Market Commentary: The Week to Shop for Discounts

Timetables are all topsy turvy this year so it should come as no surprise that the holiday shopping season kicks off this week, 73 days ahead of Christmas, 58 days ahead of Hanukkah. The headline event is Amazon’s members-only Prime Day, but there are competing sales promotions from other major retailers including Walmart, Target and Best Buy. Some 70% of Americans are planning to do at least some of their gift buying on Tuesday and Wednesday, and Amazon alone may rake in $10 billion or more. When sales are tallied, they are likely to smash all previous records for the top shopping days of the year. Consumers hunting for bargains but still reluctant to shop in person can find many on line, where retail sales are expected to grow 18.5% over last year. On top of health concerns over shopping in crowded stores and worries that Black Friday or Cyber Monday orders will not arrive in time, shoppers are being lured into early purchases by massive marketing campaigns and deep discounts.

In the bond markets, you really have to hunt to find anything good offered at discounted prices. It will help to work with your HJ Sims financial professionals and traders whose mission it is to achieve the outcome of income all year long. We scour offerings from institutions as well as other broker dealers for higher yielding bonds – corporate, tax-exempt and taxable munis — priced at attractive discounts. Last week, for example, when A+ rated Mastercard 3.35% bonds due in 2030 traded at $117.415, we sold Baa2 rated Kohl’s 4.25% due in 2025 at $99.682 and BB+ rated Ford Motor Credit 3.40% of 2026 at $94.25. Also last week, as Aa1 rated Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority 5.00% sales tax revenue bonds due in 16 years traded at $124.361, we sold BB rated Presbyterian Villages of Michigan 4.75% of 2053 at $97.55. In the taxable muni sector, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey sold A+ rated 5.647% bonds due in 20 years at prices as high as $142.029 and the University of Massachusetts Building Authority sold AA rated bonds with a 3.013% coupon due in 2043 at $102.622. We sold A2 rated Berklee College of Music bonds with a 3.086% coupon due in 2049 at $93.006.

In the primary municipal market last week, the calendar was the largest of the year so far at $16.1 billion and most new issues sold at premiums. Among higher yielding new issues, the Guam Department of Education sold $65.4 million of B+ rated certificates of participation for John F. Kennedy High School structured with 20-year term bonds priced at 5.00% to yield 4.90%. The Arizona Industrial Development Authority issued $19 million of BB+ rated bonds for Pinecrest Academy of Nevada including a 2053 term bond priced at 5.00% to yield 4.05% and $15.2 million of BB rated bonds for Mater Academy of Nevada that had a 30-year maturity priced at 5.00% to yield 4.25%. The Industrial Development Authority of Pima County issued $9.5 million of non-rated bonds for Synergy Public School due in 2050 priced at par to yield 5.00%.

Both the Treasury and municipal markets were hit with heavy supply last week. The U.S. Treasury auctioned $110 billion of 3-year, 10-year and 30-year securities in sales that were characterized as “fair” to “uninspired” while municipals easily digested a weekly calendar that was the largest of the year at $16 billion. State and local governments and non-profit borrowers are still accelerating plans for market entry in advance of the elections less than three weeks away so as to bolster liquidity, finance projects at low rates, and shore up programs whacked hard by the pandemic. Tax-exempt yields are still equal to or higher than U.S. Treasuries and both rose in tandem over the course of last week. The 2-year Treasury yield increased by 3 basis points to 0.15% while the 2-year tax-exempt AAA muni yield rose by 2 basis points to close at 0.15% as well. The 10-year Treasury yield weakened by 7 basis points to 0.77% as did the comparable muni which closed at 0.95%. The 30-year government yield ended the week 9 basis points higher, while the muni long bond closed up 10 basis points at 1.73%. The 10-year Baa rated taxable muni yield climbed 9 basis points to 2.62% while the comparable corporate bond yield dropped 2 basis points to 2.99%.

The coronavirus pandemic has been changing household, corporate and governmental behavior for more than seven months now. Most of us have become much more budget conscious. Many of us are buying exclusively online now, or focused on supporting local businesses or brands, projects and investments that are socially and environmentally conscious. Last week, Fitch Ratings categorized four areas of potentially enduring change impacting our lives and the credit picture for many borrowers. Their research identifies the work-from-home trend which impacts sales and income taxes, utility demand, property values, housing demand, traffic and mass transit; population shifts to lower tax and less dense areas; e-commerce and the virtual delivery of services, education and entertainment; and a reversal of globalization trends affecting international air travel and cargo volumes, trade, and domestic manufacturing and supply chains to name just a few. Time will tell how much has been fundamentally and permanently altered. In the meantime, we continue as we always have — to hunt for the best discounts.

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