Month: June 2018

29 Jun 2018

CAM Investment Grade Weekly Insights

Corporate spreads moved modestly wider during the week as BBB credit continues to underperform A-rated credit.

According to Wells Fargo, IG fund flows for the week of June 21-June 27 were +$1.3 billion.  IG flows are now +$69.387 billion YTD.

Per Bloomberg, it was the slowest week for the new issue calendar thus far in 2018, with only $2.4 billion in new corporate debt priced through Thursday.  This brings the YTD total to ~$595bn.

Treasury rates did not change materially this week and curves remain flat.


(Bloomberg) Fed Test Slaps Wall Street Titans, Unleashes Record Payout

  • Tougher Federal Reserve stress tests forced some of Wall Street’s top banks to rein in ambitious plans for pumping out cash to shareholders. But even those diminished returns spell a record payout to investors.
  • As the central bank’s annual stress tests ended Thursday, the nation’s four largest lenders — JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp., Wells Fargo & Co. and Citigroup Inc. — said they will distribute more than $110 billion through dividends and stock buybacks, sending their stocks higher. Even shares of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley — which the Fed blocked from boosting total payouts — climbed in early trading Friday.
  • The Fed’s decisions in the test provided some relief for investors after arecord 13 straight days of declines in the S&P 500 Financials Index. In the hours after clearing the test, more than 20 firms described how they’ll reward their owners over the coming four quarters. Wells Fargo plans to boost payouts more than 70 percent to about $33 billion, while JPMorgan signaled a 16 percent increase to $32 billion.
  • The Fed also delivered some bad news. The regulator said it rejected initial proposals from six firms — JPMorgan, Goldman, Morgan Stanley, American Express Co., M&T Bank Corp. and KeyCorp — to make even higher payouts, forcing them to temper their requests. Never have so many firms taken that so-called mulligan to finish the exam.
  • The Fed also failed a U.S. subsidiary of Deutsche Bank AG, citing “widespread and critical deficiencies” in its planning. The widely anticipated rejection limits the unit’s ability to send capital home to Germany and comes as senior executives try to bolster investor confidence. The Frankfurt-based firm said it’s working with regulators and making progress.


 (Bloomberg) Charter Pays Double-Digit Concession                     

  • Domestic telecom company Charter Communications was the lone issuer to navigate what’s become a treacherous investment-grade primary market.
    • Compressing spreads 15bps, CHTR paid 10bps in new issue concession to print $1.5 billion split between 5.5-year fixed- and floating-rate notes when taking into account both their outstanding 22s and 25s.
    • New issue fatigue continues to grip the market as investors digest more than $31 billion in jumbo acquisition-related financing from Bayer and Walmart alone. After considering persistent headline risk from global trade tensions, sensitivities around Italy and an upcoming holiday-shortened week, activity is likely to remain muted until the week beginning July 9.
    • With just $2.4 billion pricing, we are on pace for the lightest volume week of the year. Prior to this, the last week of May held that distinction with $4.75 billion of sales.
    • It was surprising that a split-rated, high-beta telecommunications company elected to move forward today given the recent uneven broader market backdrop and weaker credit landscape.
    • Execution can best be described as mixed this week, highlighted by triple-B captive finance issuer Penske Truck Leasing’s 5-year deal stalling Tuesday, launching at initial price thoughts while the borrower was forced to pay elevated concessions.
    • As we saw over the last two active sessions, today’s final orderbook was less than 2 times covered.


