’s cap I spy!
Hurrah for the fun! Is the pudding done? Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!

This year, AAA predicts that only 47.8 million Americans, about 15% of us, will travel for this Thanksgiving holiday, with 95% of us planning to go by car, 2.4 million flying, and 353,000 traveling by bus, train or cruise. This would be the greatest year-over-year drop since 2008 and it could be the biggest on record, all as a result of COVID-related concerns. There are quarantine policies, public transit fears, and government advisories or restrictions on activities, the size gatherings, business hours and configurations. Many argue that, after eight months of unprecedented pandemic-induced separations and deprivations, this year — more than any other — is the time for us to gather and give thanks for all we have endured. But there are also many sound justifications for pause, for distance, for establishing what may be new traditions for virtual celebrations. There are also plenty of great new excuses for avoiding angry dinner time political arguments, awkward moments with crazy Uncle Harry, and Aunt Edna’s mincemeat tarts.

The average age of a first-time grandparent is 50 and, at AARP’s last count, there were more than 70 million grandparents in the United States. For those who long to travel, families will think long and hard about the wisdom of descending on grandmother and grandfather’s house so as to significantly limit the risk of spreading a virus that poses such a fatal risk to those in their age group. Recent studies show that the infection fatality rate for COVID-19 increases from 0.4% at age 55 to as high as 15% at age 85. The CDC reports that, through the 12th of November, 92 percent of COVID-19 deaths nationwide have occurred among those ages 55 or older.

One in ten grandparents lives in the same household with their grandchildren, and 5 percent of those are primary caregivers, so for these families no travel through the woods would be necessary this Thanksgiving anyway. But for the six or seven percent who live in assisted living communities or skilled nursing facilities, it has not been possible for family to get through the barnyard gates to visit or share a pie for eight long months. It has been so hard to wait … and yet the wait goes on.

Financial markets will slow next week, fewer new deals with come to market as traders and buyers pause for the all-American holiday. The pace of issuance, of initial public offerings, of horse trading, has been frenetic this year. The investment community is exhausted by the recession induced by the pandemic, the market volatility, the uncertainty, the months of living with the devastating impacts on schoolchildren and small businesses, the toppling of industry titans and explosive shift in demand for technology, the massive central bank interventions and staggering levels of stimulus during a polarized election season that seems never ending. We have lived with fear and the fear of missing out, yearning for yield and vaccines, with new perspectives on the differences in how our states operate, with varying degrees of loathing and respect for our branches of government. We have forged many rivers and are taking the best paths we know, but are not yet out of the woods.

At HJ Sims, our veteran banking, underwriting, sales and trading professionals are working with our clients on year-end strategies, income needs, refinancing options, and planning for 2021. Our base assumption is that we will be in a low rate environment for several more years, so we are structuring financings for our borrowers at the lowest competitive rates while finding the highest yielding, income-producing instruments most suitable for our loyal investors. We will be working through the holidays as we have a number of new issues scheduled through year-end and into the new year, and our trading, advisory and sales teams are always active.

In response to preliminary election results, economic data, fizzled stimulus hopes, promising vaccine developments, and news reports of surging case counts, the equity, bond and commodity markets have all generally rallied this month. Historic correlations remain askew. Since the end of March when pandemic lockdowns began and market turmoil peaked, the Dow is up 36% and the S&P 500 40% while the Nasdaq and Russell 200 have soared by 55%. Ten-year Baa-rated corporate bonds yields have fallen 174 basis points to 2.86%. Oil prices are up more than 104% a barrel to $41.21. Gold prices have gained 18% an ounce to $1,886. Although 10- and 30-year Treasury yields are up, 2-year yields have dropped 26% to 0.17%. Top-rated municipal bond yields have plummeted across the curve: the 2-year is down 90 basis points to 0.16%, the 10-year is down 56 basis points to 0.77% and the 30-year is down 48 basis points to 1.51%. Non-rated bonds priced last week came with yields in the range of 5.50% in 2050.

Back in the fall of 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts, there was a bountiful harvest after a year of sickness and scarcity. Pilgrims celebrated a tradition called the Harvest Home. Massasoit, a leader of the Wampanoag People, along with 90 of his men joined the English for three days of entertainment and feasting. No one knew what the coming days, months or years would bring. Three hundred and ninety nine years later, we are still unsure of what the future has in store. But we know that having somewhere to go is home, having someone to love is family, and having both is a true blessing. To all our valued staff, loyal clients, industry colleagues, to all the grandparents among the thousands of residents living in communities that we have been privileged to finance, we at HJ Sims wish you a very happy Thanksgiving.

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