09/19/2017

Consumer resources related to Equifax data breach

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Following are resources which may be valuable to consumers concerned about the recent Equifax data breach.

Federal Trade Commission

Free credit freezes from Equifax, Lisa Weintraub Schifferle, Attorney, FTC, Division of Consumer & Business Education

Fraud alert or credit freeze – which is right for you?, Lisa Weintraub Schifferle, Attorney, FTC, Division of Consumer and Business Education

The Equifax Data Breach: What to Do, Seena Gressin , Attorney, Division of Consumer & Business Education, FTC

To report identity theft and get a recovery plan, visit Federal Trade Commission IdentityTheft.gov

State Attorneys General

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich,

AG Brnovich Launches Investigation into Equifax Data Breach Calls for Equifax to Disable Fee-based Monitoring Services Link

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman,

Equifax data breach: 5 steps to take to protect yourself

Hawaii AG Douglas Chin,

State opens investigation into Equifax breach, offers advice for Hawaii residents

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear,

Beshear, 33 AGs Demand Equifax Provide Better Safeguards and Improve Consumer Services Following Massive Data Breach

Oregon Attorney General Ellen F. Rosenblum,

Equifax Data Breach: What You Need to Know

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin,

AG Kilmartin, Investigating AGs Ask Equifax to Disable Fee-Based Monitoring Services, Reimburse Fees for Security Freezes

Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes,

Utah Attorney General’s Office Urges Consumers to be Cautious Following the Equifax Data Breach

09/18/2017

Harvey, Irma and the Muni Market

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With two hurricanes recently making landfall in southern states, only eleven days apart and inflicting what may be as much as $230 billion in damages, the potential impact to municipal credits is on investors’ minds. While both hurricanes made landfall in areas with booming economies and population growth, history tells us that the fiscal strength of the affected municipalities and the rapid relief efforts are likely to limit negative impacts on municipal bonds.

Hurricane Harvey hit Houston as a category 4 storm on August 25th and stayed over the area for several days dropping as much as 50 inches of rain in Harris County, which includes the city of Houston, and surrounding areas. Houston is the nation’s fifth largest municipal economy and Harris County is home to over four million people. The area’s rapid population growth, fueled by development in the energy sector, has created urban sprawl that reduced wetlands and open green space which historically absorbed rain and acted to mitigate the impact of major storms. Approximately 70% of Harris County was flooded to some extent, with a maximum storm surge of just below 7 feet. Preliminary estimates have Harvey ranked as the costliest hurricane in US history, at $180 billion in damages.

The following week, Florida was preparing for a similar situation, with Irma potentially making landfall as a Category 5 storm in the densely populated metropolitan area of Miami; the nearly sea level city known for its luxury high-rise housing and homes in low lying areas. Thanks to a shift in the storm’s direction, the state was spared a tremendous amount of catastrophic damage, although the Keys were hit hard along with Marco Island and parts of Naples, and Jacksonville saw historical storm surge flooding. Early estimates had Florida’s damage as high as $200 billion, but that has been revised to around $50 billion. The same cannot be said for some of our Island territories. The US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico both took hits from Irma and the recovery will be slower, particularly for USVI, which was already struggling economically when it was almost decimated by Irma at Category 5 strength.

How are these storms expected to affect the economy and the municipal bond market?

Texas holds the highest credit rating across all rating agencies, and Florida holds AAA with Fitch and S&P and Aa1 with Moody’s. In addition to strong credit ratings, both states maintain a healthy rainy day fund. In a May 2017 PEW report on the status of rainy day funds, a spokesman for Moody’s was cited saying “When recessions, natural disasters, and other shocks threaten these [AAA] states’ ability to balance budgets, their superior management quickly acts to restore financial strength, a response that includes tapping reserves.”

In the absence of income tax, Texas and Florida rely heavily on sales tax revenue. We expect that as recovery continues, both states will experience an economic lift related to sales tax as areas rebuild. Florida relies more heavily on tourism, which is expected to decline in the near-term, but rebound quickly to normal levels in most resort areas.
Read more “Harvey, Irma and the Muni Market”

09/11/2017

Hawaiian Tax-Free Trust Annual Shareholder Meeting

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Shareholders of Hawaiian Tax-Free Trust are cordially invited to attend their Annual Shareholder Meeting on Thursday, September 28, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. at the Ala Moana Hotel, Hibiscus Ballroom in Honolulu. Light refreshments will be served prior to the meeting.

