Senior Portfolio Manager
The first FOMC meeting of the New Year was held on January 27th with the Federal Reserve keeping its easy money policies in place. 2020 saw the Federal Reserve cut short-term interest rates to near zero, launch an extensive bond purchase program and has reiterated maintaining these measures until its goals of lower unemployment and 2% inflation are achieved. Activity has softened with the resurgence of Covid-19 cases but hoping the rollout of vaccines will derail the pandemic and heal the economy. The next meeting is scheduled for March 17, 2021.
The 2020 year end in the municipal market was a smooth ending to a tumultuous year. Entering 2021, the same two driving factors will continue to keep demand strong and steady in the municipal market. Asset flows into long-term bond funds and separately managed accounts saw continued strong inflows in January and the expectation that issuance will continue to be robust as governments contend with the financial fallout of the pandemic. The Federal Reserve’s zero rate policy, the appetite for yield and the prospect of higher tax-levels should continue to fuel demand and enable issuers to restructure debt at historic low interest rate levels. Both long-term and short-term markets easily absorbed the plethora of new issues with strong investor demand across the maturity spectrum during the year.
New issuance in the municipal market during the first few months of the new year should be muted as issuers assess their need. We believe demand will exceed supply the first few months of the year and will keep a lid on yields while demand remains remain strong. We will continue to focus on securities that meet our maturity guidelines and credit criteria.
Federal government support to aid cities and states adversely affected by the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic is still on the table and a political football. Our experienced credit team will continue to review our current holdings and any purchases we make going forward. All of the securities purchased receive a minimal credit risk designation prior to purchase and are periodically reviewed for any changes to the credit outlook. We continue to maintain very high grade, liquid portfolios.
Tax-exempt money market fund asset flows have been steady the past few months and we believe strong supply/demand technicals should continue to keep short-term municipal market rates at historic lows. The current economic and political environment will prove pivotal in 2021 as fiscal stimulus and budget concerns will highlight the sector. The programs initiated were significant in calming the markets and keeping the credit system working well, even without having much use of the facilities.
The SIFMA Index (the 7 day high grade market index comprised of tax-exempt Variable Rate Demand Obligations reset rates that are reported to the Municipal Securities Rulemaking board weekly) has averaged 0.10% the past few months vs 0.55% for 2020. Issuance has been met with strong demand as funds continue to maintain high levels of liquidity.
All investments involve risk, including the possible loss of principal. Certain investments involve greater or unique risks that should be considered along with the objectives, fees, and expenses before investing.
Municipal income may be subject to state and local taxes for out-of-state residents. Some income may be subject to the federal alternative minimum tax for certain investors. Capital gains, if any, are taxable.
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