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


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.


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


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.


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


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.


Municipal Bond Fund Shareholder Meeting Updates


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.


Municipals Versus Treasuries – A tale of two Cities


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.


New Podcast: Recent Muni Market Volatility


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

Aquila Funds Podcast

Length 20:25

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Aquila Funds

Tony Tanner

Portfolio Manager
Aquila Tax-Free Trust of Arizona