Fed Governor Lael Brainard issued comments on Thursday regarding the Fed’s position on climate change. Brainard said the Fed is developing a series of scenario tools to model the risk of climate change to the financial system. The models will see how our financial system holds up to hypothetical climate change hazards such as floods, droughts, and fires. This will bring the Fed closer to the rest of the leading central banks around the world, such as the ECB and Bank of England, who already are doing this at a minimum. Many progressive Democrats have been critical of the Powell Fed for their lack of green policy and financial regulation and this is a correction step that may allow Powell to get renominated in 2022.
FINSUM: These action steps are important by the Fed, but they will not be accompanied by any regulatory steps, meaning banks won’t be punished for over-exposure to climate risks. Thus, the risk to asset prices seems lower.
Investors in India have by in large part stayed away from their own high yield corporate bonds, but wary investors from China have done the opposite. India’s high yield bond issuers set a $9 billion-dollar record from international investors which tripled last year’s inflows. Many of these investors are coming from China, specifically Evergrande, whose liabilities alone double India’s entire corporate debt market. Many investors are worried that other sectors in China’s economy may come to suffer from Xi Jinping’s ‘common prosperity’. In the meantime, there are still risks to India’s debt, most notably energy prices, as India imports most of its energy. Higher energy prices increase input costs, which could cut margins.
FINSUM: Developing countries outside China are all receiving inflows in corporate and non-corporate debt investments with China’s turmoil.
Joe Biden has picked Lisa Gomez to head the Employee Benefits Security Administration at the Department of Labor. And speaking to senators this week, she made a comment which clearly signals the direction of the Department. She said “there’s nothing that is more central to ERISA than defining who is a fiduciary”. Speaking about her pending work for the DOL, she said she plans “to be briefed on the efforts of looking at the definition of a fiduciary in different contexts, and taking another look at the conflict of interest rule and how it would apply in different situations”. She continued “Determining exactly who is a fiduciary in different contexts … has been the source of disagreement and it’s been a long road to get there”.
FINSUM: The writing is on the wall at the DOL and SEC. The Biden administration is starting to flex its muscle and will beef up regulation.
Every scary dream about regulations that broker-dealers have had since Biden got elected might be coming true, at least based on new comments out of the SEC. According to Gurbir Grewal, “We must design penalties that actually deter and reduce violations, and are not seen as an acceptable cost of doing business”. Grewal is the former Attorney General of New Jersey who is now the Director of the Division of Enforcement of the SEC. He added, “[T]o achieve the intended deterrent effect, it may be appropriate to impose more significant penalties for comparable behavior over time … Doing so will make it harder for market participants to simply ‘price in’ the potential costs of a violation”.
FINSUM: All signs point to things getting much tougher over the next couple years.
Whether the US’ current bout of inflation is caused by transitory supply-side factors, or trillions of dollars poured into the economy by policymakers, is irrelevant because investors are now tasked with finding a way through the stock market jitters. As inflation rises it eats at yields and the value of fixed coupons falls. To avoid the pitfalls of rising prices look to dividend stocks, whose yields are pushed higher by inflation. Of course not all dividend stocks are created equal and some will outperform in an inflationary environment. The best income stocks are in the financial sector because they benefit from rising interest rates, as their interest rate margins expand in such environments. Energy is next, at least currently. Higher demand boosts prices of oil and gas, which benefits energy sector investors as it is one of the highest dividend payers. These sectors are the most likely to boost their dividends in the rising price environment.
FINSUM: Dividend stocks have no doubt outperformed just about every segment of the bond market, and expanding your dividend holdings may be a good idea as inflation comes in at 20-year highs.