CAM Investment Grade Weekly Insights

CAM Investment Grade Weekly Insights

Fund Flows & Issuance: According to Wells Fargo, IG fund flows on the week were $5.362bln. This brings the YTD total to +$282.514bln in total inflows into the investment grade markets. According to Bloomberg, investment grade corporate issuance for the week was $24.35bln, and YTD total corporate bond issuance was $1.19t. Investment grade corporate bond issuance thus far in 2017 is down 3% y/y when compared to 2016.

(WSJ) Mr. Ordinary: Who Is Jerome Powell, Trump’s Federal Reserve Pick?

  • When a business-school student sought out Jerome Powell several years ago for career advice, Mr. Powell, President Donald Trump’s pick to become the 16th chairman of the Federal Reserve, offered his philosophy on getting ahead.
  • His advice: Keep your head down and work hard, according to the student, Sean Gillispie, today a software product director in the Washington area. Mr. Powell told him he would be surprised “how many otherwise competent people self-sabotage with poor behavior,” Mr. Gillispie recalls.
  • In recent years, there have been two kinds of Fed chairmen: commanding personalities such as Paul Volcker and Alan Greenspan, whose views on inflation and interest rates dominated central banking from the 1980s through the mid-2000s; and the consensus-driven leaders, Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen, who guided the central bank toward more open decision-making and de-emphasized the power of the chairman.
  • Mr. Powell, judging by his nearly 40-year career in government, law and banking, is likely to be in the latter group. That means a Powell Fed might look a lot like it has since Mr. Greenspan retired in 2006.
  • Such continuity would be welcome in the markets, which don’t like uncertainty, and at the Fed, one of the world’s most powerful economic policy-making bodies. It also could please Mr. Trump, who has spoken approvingly of record stock prices and declining unemployment.
  • “I would be surprised if [Mr. Powell] walked away at the end of his term with a huge stamp of reshaping the Fed,” says Charles Plosser, who as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia until 2015 worked closely with Mr. Powell. “He’s not likely to lead Federal Reserve reform and innovation on monetary policy, but that does not mean he won’t be a good chair.”
  • Unlike Ms. Yellen and Mr. Bernanke, Mr. Powell doesn’t hold a degree in economics—which would make him the first chairman since the late 1970s without such a credential. Although he has worked as an investor, lawyer and bank regulator, he has no experience leading a large organization.
  • The Fed is no simple bureaucracy. It has a seven-member board, 12 regional banks, a secretive decision-making process and 2,700 employees involved in interest-rate decisions, bank regulation and managing the nation’s currency circulation. It also serves as the Treasury’s fiscal agent in managing the nation’s debt.
  • It is in the process of raising short-term interest rates from near-zero levels and of gradually winding down a $4.2 trillion portfolio of mortgage and Treasury securities built up during and after the financial crisis. Mr. Powell was part of a group in 2013 that pressed Mr. Bernanke to wind down the bond-purchase programs, although he has never dissented in 44 meetings on the Fed board.
  • Mr. Powell’s most notable mark on monetary policy at the Fed was his involvement in bond-buying phase out. Worried that investors believed the programs would continue indefinitely, he joined with two other Fed governors, Betsy Duke and Jeremy Stein, to persuade Mr. Bernanke to scale the program back. The effort was typical of Mr. Powell’s style—conducted almost entirely behind the scenes and with little fanfare.
  • One person who has worked with several Fed officials in recent years says he often heard about petty personal rivalries or feuds between board members, but these people never had a bad word for Mr. Powell.
  • “He is remarkably undogmatic,” says Jeremy Stein, a Harvard University economics professor, Democrat and former Fed governor whose office was adjacent to Mr. Powell’s. “He listens more than he talks.”
  • Mr. Powell has held several different roles on a board that has been plagued with vacancies in several years. He earned respect from colleagues for tackling unheralded operational tasks and technical issues, including managing payment-processing systems. He also boosted morale this summer when he oversaw the implementation of a relaxed summer dress code.

(Moody’s) Moody’s downgrades CenturyLink to Ba3; outlook negative

  • Moody’s Investors Service, (Moody’s) has downgraded CenturyLink, Inc.’s (CenturyLink) corporate family rating (CFR) to Ba3 from Ba2, downgraded its senior unsecured rating to B2 from Ba3, and confirmed its senior secured rating at Ba3. The downgrade reflects CenturyLink’s higher leverage related to its imminent acquisition of Level 3 Communications, Inc. (Level 3).
  • The senior unsecured ratings of Qwest Corporation and Embarq Corporation were downgraded to Ba2 from Ba1.