Those unable to attend the Honolulu meeting may be interested in attending a special Outreach informational meeting in Lihue-Kauai at 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, September 26, 2017. That meeting will take place at the Kauai Marriott Resort, 3610 Rice Street in the Puna Ballroom. Refreshments will be served following the meeting.

Attendees at both meetings will have the opportunity to visit with Trust Executives, Trustees, the Portfolio Managers and hear renowned Hawaii economist, Paul H. Brewbaker, Ph.D., Principal of TZ Economics, a Hawai’i economics consultancy. Mr. Brewbaker’s background is in research on the Hawaii economy and financial risk analytics. He has more than 25 years of experience as an economist in Hawaii, and previously served as Chief Economist at Bank of Hawaii. Mr. Brewbaker will present an overview of the Hawaii and national economy.

Please plan to attend. We look forward to seeing you in either Honolulu or Lihue-Kauai.

08/16/2017

Hawaii raises state income tax rates for 2018

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Hawaii’s 2017 Legislative Session resulted in several changes to the State’s tax laws. The full report can be accessed here. Act 107 amends the income tax law to reduce the tax burden of lower-income taxpayers. Along with adjustments to two other programs, it will reinstate three tax brackets for the highest-income taxpayers beginning with the 2018 tax year.

The 2009 Legislature imposed new tax brackets, 9%, 10% and 11% for taxable income over certain levels, depending on filing status. These increases were repealed on December 31, 2015. Beginning with tax returns after December 31, 2017, these three rates will be reinstated as follows:

  • Taxpayers who file a joint return will pay:
    • 9.00% on taxable income over $300,000, but not over $350,000
    • 10.00% on taxable income over $350,000, but not over $400,000
    • 11.00% on taxable income over $400,000
  • Heads of a household will pay:
    • 9.00% on taxable income over $225,000, but not over $262,500
    • 10.00% on taxable income over $262,500, but not over $300,000
    • 11.00% on taxable income over $300,000
  • Unmarried individuals and married individuals who file separately will pay:
    • 9.00% on taxable income over $150,000, but not over $175,000
    • 10.00% on taxable income over $175,000, but not over $200,000
    • 11.00% on taxable income over $200,000

Individuals affected by these changes may find tax-exempt municipal bonds to be a beneficial investment. Using the current three top federal tax brackets along with the highest 2018 Hawaii state income tax rate and the Net Investment Income Tax, the chart at right illustrates what a taxable investment would have to yield to match a 2% tax-free investment in the tax brackets indicated.

The Net Investment Income tax is a 3.8% tax established by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) that applies to the lesser of (1) net investment income or (2) the excess of a taxpayer’s modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) in excess of an applicable threshold amount. For more information, please consult your professional tax advisor.

07/26/2017

Moody’s Downgrades Kentucky Debt

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On July 20, 2017, Moody’s Investors Service (Moody’s) downgraded the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s issuer rating to Aa3 from Aa2. Simultaneously, other Kentucky government entities were also downgraded, including Kentucky’s general fund appropriation lease revenue bonds to A1 from Aa3, Kentucky’s agency fund appropriation lease-revenue bonds to A2 from A1, the Kentucky Public University Intercept Program to A1 from Aa3, the Kentucky School District Enhancement Program to A1 from Aa3, and the Kentucky Turnpike Authority to Aa3 from Aa2. Reasons cited for the downgrades were the large unfunded pension liability, high fixed government costs and revenue underperformance. Moody’s credit outlook for the state remains stable.

The downgrades have been expected for some time as Kentucky continues to battle one of the largest unfunded pension burdens in the U.S. The state experienced positive revenue growth of 5.3% in fiscal year 2015, but saw a decline of 3.7% in fiscal year 2016, followed by a decline of 1.3% in fiscal year 2017. Despite the credit rating downgrade, the Kentucky Turnpike Authority exceeded revenue projections for the recent fiscal year.