(Bloomberg) In GE Overhaul, Once-Mighty Finance Arm Goes Out With a Whimper

  • General Electric Co.’s finance business was once considered “too big to fail’’ by the U.S. government. These days, John Flannery is trying to make it too small to notice.
  • The chief executive officer is selling the bulk of what’s left of GE Capital as part of an effort to remake the parent company into a less volatile — and much smaller — maker of aerospace and power equipment.
  • When he’s done, the lending side, which GE has been downsizing since the financial crisis, will consist of a world-class aircraft leasing unit and not much else. It wasn’t that long ago that it offered everything from credit cards and commercial real estate loans to freight-train financing and pet insurance.
  • Flannery’s plan, which also calls for spinning off the health-care division and backing out of the oil and gas market, would effectively complete the slow-motion breakup of a banking business that predecessors Jack Welchand Jeffrey Immelt had built into a Wall Street titan.
  • Flannery, who spent decades in finance roles at GE, acknowledged the diminishing role of lending at the company but wouldn’t call it the end of GE Capital. After all, there’s still one big business left.
  • GE Capital Aviation Services, better known as Gecas, is one of the world’s top plane lessors, with a fleet of almost 2,000 aircraft. The business generated $283 million in profit in the first quarter, while GE Capital overall lost $1.8 billion.
  • Flannery has no plans to sell Gecas, which he argues is complementary to GE’s jet-engine manufacturing operations. Still, he said there’s a lot of external interest, giving GE “optionality” down the road. As he put it, potential acquirers “call us constantly.”
29 Jun 2018

CAM High Yield Weekly Insights

Fund Flows & Issuance:  According to a Wells Fargo report, flows week to date were -$1.5 billion and year to date flows stand at -$33.4 billion.  New issuance for the week was $4.2 billion and year to date HY is at $100.8 billion, which is -27% over the same period last year. 


(Bloomberg)  High Yield Market Highlights

  • The yield on the Bloomberg Barclays US Corporate High Yield Bond Index jumped to the highest since December 2016 as issuance surged and funds saw outflows.
  • Yesterday was busiest day for issuance this year, marking the busiest week of supply since early March
  • Stars Group, a CCC-credit, got orders over $2b, priced at tight end of talk, increased size of the offering, cut size of TLB
  • Nationstar, a low single-B credit, priced in middle of talk on orders of more than $3b
  • AmWINS, also single-B, priced at tight end of talk
  • June on track to be slowest sixth month since 2013
  • 2018 issuance expected to be lower than last year’s $275b
  • BB and single-B yields jumped to 20-month high after rising most in more than 2 months


(Bloomberg)  Community Health Continues Debt Revamp With $1 Billion of Senior Notes

  • Community Health Systems Inc. is raising $1.027 billion by selling new senior notes to pay down more than$1 billion in term loans.
  • The new first lien debt due in 2024 would be used to pay off Community’s Term Loan G, according to a statement. The sale would put off a near-term maturity and give the hospital operator a respite from refinancing for more than two years, at an incremental cost of $50 million in interest, Mike Holland, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst, said in an interview.
  • The offering follows Community’s debt exchange of unsecured notes for secured bonds with longer maturities. The Franklin, Tennessee-based company is unwinding a debt-fueled acquisition binge and cutting costs as it confronts tepid admissions, low margins and the industry’s high expenses. Community sold 30 hospitals last year, and it’s trying to strengthen results at the hospitals it’s keeping by focusing on more profitable treatments and getting out of low-margin treatments.
  • Moody’s Investors Service rated the new first lien notes at B3, six steps below investment grade, on the expectation that Community will continue to operate with “very high financial leverage” of over eight times. The ratings firm expects negative free cash flow over the next 12 to 18 months as a result of high interest costs and “significant capital requirements” of the business.


(Moody’s)  Moody’s upgrades Diamondback Energy’s debt by one notch, positive outlook

(CAM Notes)  The Moody’s upgrade was based on the expected production and reserve growth over the next year and a half.  Additionally, Moody’s likes the generated top-tier margins of Diamondback.


(PR Newswire)  Steel Dynamics Announces Columbus Flat Roll Division’s New Galvanizing Line Expansion

