We are now a couple of weeks on from the last update we wrote looking at the actions the Fed had taken to stabilize bond and funding markets. Given last Thursday began with further announcements of expanding efforts to help, it seems a good time to revisit where things stand now. The commercial paper program is now up and running and we should be seeing the first of the “Economic Impact Payments” hitting household accounts right around now.
First, a recap of the most recent actions. April 9th saw the Fed announce actions to provide up to $2.3 trillion in loans to support the economy. They are doing this in a few ways, financing the loans banks are making to small businesses under the Paycheck Protection Program. This is the program that gives small businesses a direct incentive to keep workers on the payroll, via loan forgiveness if all employees are kept on the payroll for 8 weeks post the first disbursal. Coupled with the expanded Unemployment Insurance benefits, the goal is to minimize the income shock as much as possible to workers by either increased benefits to laid off workers or aiding companies in paying wages to keep people employed through this period.
FRA-OIS spreads. This is a spread of a forward rate agreement to swap fixed interest payments at some point in the future compared with the overnight index swap rate. Think of it as a measure of the risk or cost for banks to borrow in the future relative to a risk free rate. A forward TED Spread. It reached almost 80bps, and has since settled in around 50bps. Still a bit high, but notably lower.
The Fed’s Commercial Paper Funding Facility became operational in the first half of April. This facility was announced earlier in the month – per the NY Fed – “to enhance the liquidity of the commercial paper market by increasing the availability of term commercial paper funding to issuers and by providing greater assurance to both issuers and investors that firms and municipalities will be able to roll over their maturing commercial paper.” The facility is a Special Purpose Vehicle, funded through the Department of the Treasury to hold commercial paper. Eligible issuers also include municipalities, and an issuer is able to repurchase its own outstanding commercial paper and finance it through the SPV. This space took a while longer to show signs of healing, and has a ways to go still, but some positive signs in the rates below.
On-the-run/Off-the-run Treasury spreads. Benchmark points on the yield curve – those at the 2y, 5y and 10y point for example – are of particular interest to market participants and are generally the most liquid parts of the curve, and have futures contracts tied to them. The US Treasury curve has many bonds of all maturities, including bonds that have similar characteristics to the benchmark points – like a bond maturing a month before or after the current benchmark point. Being so close in terms of maturity and having the same risk free issuer, these bonds normally trade more or less in lockstep. At the height of the bond market dislocations, they began to move apart. The resumption of very large scale US Treasury purchases from the Fed have worked in reducing the anomalies in this space. The chart shows a measure of the pricing dislocations – a number between -1/+1 is normal, we are now back in that range.
Cross currency swap rates.The chart below shows Japanese Yen (JPY) funding costs. Roughly speaking this measures the extra cost over unsecured rates to swap JPY for USD at some future point. A Japanese company may swap JPY for USD today, with a 3m term. The cost of this should normally be the difference in relative unsecured lending rates (Libor etc). In periods of funding stress, a premium appears, which is the basis. The Fed eased the terms of its existing major swap lines and broadened the countries that can access the liquidity to include Brazil, Mexico, Australia South Korea and Australia amongst others. The updated chart for Japanese Yen shows the strain reducing substantially.
Credit spreads moved out aggressively in March. The Fed actions to launch two credit facilities backing corporate credit markets, a Primary Market Corporate Credit Facility for new bond and loan issuances and a Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility to provide liquidity for outstanding corporate bonds has so far worked to narrow spreads and calm nerves.
At pixel time for the last update the Fed was rolling out a plan to lend as much as $500 billion to states and local government to aid them through this period. Spreads continue to stabilize here, and we are starting to see a return to issuance, with about double the number of offerings the next couple of days than last week.
One other area to keep an eye on as it pertains to credit availability, and also as it acts as something of an accelerant to activity. Mortgage spreads. These have moved wider on credit concerns, plumbing problems with mortgage buyers and refi demand. Part of the goal of lowering rates is to allow for widespread refinancing of mortgages and lower rates to grease the wheels of housing more generally. The more mortgage rates can track government rates down to new lows, the better. The chart below shows the difference between the Bankrate 30Y Mortgage National Average Rate and the US Ten Year Government bond.
So what to make of all these actions? Well first, time to update some priors. Even though rates were low, the Fed had room to act. Is it out of room now? We doubt it. If one has learned anything it is that a newly minted, awfully acronym-ed, facility can spring up and get funded fairly quickly. But don’t take our word for it – Fed Chair Powell literally went on the Today Show and told us – ‘We’re not going to run out of ammunition’. It is also worth noting that it is easier politically for programs to be extended in time and buying power now that they are here than it is to get them over the finish line first time round. To our eye, the policy actions from both the Fed and Congress are like using a pole to cross a ravine. It doesn’t matter how deep the ravine is, scary as it is to look down, it matters how wide it is. The real economy beginning to open up in the next couple of months will be welcome relief for all – many more quarters like this and the Fed and Congress will have to go back to the drawing board.