Kentucky’s economy is considered stable and employment continues to strengthen. If the expected manufacturing expansions by Amazon, Ford and Toyota come to fruition, we believe that the credit ratings may see a reversal over the next couple of years. Moody’s mentioned in their report that the State’s current administration has demonstrated a willingness to cut expenditures and balance the budget. As of June 30, Kentucky’s available liquid resources remained at $4 billion, a level that has been maintained over the past four years, and the general fund had a $239 million balance.

The portfolio managers and credit analysts of Aquila Churchill Tax-Free Fund of Kentucky will continue to monitor all credits in the portfolio. The only impact we see at this time is a shift in the quality breakdown directly related the downgrades. Kentucky debt pricing has stabilized in the secondary market due to the lack of new issuance, which was down 38% year-over-year at the end of the second quarter. For the most recent quarter-end performance, holdings and manager commentary please see the Fund page on this web site.


Before investing in a Fund, carefully read about and consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, expenses, and other information found in the Fund prospectus. The prospectus is available on this site, from your financial adviser and when you call 800-437-1020.

06/21/2017

Tax Reform 2017 – what does it mean for tax-exempt investments?

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While the current tax reform proposal by the White House lacks details, the outline released does include several items meaningful to the individual tax payer:

  • Reduction of the current seven tax brackets to three: 10%, 25% and 35%. However, the proposal does not indicate the levels of income for each bracket.
  • Deductions would change: the standard deduction would be nearly doubled to $24,000. Itemized deductions would be capped at $100,000 for single filers and $200,000 for married couples filing jointly. Tax breaks for charitable giving, mortgage interest and retirement savings would remain, however, the administration would like to eliminate the deduction for state and local taxes (SALT), which is one of the largest federal tax expenditures.
  • The administration would also like to end the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) and eliminate the 3.8% Net Income Investment Tax (NIIT) which applies to investment income of taxpayers with a modified adjust gross income (MAGI) of more than $200,000 for single filers and $250,000 for married couples filing jointly. This would bring the capital gains rate down for high earners from 23.8% to 20%

The proposal is still in its initial stages and will likely have many changes prior to enactment. There are questions as to whether the proposal could influence the municipal bond market and the value of tax-free investing. The following charts display the current federal tax brackets and the initially proposed tax brackets using a hypothetical taxable investment yielding 3% to illustrate Taxable Equivalent Yields.

  

The benefit of tax-exempt income remains, even at the proposed tax rates, although it is reduced slightly by the lower tax brackets. Tax-exempt income continues to provide a significant incentive to consider municipal bonds as an alternative to taxable income investments, particularly for the higher income taxpayer.

*Current taxable equivalent yields are based on 2017 federal tax rates and do not include the 3.8% NIIT where applicable.

These are hypothetical illustrations and do not represent an actual investment, interest rate or return on any investment.

06/14/2017

Active and Passive Management: A Blended Approach

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A heightened focus regarding fees and investor protection has generated an increased number of headlines around the decades-old debate between active and passive fund management. Historically, investors have viewed the two theories of management as one-verses-the-other, and many investors have been known to fluctuate between the two based on which style is in favor; in recent years, the trend has tilted toward passive management. Lower volatility, monetary policy and economic recovery have made it more difficult for active managers to consistently beat their benchmarks. However, history tells us that when passive management becomes oversaturated, the pendulum often swings back toward active. While we don’t anticipate a major shift away from passive, there are attractive aspects of active management that should be considered – and we believe that a combination of both styles creates a strong and timeless portfolio.

The shift to passive fund management

Investing in passive mutual funds is unquestionably a way to reduce investment fees that can drag on fund performance while maintaining exposure to a wide variety of investment styles. Fee-conscious investors, Financial Advisors and Broker Dealers are all embracing the idea of balancing less active portfolio management and research against the potential of earning benchmark returns from simply tracking the overall market.

Passive funds are particularly attractive in areas where markets are extremely efficient, where information is readily available, and where the ability to uncover opportunities to beat the market is rare. Take the U.S. large-capitalization segment for example; only 5% of portfolio managers in that segment who beat their index for three consecutive years also beat their index the following three years, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices*. Passive funds can also be an attractive tax-efficient investment; particularly those that track more narrowly focused benchmarks.