  • Steel Dynamics announced plans to expand its offering of value-added flat roll steel products through the addition of a new galvanizing line in Columbus, Mississippi.  The company plans to invest approximately $140 millionand create 45 new jobs, adding a third galvanizing line at its Columbus Flat Roll Division.  After the planned completion of this new facility, the company will have nine value-added galvanizing lines located throughout the eastern half of the United States, with a total annual coating capacity of approximately 3.8 million tons.  Upon the closing of the recently announced planned Heartland acquisition, the company will have ten flat roll steel galvanizing lines with approximately 4.2 million tons of coating capacity, solidifying Steel Dynamics as the largest provider of non-automotive galvanized flat roll steel in the United States.
  • “This investment is another step of further diversification into higher-margin products for our Columbus Flat Roll Division,” said Mark D. Millett, President and Chief Executive Officer.  “In recent years, Columbushas transformed its product offerings through the addition of painting and Galvalume® coating capability, as well as through the introduction of more complex grades of flat roll steel, some of which serve the automotive sector.  These value-added improvements have reduced the amount of volume available to our existing galvanized customer base.  The addition of a third galvanizing facility will allow Columbus to serve these existing customers, as well as new customers in the region, and will also further reduce its exposure to the more cyclical hot roll market.”
  • Construction is planned to take place during the next 24 months, with operations expected to begin mid-year 2020.
  • Additionally, Steel Dynamics was recognized as the “2018 Steel Producer of the Year” on Tuesday, June 26, 2018, during the AMM Awards for Steel Excellence ceremony.
  • Finalists were selected by senior American Metal Market editors, and those entries were scored by steel industry veterans who serve as judges to select the winners.


(CNBC)  Conagra Brands to acquire Pinnacle Foods for about $8.1 billion

  • Conagra Brands on Wednesday announced plans to acquire Pinnacle Foods in a cash-and-stock deal valued at about $8.1 billion that furthers Conagra’s transformation under CEO Sean Connolly and its push into frozen foods.
  • Including debt, the deal is valued at $10.9 billion.
  • The pairing of Healthy Choice-owner Conagra and Bird’s Eye-owner Pinnacle would create the second-largest U.S. frozen food company behind Nestle, analysts at RBC Capital Markets have written. Conagra has poured money into its frozen business, with an eye toward repackaging and reformulating its products to cater to younger diners.
  • Under the agreement, Pinnacle shareholders will receive $43.11 per share in cash and 0.6494 shares of Conagra’s common stock for each share of Pinnacle. Pinnacle shareholders are expected to own approximately 16 percent of the combined company.
  • The deal is the culmination of on-again, off-again talks the two have had for years. It comes months after activist investor Jana Partners disclosed a roughly 9 percent stake in Pinnacle and said it planned to talk with the company about a possible sale.
25 Jun 2018

CAM Investment Grade Weekly Insights

Trade concerns continued to weigh on debt and equity markets throughout the week. Spreads on the Bloomberg Barclays Corporate Index are 7 wider on the week as we go to print on Monday.  A deluge of corporate bond supply in the primary market has certainly helped to push spreads wider.  On Monday, Bayer printed a $15bln deal to fund its acquisition of Monsanto.  At the time, this was the second largest deal of the year, after the jumbo $40bln deal that CVS brought to market in early March.  Walmart would soon take the mantle of the second largest deal from Bayer as the retailer brought a $16bn deal on Wednesday to fund its acquisition of Indian-based ecommerce retailer Flipkart.

According to Wells Fargo, IG fund flows for the week of June 14-June 20 were -$1.4 billion. Even with the reversal in flows, IG flows are still positive at +$68.107 billion YTD.

Jumbo M&A led to one of the busiest new issue calendars that we have seen thus far in 2018. Per Bloomberg, over $43 billion in new corporate debt priced through Thursday.  This brings the YTD total to $636 billion.


