It is Day 86 (on 6/4) since the start of the COVID-19 American shelter-in-place/quarantine response (7 states did not issue a shelter-in-place order), and the day that the WHO declared it a ‘pandemic’ (3/11/20). I may have to stop this count soon, though, as all states have reopened, at least in differing degrees.
I hope that you and your families are staying healthy and safe. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to take its literal mortal, economic, and mental toll on millions of people around the world.
I am still NOT retired from the Securities Finance industry. I am working with an electronic trading platform, and making great headway on providing a large electronic solution for several markets. I am also available FOR HIRE as a consultant, with almost 38 years of experience in the Repo & Securities Lending industry. So, if you need my Securities Financing expertise or access to my vast network of about 9000 clients, call my mobile (646-753-1300), email (email@example.com), or hit me up on LinkedIn. Many of you know about my baseball and hockey exploits, particularly all the injuries. I will finally be addressing one that has hampered me since 2009, my left knee, which will be replaced on 6/30/20. So, I may be a little incapacitated for a couple of weeks after that, unfortunately during my birthday.
My Repo Commentary is posted FREE (it’s actually always been free) on my website: www.repocommentary.com. It also pops up on LinkedIn, the Global Investors Group (ISF Magazine) website, and on CentralBanks.com as an op-ed. I am interested in entertaining you and taking your mind off the pressures you are under. I intend to publish a Repo Commentary every week. I may get a little squirrelly on that front relatively soon, as I finally, after 11 years, have been told that I require full knee replacement in the left knee on 6/30. Just when I thought it was safe to go back in the water…
Since its inception in 1982, the Repo Commentary does not represent the views of any of my former firms and reflects only my opinion and includes only publicly available information. I make a strong effort to attribute any quotes or thoughts that are not my own, I do not make any marketing spiels, and I really am more interested (70-80%) in entertaining you than boring (20-30%) you with too much market info. Feel free, as always, to send me information or pictures, to make it better!
Holidays or Events (06/04):
- Audacity To Hope Day
- Hug Your Cat Day
- International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression
- International (World) Hug Your Cat Day
- National SAFE Day
- Old Maid’s Day
- National Moonshine Day
- National Cognac Day
- Shopping Cart Day
- National Cheese Day
- Mom’s Equal Pay Day
- Emancipation Day in Tonga
- Flag Day in Estonia
- National Unity Day in Hungary
- Tiananmen Square Protests of 1989 Memorial Day
06/05 is National Donut Day!
Some Famous People Born on 06/04 in History:
- 1394-Philippa of England, Queen of Denmark, Norway and Sweden
- 1738-George III of the United Kingdom
- 1744-Patrick Ferguson, Scottish soldier, designed the Ferguson rifle
- 1917-Robert Merrill-American actor and singer
- 1924-Dennis Weaver-American actor and director
- 1936-Vince Camuto-American fashion designer and businessman, co-founded Nine West
- 1936-Bruce Dern, American actor
- 1937-Freddy Fender, American singer and guitarist
- 1937-Mortimer Zuckerman, Canadian-American businessman and publisher, founded Boston Properties
- 1944-Michelle Phillips, American singer-songwriter and actress
- 1953-Jimmy McCulloch, Scottish musician and songwriter (Wings)
- 1961-El DeBarge, American singer-songwriter and producer
- 1963-Jim Lachey, American football player and sportscaster
- 1975-Russell Brand, English comedian and actor
- 1975-Angelina Jolie, American actress, filmmaker, humanitarian, and activist
Daily Weird Facts:
I don’t think anyone expected that when we changed the clocks we’d go from Standard Time to the Twilight Zone.
