08/12/2020

Pandemic Pressure on the Higher Education Sector in Colorado

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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the learning environment in Colorado’s higher education institutions to change dramatically. Students were forced to end the spring 2020 semester learning virtually, and Colorado universities plan on opening the fall 2020 semester learning on campus along with a hybrid approach of on campus and virtual learning.

According to Standard & Poor’s (S&P), “the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic and financial impacts exacerbate pressures already facing colleges and universities.” S&P’s ratings outlook has been negative for three straight years in the U.S. not-for-profit higher education sector. Moody’s lowered its rating outlook to negative for the higher education sector on March 18, 2020 due to “unprecedented enrollment uncertainty.”

To balance Colorado’s $3 billion revenue shortfall for its fiscal year 2020-21 budget, the state cut its support to the Department of Higher Education’s fiscal year 2020-21 budget by $493 million. However, the governor allocated $450 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Stimulus Act (CARES) to the state’s public colleges and universities to help minimize the budget cuts.

Enrollment increased at most of Colorado’s universities in fiscal year 2020, but COVID-19 continues to present uncertainty for the fall semester. A resurgence of COVID-19 could reduce future enrollment at Colorado universities and impact revenues, as expenses increase due to a shift to an online learning environment. Currently, none of Colorado’s public universities have plans to raise tuition for fiscal year 2021.

Every institution of public higher education in Colorado was affected by the reduction in state funding. Public higher education institutions have instituted furloughs, hiring freezes, layoffs and other cost cutting strategies The one-time CARES support will soften the blow for fiscal year 2021, but fiscal year 2022 could be challenging if enrollments decline and state aid is further reduced. Currently, there are no plans for additional federal support to higher education institutions. The chart below demonstrates the current Fund holdings of higher education bonds and the amount of state aid reduction and CARES support received.

Higher education institutions represented 16% of Aquila Tax-Free Fund of Colorado’s portfolio as of June 30, 2020. Of this amount, almost 75% of the higher education bonds are insured, pre-refunded or part of the state’s intercept program, which makes debt service payments if the public higher education institution is unable. We will continue to monitor the Fund’s higher education portfolio holdings and their ability to withstand any potential uncertainty with a resurgence of COVID-19 and any future state aid reductions.

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

Information regarding holdings is subject to change and is not necessarily representative of the entire portfolio.

Mutual fund investing involves risk; loss of principal is possible. Investments in bonds may decline in value due to rising interest rates, a real or perceived decline in credit quality of the issuer, borrower, counterparty, or collateral, adverse tax or legislative changes, court decisions, market or economic conditions. Fund performance could be more volatile than that of funds with greater geographic diversification.

06/10/2020

Tony Tanner, CFA® on Money Life with Chuck Jaffe

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Tony Tanner

Tony Tanner

Tony Tanner, CFA®, Municipal Bond Fund Portfolio Manager with Aquila Group of Funds, was recently interviewed on Money Life with Chuck Jaffe.

During their conversation, Tony discussed how the troubled economy and lower interest rates will impact the bond market and may lead investors to diversify their fixed-income holdings. He notes that while he doesn’t anticipate a big wave of municipal defaults, credit-quality will be challenged.

Chuck Jaffe is a veteran financial journalist and nationally syndicated financial columnist whose work appears in newspapers from coast to coast. He started the Money Life podcast in 2012, and previously hosted Your Money and various podcasts for MarketWatch, where he was a senior columnist.

We hope you enjoy the interview.

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

05/28/2020

Oregon Local Bond Measure Election Analysis

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In the May 2020 election, Oregon residents approved almost $340 million of general obligation bonds, substantially more than the $180 million approved in May 2019, Although results have yet to be certified, and therefore still preliminary, the bonds approved by this election are in high demand as investors seek high quality tax-exempt investment alternatives.

There are four scheduled election dates in Oregon each year: the second Tuesday in March, the third Tuesday in May, the third Tuesday in September, and the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. In November 2008, Oregon voters approved Ballot Measure 56, which repealed a law requiring more than 50% of a county’s registered voters to vote in bond measure elections held in May and November. As a result, the May election has become an important election to follow for new bond measures.

By election measure 64% of the bond issues were approved; however, 75% of the total requested par amount was approved by voters. Oregon typically sees more ballot measures during general elections, which are held in November, of even-numbered years. Accordingly, the current election falls flat versus the 2019 November general election, which approved a healthy $820 million of new supply.


Read more “Oregon Local Bond Measure Election Analysis”

05/28/2020

We recognize recently retired Trustee, B. J. Kobayashi

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B. J. Kobayashi retired from the board of Hawaiian Tax-Free Trust on March 31, 2020. He served as a member of the Aquila Group of Funds Compliance, Risk and Insurance Oversight Committee through December 31, 2019 and formerly served as Trustee of Pacific Capital Funds of Cash Assets Trust (three money-market funds in the Aquila Group of Funds) from 2009-2012. His fellow Trustees, the Aquila Group of Funds and the staff of Aquila Investment Management LLC have benefited greatly from his personal integrity, considerable experience and valuable business insight, and we recognize and appreciate Mr. Kobayashi’s judgment, perseverance and skill throughout his service as an independent Trustee.