(Bloomberg) Why Corporate Bond Liquidity Might Not Be as Bad as You Fear

  • Banks’ shrinking corporate-bond holdings are partly a statistical mirage, according to a consulting firm. Some money managers and analysts believe it may be time to stop worrying about it.
  • One measure of total dealer holdings of corporate bonds has dropped by around 90 percent since the crisis, a fact that has instilled fear in money managers for years. Dealers’ inventories of corporate bonds can be a shock absorber for the market: in times of trouble, banks can buy the securities from panicked sellers, hang onto them, and then offload them slowly, potentially preventing prices from plunging.
  • But the decline in inventories is less dramatic than it seems because of a quirk in the data, consulting firm Tabb Group wrote in a recent report. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York statistic in question, primary dealer positions in corporate securities, fell to around $23 billion as of June 6 from around $265 billion in 2007. Much of that decline stemmed from the New York Fed narrowing the way it defined corporate bonds in 2013, when it appeared to have removed mortgage-backed securities without government backing from the mix, according to Tabb. On an apples-to-apples basis, inventories declined more like 35 percent to 50 percent for banks between 2007 and 2014, the consulting firm estimated.
  • Inventories aren’t even the best measure to look at for assessing liquidity, Tabb Group said. What money managers care about is a bank’s capacity to buy securities, and the bigger a dealer’s inventory, the less ability it has to buy more. The average capacity at the six biggest U.S. banks for corporate bond underwriting fell just 16 percent between 2006 and 2017, according to Tabb, and most of the banks can take on even more risk if there’s a valid business reason to do so.
  • Looking at the top 20 dealers, the decline in banks’ capacity from the pre-crisis era is closer to around 35 percent, Tabb estimates. But it’s not fair to completely blame rulemakers for these declines. There are good business reasons for banks to be less willing to hold the debt because interest rates are broadly rising, said Timothy Doubek, senior portfolio manager at Columbia Threadneedle Investments, which manages about $172 billion of fixed income assets.
  • There are still reasons to be worried about how corporate bonds may perform in a downturn. The declines in inventories and capacity have come at a time when the amount of debt outstanding has surged: there were about $9 trillion of U.S. corporate bonds outstanding as of the end of March, according to the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, a trade group. That’s an increase of around 85 percent from the end of 2006.
  • There’s no single way to define liquidity and it can vanish during times of stress. One measure known as the “bid-ask spread,” which looks at differences between the prices at which dealers will buy and sell a security, tends to grow wider when liquidity is low, and shrink when it’s strong. That spread is about as tight as it’s ever been.



22 Jun 2018

CAM High Yield Weekly Insights

Fund Flows & Issuance:  According to a Wells Fargo report, flows week to date were -$0.5 billion and year to date flows stand at -$31.8 billion.  New issuance for the week was $1.7 billion and year to date HY is at $96.5 billion, which is -28% over the same period last year. 


(Bloomberg)  High Yield Market Highlights

  • Junk bond yields are up slightly with equity weakness and rising VIX, while lack of supply is supportive.
  • Yield to worst on Bloomberg Barclays US Corporate High Yield Bond Index rose to 6.26%
  • VIX saw the biggest jump in more than three weeks, closed at a 3-week high
  • DJIA dropped in nine of the last 10 sessions, closed at a 3-week low amid continuing tensions over tariffs
  • New issuance has been quite sparse
  • Junk bond YTD returns are 0.69%, the best performing in U.S. fixed income
  • CCCs continue to top BB, single-Bs with YTD returns of 3.52%
  • CCCs also beat investment grade bonds, which are down 3.58%


(Moody’s)  Moody’s Upgrades AES Corporation’s Corporate Family Rating to Ba1 from Ba2; Rating Outlook is Stable

(CAM notes)  Moody’s upgrade was based on the business diversity, lowering of carbon risk exposure, and an improving credit profile.


(Bloomberg)  Cheniere to Buy Unit for $30.93 a Share in Streamlining Move

  • Cheniere Energy Inc., the first U.S. company to export shale gas overseas, will buy the remaining stake in a holding company it already controls for $30.93 a share, moving to simplify amid a U.S. tax overhaul that’s pummeling natural gas partnerships.
  • Investors in Cheniere Energy Partners LP Holdings LLC will receive 0.475 of a share in Cheniere Energy Inc. for each share of the holding company, of which Cheniere already controls 91.9 percent. The deal values the acquired company at about $7.2 billion.
  • The pact comes as companies from Williams Cos. to Enbridge Inc. take steps to tighten their structures as changes in U.S. tax law upend the master limited partnerships often used to own pipelines. Units in MLPs plunged in March after regulators said they can no longer charge customers for taxes they don’t pay.
  • “This has been the plan all along,” for Cheniere, Pavel Molchanov, an analyst at Raymond James Financial Inc., said by phone “This is part and parcel of a broader theme across the MLP landscape: companies are cleaning up, simplifying their structures.”
  • The holding company has a stake in Cheniere Energy Partners LP — the business that owns and operates Sabine Pass, the terminal that was first to export U.S. shale gas overseas.


