Local Finances Are Troubled, but Fund Investors May Still Profit

Just counting the effects of the federal tax exemption, if you’re in the 24 percent federal tax bracket, the 1.4 percent current yield on the Vanguard Intermediate-Term Tax-Exempt fund is equivalent to a yield of 1.84 percent in a taxable bond fund (assuming, of course, that neither is held in a tax-sheltered account). For investors in the 35 percent federal tax bracket, the yield is the equivalent to a taxable yield of 2.2 percent The average current yield for core bond funds (whose income is taxable) is 1.4 percent.

If that yield advantage appeals, it bears repeating that the coming months may be rocky.

Mr. Hayes cautioned that even with a reopening of the economy, municipal revenues will “only be at a percentage of what they were pre-Covid.” Even if a vaccine arrives, people may not spend as much, rely on public transportation with the same gusto, or drive or fly as much, or flock to stadiums, arenas and convention centers.

Moreover, some states and cities that issued high volumes of bonds already had severe budget problems before the crisis: Illinois and New Jersey had many bonds rated BBB, the lowest rung of investment grade before the coronavirus. These and other states may find it harder to dig out of this recession.

  • Updated July 7, 2020

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?

      A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

As downgrades emerge, Mr. Hayes says “headline risk” may shake up the market. When one issuer falters, he said, “investors begin to worry about the overall health of the market, and it becomes a contagion and there is a sell-off.”

But remember that after such sell-offs in the past (see: Puerto Rico, Detroit), there was no lasting impact on the broader market. “Those usually end up being good long- term buying opportunities,” said Mr. Hayes.

There is already opportunity to find value despite the headlines, many managers say.

Mr. Kiselak at Vanguard says that while nursing homes may face a rough road because of coronavirus-related deaths, another type of institution, known as continuing care retirement communities, have not had such problems, but their bonds have been hammered as if they did.

He said the Vanguard municipal bond team is also finding value in the bonds of single-site health care centers that do not have the same challenges as “massive systems that were in epicenters,” where coronavirus costs rose and revenue fell as nonessential procedures were closed.

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