Overall, the mutual fund industry has benefited from the increase in the number of passive funds. Low-cost providers have driven down the cost of active funds, while sharpening the focus of active managers on performance and fund expenses.

Do investors still benefit from active management?

We think so. While passive funds may be attractive from a fee and tax-efficient standpoint, they do have drawbacks. Markets have inefficiencies, which passive managers cannot exploit. Managers following an index lack the ability to make adjustments based on market conditions and research discoveries. For instance, active managers can judge when to raise cash levels, in order to reduce potential downside exposure, when markets react to external events. Active managers also have the ability to weight holdings according to where they see value, while most passive approaches are weighted to align with the chosen index, for instance by market capitalization – giving more exposure to well-established companies that may have less growth potential.

Read more “Active and Passive Management: A Blended Approach”

05/19/2017

Diana Herrmann discusses Fund strategy with Providence Business News

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Following the recent 25th annual shareholder meeting of Aquila Narragansett Tax-Free Income Fund, Diana Herrmann, President of the Fund and CEO of Aquila Investment Management LLC, was interviewed by Providence Business News.  During the interview, Ms. Herrmann discussed the important role the Fund has played in supporting economic and infrastructure development in Rhode Island, and in providing Rhode Island residents with income exempt from both state and federal income tax.

Ms. Herrmann pointed out that “Aquila Narragansett Tax-Free Income Fund has financed major Rhode Island projects such as the enhancement of T.F. Green Airport and the construction of the Rhode Island Convention Center, Women & Infants Hospital, the University of Rhode Island’s Ryan Center and Bradford Boss Ice Arena, as well as local projects involving Rhode Island’s other colleges and universities (such as Brown University, Bryant University, Johnson & Wales University, New England Institute of Technology and Providence College) and clean water projects throughout the state”.

You’ll find the full interview on the Providence Business News site.

Shares of the Fund may only be sold by offering the Fund’s Prospectus. Before investing in a Fund, carefully read about and consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, expenses, and other information found in the Fund prospectus. The prospectus is available on this site, from your financial adviser, and when you call 800-437-1020.

05/15/2017

Liz Claman interviews Aquila fund manager

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Fox Business Network anchor, Liz Claman, recently interviewed Chris Johns, Portfolio Manager of Aquila Tax-Free Fund of Colorado and Aquila Tax-Free Trust of Oregon, for Asset TV, regarding activity in the municipal bond market since the 2016 election and key aspects of the Aquila state municipal bond fund strategy in the current market environment.


Shares of the Funds may only be sold by offering the Funds’ Prospectus. Before investing in a Fund, carefully read about and consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, expenses, and other information found in the Fund prospectus. The prospectus is available on this site, from your financial adviser, and when you call 800-437-1020.

If you experience difficulty viewing this video on your equipment, you may also view it by registering (at no cost) on the Asset TV site.

05/04/2017

Aquila Municipal Bond Funds Continue to Avoid Puerto Rico Debt

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Each of the municipal bond funds offered in the Aquila Group of Funds adheres to an investment strategy focused on investment grade bonds as a means of managing credit risk, and an intermediate average portfolio maturity as a means of managing interest rate risk. In keeping with our emphasis on high-quality holdings, the seven state-specific municipal bond funds offered by Aquila have no Puerto Rico holdings.

Yesterday Puerto Rico officially requested to enter bankruptcy to restructure roughly $70 billion in outstanding municipal bond debt. The restructuring will be the largest in the history of the US municipal bond market and signals the start of a long legal battle between the government and its creditors. The market has been anticipating this outcome for several years while the territory struggled with recession, declining reserves and a declining population.

On the Aquila Group of Funds website, you will find information regarding the investment strategies and full portfolio holdings of each state-specific municipal bond fund. The investment objectives, risks, charges, expenses, and other information will be found in the Fund prospectus. Information on the Fund holdings will be found in the Fact Sheet, Annual and Semi-Annual reports, and the Portfolio Holdings report for each Fund. We encourage you to review this information, and to visit the web site frequently for updates on each Fund, and our perspectives on the markets.