(Moody’s)  Moody’s downgrades U.S. Concrete’s Corporate Family Rating to B2 from B1; outlook remains stable

(CAM Notes)  Moody’s downgrade was based on leverage being elevated from the expected level.  Moody’s does see value in the Company’s ability to generate free cash flow.  Additionally, the private non-residential commercial segment of the construction market is favorable.


(CNBC)  Conagra has approached Pinnacle Foods about a potential deal 

  • Conagra Brands has approached Pinnacle Foods about a potential acquisition, sources familiar with the situation told CNBC on Thursday.
  • A pairing of Healthy Choice-owner Conagra and Bird’s Eye-owner Pinnacle would combine two companies with a large presence in frozen foods at a time when the category is seeing a resurgence. Food companies, including Conagra, have poured money into previously neglected brands to highlight their healthiness, affordability and ease of use.
  • Pinnacle has a market capitalization of $7.9 billion, while Conagra’s is $15.1 billion. A combination of Conagra and Pinnacle would create the second-largest U.S. frozen food company, analysts at RBC Capital Markets recently wrote. The other major players include Kraft Heinz and Nestle, the latter of which is the largest in the U.S., according to RBC.
  • The deal talks come after activist hedge fund Jana Partners recently disclosed a roughly 9 percent stake in Pinnacle and said it planned to talk with the company on a range of subjects, including a possible sale.


(Street Insider)  Frontier Communications CFO R. Perley McBride Resigns

  • Frontier Communications announced that R. Perley McBride, its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, will be resigning from the company for personal reasons, and to return to Atlanta where his family resides. Mr. McBride will remain in his position until August 31, 2018 to help transition responsibilities. A search for his successor is being conducted.
  • Frontier’s President and Chief Executive Officer Daniel J. McCarthy stated, “We announce Perley’s resignation with regret. Perley has done a tremendous job managing our balance sheet. He has negotiated improvements in the terms of our credit agreements, raised $1.6 billion of new second lien debt, and retired approximately $1.7 billion of unsecured notes. These steps, together with the stabilization in our business as reflected in our most recent quarterly results, have placed Frontier on a positive path forward. On behalf of everyone at Frontier, I wish Perley and his family the best in the future.”
15 Jun 2018

CAM High Yield Weekly Insights

Fund Flows & Issuance:  According to a Wells Fargo report, flows week to date were $0.5 billion and year to date flows stand at -$28.1 billion.  New issuance for the week was $2.0 billion and year to date HY is at $94.7 billion, which is -29% over the same period last year. 


(Bloomberg)  High Yield Market Highlights

  • Junk bond spreads have dropped to an 8-week low — just 18bps from the tightest in 10 years — as investors seem to shrug off geopolitical tensions, fears of trade war and rates volatility. Supply is tight and fund inflows have resumed.
  • High yield index spread closed at +329
  • CCC spreads have dropped 53bps YTD to close at 5-month low of +562
  • For returns, CCCs continued to top BBs and single-Bs
  • High yield supply thin, retail funds seeing cash inflows
  • Summer is likely to see issuance picking up as acquisitions and buyouts gain some momentum
  • Moody’s survey of non-financial companies finds that 65% of them were better off with the 2017 tax cut and they expect to use additional cash to repay debt, and to a lesser extent, repurchase stocks


(Fierce Wireless)  Sprint slashes data prices with $15 unlimited plan for those willing to switch

  • Sprint has unveiled one of the most aggressive wireless promotions yet, offering unlimited data, talk, and text for just $15 per line per month. The offer is for people who are switching to Sprint from another carrier. It can only be activated online, and does not require a contract.
  • By undercutting its competitors on price, Sprint is making several points. First, the carrier appears confident that its network can handle a lot more traffic and perform as well as those of its competitors. Second, despite a major investment in new Sprint retail stores across the country, Sprint would rather sign up its new customers online than in person. Third, Sprint is not content to languish in fourth place in the U.S. market while it waits to see if U.S. regulators will approve its merger with T-Mobile next year.
  • And finally, Sprint is underlining the point that a wireless market with four operators invites aggressive price promotion. Washington wants to see a competitive wireless market, but it doesn’t necessarily want to see carriers cutting prices to a point that threatens their ability to invest in next-generation networks.
  • The promotion also underscores the cutthroat nature of a four-carrier wireless market. Some analysts say a three-carrier market is likely to result in fewer discounts for customers. This is a negative for consumers in the short term, but could be positive in the longer term, according to some analysts.
  • Analyst Joe Madden of Mobile Experts has pointed out that in countries with just three carriers, higher margins create the financial opportunity for carriers to invest in new technologies, which ultimately lead to more value for consumers. Consumers may not see rock-bottom data prices, but they are able to get a lot more data for each dollar they spend. This is the type of argument that will almost certainly be made in Washington as the Justice Department and the FCC consider the proposed merger of Sprint and T-Mobile.