(Fitch) Fitch Downgrades CenturyLink’s Ratings to ‘BB’ / Affirms Level 3

  • Fitch Ratings has downgraded the Long-Term Issuer Default Ratings (IDRs) assigned to CenturyLink, Inc. (CenturyLink) and its subsidiaries to ‘BB’ from ‘BB+’ and removed the ratings from Negative Watch. In addition, Fitch has affirmed the IDRs for Level 3 Communications, Inc. (LVLT) and its subsidiary, Level 3 Financing, Inc. The Outlook is Stable for all ratings. The rating action is due to CenturyLink’s completion of the acquisition of LVLT, which closed on Nov. 1, 2017 following approval by the Federal Communications Commission.
  • The $9.9 billion in secured financing is guaranteed by certain existing CenturyLink subsidiaries (including Embarq Corp.), except for Qwest Corporation (QC), and by a new holding company, Level 3 Parent, LLC, which is now LVLT’s parent. The stock of both LVLT and QC has been pledged as collateral for the facilities. LVLT and its subsidiaries will not provide guarantees to HoldCo or the acquisition debt, and its existing debt will remain outstanding.
  • Based on the one-notch downgrade of CenturyLink’s IDR to ‘BB’, Fitch has taken the following rating actions:
    • –A one-notch downgrade of CenturyLink’s and Qwest Capital Funding’s senior unsecured debt to ‘BB’/’RR4’. The one-notch downgrade is consistent with Fitch’s notching treatment of issue ratings with ‘RR4’ recoveries, reflecting a rating at the same level as the IDR.

(Bloomberg) Teva Lowers Debt Repayment Forecast to $3.5B: McClellan

  • Teva has no current plan to raise new equity; will consider raising equity with new management, Interim CFO Michael McClellan says on conference call with analysts.
    • Credit rating downgrade would raise rates on Teva term loans: CFO
    • Teva’s $6b term loans would face 25 basis point rise
    • Asset sales to generate $2.3b in net proceeds, majority to be collected this year: outgoing interim CEO Peterburg
    • CEO Schultz plans to focus on key generic launches, scale of operations, strengthening operations, stabilizing operating profit and cash flow
    • Teva will do “whatever is needed to improve performance:” Chairman Barer

(Bloomberg) Hurricane Rebound Comes Up Short in Payrolls

  • The October jobs report was well above trend, as a rebound from hurricane interruptions lifted hiring, albeit by not as much as the consensus of economists anticipated. However, significant upward revisions to August and September mean the net hiring gain was considerably stronger than the October headline would otherwise suggest.
  • The important takeaway from this report is that there has been little interruption of the underlying hiring trend due to recent hurricanes. In fact, the categories most impacted by storms — such as leisure and hospitality — posted complete recoveries. The underlying hiring pace of job creation (roughly 160k) exceeds the natural growth rate of the labor force, whereby the unemployment rate continues to grind lower. This is a critical development for policy makers, because unemployment is now running well below their estimate of the neutral level. As a result, Fed officials will be less concerned about the backsliding of inflation, which continues to perplex forecasters.
  • Tighter labor conditions will ultimately drive wages and consumer inflation higher. While the level of unemployment at which this occurs may be lower than policy makers currently estimate, it will almost certainly occur if unemployment descends into 3% territory; this appears likely over the next few quarters.
  • It is difficult to discern if wage pressures are flaring up in the latest jobs report, as average hourly earnings recoiled from a hurricane-driven surge in September. Nonetheless, other metrics of labor cost pressures, such as the employment cost index reported earlier this week, are reapproaching post-recession highs — thereby signaling that labor inflation is indeed mounting, albeit gradually.
  • Unfortunately, the hurricane distortions evident in both the September and October jobs reports leave policy makers with just one clean labor assessment ahead of their Dec. 13 rate decision. However, the latest GDP results, swift post-storm recovery in an array of data and solid employment gains all give the green light to policy makers to continue normalizing interest rates, particularly given that financial conditions continue to ease.