On behalf of Aquila Group of Funds, we express our sincere appreciation and gratitude for Mr. Kobayashi’s contributions and for his dedication to the interests of the Trust’s shareholders.

05/08/2020

Chris Johns Covers the Current Municipal Bond Market in Asset TV Masterclass

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Chris Johns, portfolio manager of Aquila Tax-Free Fund of Colorado and Aquila Tax-Free Trust of Oregon, was a panelist in the May 2020 Asset TV Municipal Bond Masterclass. The discussion covered how the coronavirus pandemic, historic volatility and the Fed’s response is creating a unique market environment for municipal bonds. The panelists examined the impact on local and state issuers, different municipal sectors and credit strength.

 

Chris Johns is Senior Vice President, Managing Director and Portfolio Manager with Davidson Fixed Income Management, sub-adviser to Aquila Tax-Free Fund of Colorado and Aquila Tax-Free Trust of Oregon. Joining Mr. Johns on the panel were JR Reiger, Owner of the Reiger Report, and Grant Dewey, Head of Municipal Capital Markets at Build America Mutual.

The full program linked above provides CE Credit. We hope you find the program informative.

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.

04/24/2020

Aquila Tax-Free Trust of Oregon Special Shareholder Meeting to be held Virtually

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In light of public health concerns regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Aquila Tax-Free Trust of Oregon announced on April 24, 2020 that the Fund’s Special Meeting of Shareholders, to be held on May 29, 2020, will be held as a virtual meeting. Shareholders will not be able to attend the meeting in person. This change has been made out of an abundance of caution and is intended to support the health and well-being of shareholders. The March 2, 2020 record date for determining shareholders entitled to vote at the meeting remains unchanged. For more information, please review the Press Release and Proxy, which is available on this website.

04/17/2020

S&P Considers Kentucky Adequately Positioned for COVID-19 Pressures

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Standard and Poor’s Global Ratings recently announced they consider the state of Kentucky “adequately positioned” to handle economic pressures brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an effort to effectively address the state’s rapidly changing needs, the Kentucky Legislature, which normally releases a biennial budget, passed House Bill 352 on April 15th, adopting an $11.4 billion one-year executive branch budget. The fiscal 2021 budget reduced the revenue forecast by $130 million, but S&P cited that they firmly believe Kentucky has sufficient near term liquidity to manage pressures brought on by economic hardships related to the pandemic. The bill also fully funds the teachers and state employees’ pension plans. Fiscal year 2021 will mark the second year in a row that Kentucky has made full contributions to those plans.

If excessive pressure does weigh on the state’s finances due to the current crisis, Kentucky also has the ability to issue Tax and Revenue Anticipation Notes (TRANs) amounting to 75% of estimated revenues anticipated throughout the year.

The recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) created a Coronavirus Relief Fund for state and local governments which is expected to allocate $1.732 billion to Kentucky. Of that amount, $1.6 billion will go to the state, and $134 million will go to the city of Louisville and Jefferson County, the only local government under the law to quality for relief based on the number of residents. Kentucky will also receive approximately $410 million through CARES’ Education Stabilization Fund, which will fund K – 12 education and colleges and universities.

At Aquila Group of Funds, we have been monitoring Kentucky’s economic and credit strength since 1987. We have been pleasantly surprised recently by the resilience of sectors feeling the most stress. For example, the Louisville Jefferson County Airports have over $105 million of unencumbered investments in government agencies, and their annual budget is $75 million. We expect they will be able to withstand a fairly long reduction in revenue. We are also watching private colleges, and believe that they can handle the financial pressure due to their healthy endowments. We believe, through our ongoing analysis, that the state is well positioned to weather this storm with the recently passed budget and emergency government funding.

Before investing in one of the Aquila Group of Funds, 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 advisor, or by calling 800-437-1020.

04/16/2020

Municipal Bond Fund Shareholder Meeting Updates

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Aquila Group of Funds has been hosting regular shareholder meetings for our seven municipal bond funds since each Fund’s inception. In light of the CDC’s advice to limit group gatherings to less than 50 people for the next 8 weeks, we are canceling our spring meetings planned for Aquila Churchill Tax-Free Fund of Kentucky, Aquila Narragansett Tax-Free Income Fund, Aquila Tax-Free Fund of Colorado and Aquila Tax-Free Trust of Oregon. Thank you for understanding while we navigate these difficult and changing impacts of COVID-19.

03/25/2020

Municipals Versus Treasuries – A tale of two Cities

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The recent price changes in the municipal bond market have potentially created an intriguing opportunity for investors; with municipal bonds selling at relatively enticing yields, even without considering the tax benefits. However, this market is likely to be short lived as investor behavior is stabilizing. In situations of this magnitude, credit research becomes more important than ever and as a result our Portfolio Managers continue to maintain close relationships with bond issuers.