(Bloomberg)  OPEC Highlights Demand Uncertainty Before Crucial Meeting

  • OPEC emphasized the deep uncertainty over the strength of demand for its oil just a week before contentious talks on whether to raise production.
  • There’s a “wide forecast range” for how much crude the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries needs to pump in the second half of the year, its research department said in a monthly report. With a range of uncertainty of 1.7 million barrels a day, demand could either be significantly higher, or slightly lower, than OPEC’s current output.
  • “Looking at various sources, considerable uncertainty as to world oil demand and non-OPEC supply prevails,” said the report, published by OPEC’s secretariat in Vienna. “This outlook for the second half of 2018 warrants close monitoring.”
  • OPEC and its allies will debate whether to revive halted output when they gather in Vienna next week. Saudi Arabia and Russia have said they want to raise supplies to prevent high prices hurting economic growth, but opposition among other producers is growing.


(Moody’s)  Moody’s Downgrades Tenneco’s Debt Ratings

  • The rating actions incorporate Tenneco’s proposed capital structure related to financing its planned acquisition of Federal-Mogul LLC (Federal-Mogul), a leading global supplier to automotive original equipment manufacturers and the aftermarket. On a pro forma basis for 2017, the transaction will increase Tenneco’s leverage to over 4x inclusive of estimated synergies, from 2.4x. This is transformational for Tenneco, both the acquisition of Federal Mogul as well as the plan to separate into two separate businesses with one focused on Aftermarket & Ride Performance and the other on Powertrain Technology.
  • Tenneco is expected to acquire Federal-Mogul from affiliates of Icahn Enterprises L.P. for $5.4 billion. This is about a 7.2x multiple of Tenneco’s calculation of Federal-Mogul’s 2017 adjusted EBITDA (pre synergies). The acquisition is expected to close in the second half of 2018, subject to regulatory and shareholder approvals and other customary closing conditions.
  • The ratings reflect the significant increase in leverage, with the expectation that improvement is unlikely over the near term, as approximately 75% of the synergies will not be realized until late 2019. Pro Forma debt/EBITDA is estimated at 4.8x, and about 4.2x adjusting for Tenneco’s projected synergies. The ratings also reflect a number of near-term execution risks including: operating the ongoing businesses while both integrating certain operations related to the planned separation; and implementing programs to achieve the planned synergies and working capital improvements.

(CAM Note)  S&P and Fitch have also downgraded the debt of Tenneco


(CNN)  Fed raises interest rates and signals faster hikes on the way

  • The Federal Reserve on Wednesday lifted its benchmark rate by a quarter of a percentage point, the second hike this year.
  • And a majority of policy makers said they now expect a total of four interest rate increases this year. Fed officials had been split about whether to raise rates three times this year or four.
  • The decision reflected an economy that’s getting even stronger. Unemployment is 3.8%, the lowest since 2000, and inflation is creeping higher. The Fed is raising rates gradually to keep the economy from overheating.
  • “The main takeaway is that the economy is doing very well,” Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said at a news conference. “Most people who want to find jobs are finding them, and unemployment and inflation are low.”
15 Jun 2018

CAM Investment Grade Weekly Insights

There was no shortage of news in the market this week with political, economic and monetary policy events.  To top it off, on Friday morning we learned that the U.S. and China are now officially in the early innings of a potential trade war, which has pushed the debt and equity markets firmly into risk-off mode as we head to press.

