by Gayl Mileszko
In Raleigh, North Carolina, there is a special place on Hargett Street that opened six years ago in a building that once housed a bank and a funeral home. Building renovations took several years and, during this time, the insightful James Beard Award-winning chef/owner had plenty of time to consider what she would name the new restaurant that would occupy the space. It was, of course, inspired by Benjamin Franklin and called it Death & Taxes. But after several acclaimed seasons, this small business along with almost every restaurant in the country was forced to close temporarily due to the pandemic. Hers managed to survive while dozens and dozens of others beloved by the Triangle community closed permanently. Death & Taxes re-opened for takeout in February and now has a dining room with reduced capacity that is open four nights a week. The menu still features the “Tax Free”, a fine rye whiskey cocktail with smoked cherries and bitters, and “The Catacomb”, an unusual mix of gin, vodka, red vermouth, and cappelletti pasta.
The famous quote “In this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes” was attributed to Franklin in 1789. Since the pandemic was declared, we in the U.S. have suffered 577,845 reported COVID-19 related deaths. The world has lost 3,217,512 of its citizens at the last count of the John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, which has been our first, most steady, and apolitical tracker. With respect to taxes, the latest tax filing deadline looms ten days from now. Higher brackets may be in store for next year under the Biden Administration’s proposals. We await specific details. But for now it appears that the new estate tax, a new higher capital gains rate, and the repeal of step-up in basis could bring total effective marginal rates to 61% for some, the highest level in nearly a century according to an analysis from the Tax Foundation.
On the federal level, it is unclear whether any or all of the White House proposals can pass Congress. We outlined some of the hurdles last week. But several states have already enacted hikes for the 2022 fiscal year. So accountants and financial planners are advising families to consider the impacts of various higher rates and the possible advantages of making gifts and realizing capital gains at this time. We encourage you to begin conversations with your HJ Sims financial professional. We are working hard to guide our clients through these uncertain times with a host of resources.
For most investors looking forward, there is no doom and gloom associated with stock, bond or commodity market outlooks. Equity market rallies have certainly been unprecedented since the September 2008 and March 2020 crises. The vast majority of analysts see them extending as long as the Fed continues its massive bond-buying and rate-compressing policies. But stock buyers cannot always rely upon dividends and appreciation to meet all of their investment and income needs. Bonds have represented a significant and critical percentage of family as well as institutional portfolios since at least the 17th century when England first issued debt to finance a war against France. Yes, yields have been on a long, continuous decline for more than 40 years since the 10-year Treasury peaked at 15.84% in September of 1981, forcing even many of the most conservative investors into far riskier assets while providing fantastically low rates for non-profit and for-profit borrowers.
Since we are still at the very low end of historic yields, many–if not most–analysts see them continuing to rise alongside inflation throughout the near future. Several prominent market participants see bonds as a poor investment choice right now. Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett recently said that fixed income investors face a bleak future. JP Morgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon recently quipped that he wouldn’t touch Treasuries with a 10-foot pole. Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, is quoted as saying that investing in bonds has “become stupid”. We disagree with these generalizations. We have bought, structured, and underwritten bonds throughout the course of our 86-year history and remain huge proponents of tax-exempt and taxable bonds as critical components of long-term investment portfolios. Our banking, trading, underwriting, analytic and sales teams specialize in products including Cinderella, capital appreciation, refunding, taxable, and corporate bonds. We are among the few broker dealers with expertise in non-rated and below investment grade securities, aiding many borrowers with smaller, start-up, and novel projects in securing financing and identifying suitable higher yielding opportunities for our investing clients. As you, our readers, think about your own holdings, your capital and income needs going forward, we again encourage you to contact your HJ Sims representative to discuss how bonds may work for you.
U.S. bonds should never be dismissed, particularly in a world replete with negative yielding sovereign debt. At this writing, the 5-year bonds of Japan yield negative 0.105%, Spain’s yield negative 0.245%, and those of France yield negative 0.54%. The 10-year bonds of Germany yield negative 0.24% and those of Switzerland yield negative 0.26%. The U.S. Treasury 5-year currently yields 0.81%, the 10- year 1.58% and the 30-year 2.25%. Our 10-year A rated corporate bonds yield 2.74% and comparable 30-year bonds yield 3.51%. Our 10-year AAA municipal general obligation bonds yield 0.99% and the 30-year yields 1.57%. Last week, non-rated student housing bonds at Lynn University in Boca Raton were sold in the primary market with 5.00% coupons, priced at par. John Knox Village in Lee’s Summit, Missouri came to market with non-rated bonds due in 2056 priced with a coupon of 5.00% to yield 4.35%. Central Wyoming College offered non-rated bonds due in five years at 4.125%. In the secondary municipal market, Cherokee Charter Academy in Gaffney, South Carolina had bonds with a 7% coupon due in 2050 trade at $102 to yield 6.69%. Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority bonds with a 5% coupon due in 10 years traded at $90.50 to yield 6.228%.
So far this year, both individual and institutional investors have benefitted from an influx of cash via federal aid, bonds maturing, coupons and dividends paid, tenders and calls. Corporate bond buyers have had a field day with record amounts and wide arrays of investment grade and below investment grade rated issues. Municipal bond buyers have seen much less supply, as some borrowers have elected to postpone deals, refinance on a taxable basis, issue corporate bonds to take advantage of broader investor bases, or privately place debt with banks. We note a growing trend for forward delivery bonds, with sales taking place in favorable market conditions for settlement four, six, or even twelve months ahead when bonds are eligible for redemption. Current refundings on a tax-exempt basis are permitted within 90 days of the date of the refinancing. Buyers looking to lock in current rates or plan for reinvestments with cash expected from future redemptions or interest income are making commitments to buy these forwards. Borrowers are not having to pay up very much for this flexibility.
Last week, the BBB/BBB+ New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund Authority came to market with $1.58 billion of bonds in four parts. More than $893 million were for forward delivery on April 27, 2022. The 2036 maturity in the forward bonds priced with a coupon of 5.00% to yield 2.53% while the 2036 bonds settling this week yielded 2.00%. The state paid only 53 basis points more for the one year forward delivery piece, and it outperformed the market by Friday. Also last week, the city and county of San Francisco brought $178.1 million of general obligation refunding bonds in two parts; $86.9 million was issued for forward delivery in four months. The 2028 maturity in the forward deal priced with a 5.00% coupon to yield 0.80%, 19 basis points higher than the same bond maturity yielding 0.61% that settles on Friday.
Buyer willingness to wait up to a year for the delivery of their bonds is one of the many things that has changed in the past year. We are noting some positive trends in hotels, rental cars, domestic air travel, life plan communities and charter schools, all of which were hit hard last year. For investors worried about higher tax rates and looking to sell equities, you may find some good value as well as tax advantage in some of these tax-exempt sectors.