Although municipal bonds tend to be more resilient to economic downturns due to their revenue sources, we consistently monitor portfolio holdings to evaluate their ability to withstand the potential for economic slowdown, and we believe that our portfolios have weathered the most recent market conditions just as we expected. Over the past few weeks, the municipal bond market has experienced a significant sell-off in state and local government debt, despite a climb in global bond prices, as investors struggled to come to terms with the volatile capital markets amidst the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The weakness in the municipal market was amplified by the strength in the Treasury market, resulting in attractive relative yields for municipal bonds. This dislocation is most apparent at the short-end of the yield curve, where 1-year municipal bonds are changing hands at 519% of the yield on Treasuries. This dislocation between municipal bonds and treasuries will not last forever (chart as of 3/20/20).

The strength in the Treasury market has largely been driven by the Fed which has reactivated monetary policies from the 2008 financial crisis in support of our weakening capital markets. The Federal Reserve has stated its intention to buy Treasury securities and agency mortgage-backed securities in “the amounts needed to support smooth market functioning and effective transmission of monetary policy to broader financial conditions and the economy.” The Fed initially announced its intention to purchase at least $700 billion in asset purchases, of which approximately half of the $500 billion allotment for Treasury purchases was consumed in the first week. It is important to note, that as of the date of this writing, there has yet to be government stimulus in the municipal bond market. On March 24, 2020 the Fed announced support to municipalities through expansion of the Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility to include variable rate demand notes (VRDNs) and bank CDs, with high-quality tax-exempt commercial paper now eligible for the Fed’s commercial paper facility. However, no other monetary stimulus has been extended to the muni market, which has resulted in the extreme differential of yields. In addition, the Fed will be assuming the role of a commercial bank with the introduction of a Main Street Business Lending Program for small and medium-sized businesses. Collectively, the actions by the Fed reinforce its “whatever it takes” approach and demonstrate broad based support of the capital markets.

Investors have inquired about the impact of the virus on airports, convention centers, hospitals and transit systems. While we agree that there is additional risk to many of the transit and hospitality related credits, our credit research is shifting toward the increasing reality of economic downturn and recession as a credit driver. Our concern is more for an increase in rating downgrades rather than defaults. There are certain credits and sectors, such as higher education and healthcare, where we expect to see limited distress. Furthermore, we expect to see weaker pension funding as pension plans struggle with return assumptions.

Aquila Group of Funds’ seven single-state municipal bond funds are structured defensively to withstand periods of uncertainty with a focus on high-quality holdings and limited duration risk. We continue to see the municipal bond asset class as a viable consideration for investors seeking high-quality, tax-exempt income.

 

The percentage of portfolio holdings rated AA or higher includes pre-refunded bonds. Fund Characteristics are as of 2/28/20.

Please carefully read the Fund prospectus here. Before investing in one of the Aquila Group of Funds, 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 advisor, or by calling 800-437-1020.

Mutual fund investing involves risk; loss of principal is possible. Investments in bonds may decline in value due to rising interest rates, a real or perceived decline in credit quality of the issuer, borrower, counterparty, or collateral, adverse tax or legislative changes, court decisions, market or economic conditions. Fund performance could be more volatile than that of funds with greater geographic diversification.

Yield refers to the earnings generated and realized on an investment over a specific period of time. Yield is expressed as a percentage based on the invested amount, current market value, or face value of the security, and includes the interest earned or dividends received from holding a particular security.

Yield ratio represents the comparison of the expected yield of one bond to the expected yield of another. A yield ratio is important when deciding whether to invest in one bond or another. Generally, the higher yield is considered better.

Effective duration both measure the value of a security in response to a change in interest rates, and also takes into account the effect of embedded options.

Independent rating services (such as Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch) assign ratings, which generally range from AAA (highest) to D (lowest), to indicate the credit worthiness of the underlying bonds in the portfolio. Where the independent rating services differ in the rating they assign to an issue, or do not provide a rating for an issue, the highest available rating is used in calculating allocations by rating. Pre-refunded/Escrowed bonds are issued for the purpose of retiring or redeeming an outstanding bond issue at a specified call date. Until the call date, the proceeds from the bond issuance are typically placed in a trust and invested in US Treasury bonds or state and local government securities. Non-rated bonds are holdings that have not been rated by a nationally recognized statistical rating organization.

03/24/2020

New Podcast: Recent Muni Market Volatility

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We sat down with Portfolio Manager, Tony Tanner, CFA®, on March 17th to get his insight on the ongoing volatility in the municipal bond market and how the current conditions compare to prior periods of instability. Tony began his buy-side career managing two flag-ship single-state municipal bond funds in the early 1990s, and he has managed through a variety of volatile municipal bond markets, including the bond bear markets of 1994, 1999, 2008 & 2016. The podcast is linked below, and the full transcript is available here.

Manager Commentary

03/24/2020
Aquila Funds Podcast

Length 20:25

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Aquila Funds

Tony Tanner

Portfolio Manager
Aquila Tax-Free Trust of Arizona