According to Wells Fargo, IG fund flows for the week of June 7-May 13 were +$2.3 billion.  IG flows are now +$68.573 billion YTD.  Short and intermediate duration funds continue to garner assets while long duration funds have been shrinking this year.

Per Bloomberg, 23.37 billion in new corporate debt priced through Thursday.  This brings the YTD total to ~$592bn, which is down 8% year over year.

Treasury curves continue to flatten and are now the flattest they have been since 2007.


(CNET) Net neutrality is really, officially dead. Now what?

  • The Obama-era net neutrality rules, passed in 2015, are defunct. This time it’s for real.
  • Though some minor elements of the proposal by the Republican-led FCC to roll back those net neutrality rules went into effect last month, most aspects still required approval from the Office of Management and Budget. That’s now been taken care of, with the Federal Communications Commission declaring June 11 as the date the proposal takes effect.
  • While many people agree with the basic principles of net neutrality, the specific rules enforcing the idea has been a lightning rod for controversy. That’s because to get the rules to hold up in court, an earlier, Democrat-led FCC had reclassified broadband networks so that they fell under the same strict regulations that govern telephone networks.
  • FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has called the Obama-era rules “heavy-handed” and “a mistake,” and he’s argued that they deterred innovation and depressed investment in building and expanding broadband networks. To set things right, he says, he’s taking the FCC back to a “light touch” approach to regulation, a move that Republicans and internet service providers have applauded.
    • What’s net neutrality again?
      • Net neutrality is the principle that all traffic on the internet should be treated equally, regardless of whether you’re checking Facebook, posting pictures to Instagram or streaming movies from Netflix or Amazon. It also means companies like AT&T, which is trying to buy Time Warner, or Comcast, which owns NBC Universal, can’t favor their own content over a competitor’s.
    • So what’s happening?
      • The FCC, led by Ajit Pai, voted on Dec. 14 to repeal the 2015 net neutrality regulations, which prohibited broadband providers from blocking or slowing down traffic and banned them from offering so-called fast lanes to companies willing to pay extra to reach consumers more quickly than competitors.
    • Does this mean no one will be policing the internet?
      • The FTC will be the new cop on the beat. It can take action against companies that violate contracts with consumers or that participate in anticompetitive and fraudulent activity.
    • So what’s the big deal? Is the FTC equipped to make sure broadband companies don’t harm consumers?
      • The FTC already oversees consumer protection and competition for the whole economy. But this also means the agency is swamped. And because the FTC isn’t focused exclusively on the telecommunications sector, it’s unlikely the agency can deliver the same kind of scrutiny the FCC would.
    • What about internet fast lanes? Will broadband providers be able to prioritize traffic?
      • The repeal of FCC net neutrality regulations removes the ban that keeps a service provider from charging an internet service, like Netflix or YouTube, a fee for delivering its service faster to customers than competitors can. Net neutrality supporters argue that this especially hurts startups, which can’t afford such fees.


(Bloomberg) AT&T Closes Time Warner Deal After U.S. Declines to Seek Stay

  • AT&T Inc. closed its $85 billion takeover of Time Warner Inc., the culmination of a 20-month battle for the right to enter the media business by acquiring the owner of HBO and Warner Bros.
  • The completion of the deal came just hours after AT&T made a filing in federal court in Washington disclosing that it had reached an agreement with the Justice Department that waived a waiting period for closing.
  • The agreement doesn’t prevent the department’s antitrust division from appealing the decision issued Tuesday by a federal judge rejecting the U.S. antitrust lawsuit against the deal. The government is still weighing whether to appeal the ruling, a Justice Department official said.
  • AT&T’s completion of the takeover caps a nearly two-year effort to acquire Time Warner, the owner of CNN, HBO and Warner Brothers studio. The Justice Department sued in November to stop the merger, claiming the combination would raise prices for pay-TV subscribers across the country. After a six-week trial, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon ruled against the government’s case.


(Bloomberg) Powell Lauds Economy as Fed Nudges Up Interest-Rate Hike Path

  • Federal Reserve officials raised interest rates for the second time this year and upgraded their forecast to four total increases in 2018, as unemployment falls and inflation overshoots their target faster than previously projected.
  • The so-called “dot plot” released Wednesday showed eight Fed policy makers expected four or more quarter-point rate increases for the full year, compared with seven officials during the previous forecast round in March. The number viewing three or fewer hikes as appropriate fell to seven from eight. The median estimate implied three increases in 2019 to put the rate above the level where officials see policy neither stimulating nor restraining the economy.
  • Chairman Jerome Powell told reporters following the decision — which lifted the Fed’s benchmark rate by a quarter percentage point to a range of 1.75 percent to 2 percent — that the main takeaway was that “the economy is doing very well.” Powell also announced he plans to start holding a press conference after every meeting in January, cautioning that “having twice as many press conference does not signal anything.” The Fed chief currently speaks to reporters after every other meeting of policy makers.


(Bloomberg) Concho Resources Rides IG Upgrade Bump Again

  • Exploration & production company Concho Resources was among Thursday’s top performers, pricing $1.6 billion across 2 tranches to help fund the RSP Permian acquisition. The issuer rode the momentum of its Moody’s ratings hike from HY to IG Monday pricing flat to its outstanding credit curve.
  • CXO last accessed the debt capital markets in September pricing a whopping 25bps inside its curve after amassing more than $11 billion in orders. That deal came on the heels of an S&P upgrade to investment grade from HY.


(WSJ) Disney, Comcast Bids for Fox Assets Could Face Regulatory Sticking Point: Sports

  • Comcast Corp. CMCSA and Walt Disney Co. DIS -0.54% are fighting to win over 21st Century Fox Inc. FOX shareholders and acquire major assets of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. After the boardroom fight comes the next battle: winning over Washington.
  • Both bids are expected to get a close look from antitrust regulators at the Justice Department, which earlier this week suffered a bruising loss when a judge approved AT&T Inc.’s acquisition of Time Warner Inc. with no conditions.
  • The Justice Department’s antitrust chief said Wednesday he wouldn’t let the outcome deter him from challenging other deals. “I don’t think our case or evidence or theories were flawed,” Makan Delrahim said, adding that “a different judge could have ruled completely differently.”
  • Comcast executives have begun reaching out to Fox and Comcast shareholders to make their case for the merger, people familiar with the matter say.
  • Because Disney and Comcast, like Fox, produce television shows and movies, either deal would represent a horizontal merger, in which direct rivals combine, further limiting the number of competitors in the industry.
  • The sports assets that would be combined in either a Disney-Fox or Comcast-Fox deal will get heavy scrutiny. Fox is selling nearly two-dozen regional sports networks including in New York, Los Angeles and Detroit. Its marquee property is the YES Network, the television home of the New York Yankees. Fox’s regional sports networks have been valued at $23 billion by industry analysts.
  • Comcast’s nine regional sports networks carry local teams in major markets such as Philadelphia and Chicago. Its SNY, the home of the New York Mets, competes for advertisers with Fox’s YES. The addition of Fox’s channels would make Comcast the home for local sports in just about every major television market. That could potentially give it leverage in negotiations with other distributors for the rights to carry those channels. However, the channels for the most part don’t compete against one another.
  • Disney doesn’t operate any local sports channels, but it owns ESPN, which has several national channels and rights to just about every major sport. The addition of Fox’s 22 regional channels could give it tremendous clout both locally and nationally with pay-TV distributors, sports leagues and advertisers.
  • Neither proposed deal includes the Fox Broadcasting network, its local TV stations, the Fox News and Fox Business channels or the national sports channel Fox Sports 1. The broadcast businesses in particular would have likely made either deal virtually impossible to get past regulators because Disney owns ABC and Comcast owns NBC.


(WSJ) PG&E Cut To BBB By S&P; Still May Be Cut Further

  • S&P said the cut reflects the incremental weakening of the business and financial risk profile after CAL FIRE’s determination that PG&E’s equipment was involved with 16 of the Northern California wildfires in late 2017.
  • S&P said it could resolve the negative CreditWatch in the near term when CAL FIRE determines the cause of the Tubbs fire, or if there is a legislative solution to inverse condemnation that materializes in the legislative session ending August 2018