“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”—Benjamin Franklin
Currency and Commodity Markets:
Oil prices closed at:
$74.34/barrel on 10/5
$47.66/barrel on 12/23
$48.63 on 01/07
$52.31/barrel on 01/16
$55.26/barrel on 2/3
$55.41/barrel on 2/26
$73.77/barrel on 4/29
$63.28/barrel on 5/17
$54.07/barrel on 6/18
$55.96/barrel on 7/24
$58.31/barrel on 9/10
$53.50/barrel on 10/2
$59.10/barrel on 12/8
$58.81/barrel on 1/17
$54.39/barrel on 2/7
$35.92/barrel on 3/11
$27.15/barrel on 3/18
$29.90/barrel on 3/23
$27.43/barrel on 3/27
$24.90/barrel on 4/01
$31.80/barrel on 4/12
$28.31/barrel on 4/17
$20.03/barrel on 4/27
$26.78/barrel on 5/04
$30.39/barrel on 5/09
$35.69/barrel on 5/20
$39.78/barrel on 6/04
Oil prices have rallied back to pre-COVID-19 prices. The Russian-OPEC agreement and US support of oil prices have finally had their impact. The price of gasoline at my West Palm Beach station has been unchanged in the last week, at $1.86/gallon. Most of the other stations in the area are 20-60 cents more per gallon.
One USD versus the Yen was trading at (these are all around Repo Commentary dates):
112.20 on 12/24
108.60 on 01/07
109.07 on 01/16
103.18 on 02/03
104.86 on 2/25
103.86 on 5/17
102.59 on 6/18
102.43 on 7/24
101.72 on 9/10
102.16 on 10/02
102.96 on 12/06
104.30 on 01/17/20
104.80 on 02/07/20
99.23 on 03/11/20
101.67 on 03/18/20
104.77 on 03/24/20
102.22 on 04/13/20
102.14 on 04/19/20
101.57 on 04/27/20
106.82 on 05/04/20
100.80 on 05/10/20
102.04 on 05/20/20
103.32 on 06/04/20
One Euro was trading on:
12/24 at $1.1426
01/07 at $1.1478
01/16 at $1.1396
02/03 at $1.2047
02/25 at $1.1955
05/17 at $1.1761
06/18 at $1.1825
07/24 at $1.1740
09/10 at $1.1623
10/02 at $1.1504
12/06 at $1.1688
01/17 at $1.1721
02/07 at $1.1543
03/11 at $1.1937
03/18 at $1.1575
03/24 at $1.1400
04/13 at $1.1523
04/19 at $1.1394
04/27 at $1.1407
05/04 at $1.0903
05/10 at $1.1402
05/20 at $1.1522
06/04 at $1.1795
One British Pound was trading on:
12/24 at $1.2655
01/07 at $1.2770
01/16 at $1.2880
02/03 at $1.3758
02/25 at $1.3728
05/17 at $1.3427
06/18 at $1.3157
07/24 at $1.3070
09/10 at $1.2959
10/02 at $1.2882
12/06 at $1.3819
01/17 at $1.3753
02/07 at $1.3574
03/11 at $1.354
03/18 at $1.2665
03/24 at $1.2231
04/13 at $1.3143
04/19 at $1.3058
04/27 at $1.3052
05/04 at $1.2435
05/10 at $1.3005
05/20 at $1.2844
06/04 at $1.3136
One USD versus the CAD at:
1.3442 on 12/24
1.3297 on 01/07
1.3255 on 01/16
1.2492 on 2/03
1.2492 on 2/25
1.2800 on 5/17
1.2740 on 6/18
1.2480 on 7/24
1.2520 on 9/10
1.2560 on 10/02
1.2530 on 12/06
1.2390 on 01/17
1.2640 on 02/07
1.3020 on 03/11
1.3540 on 03/18
1.3690 on 03/24
1.3250 on 04/13
1.3390 on 04/19
1.3350 on 04/27
1.4090 on 05/04
1.3250 on 05/10
1.3250 on 05/20
1.2850 on 06/04
The USD has weakened against most major currencies over the past week.
Gold closed on 9/09 at $1504.90/ounce. On 10/02, it closed at $1498.70/ounce. On 12/6, it closed at $1,464.40/ounce. On 1/17, it closed at $1557.30/ounce. On 2/07, it closed at $1,576.20/ounce. On 3/11, it closed at $1,641/ounce. On 3/18, it is trading at $1,487.60. On 3/24 it was trading at $1,659.80, way up. On 3/27 it is trading at $1,627.00. On 4/01, it is trading at $1,591.60. On 4/12, it skyrocketed to $1,738.00. Yet, on the eve of 4/20, it has backed off a little to $1,694.50. On 4/27, it traded at $1,724.20/ounce. On 5/04, it was trading $1,712.70. On 5/10, it was trading at $,1,708.90/ounce. On 5/20, it was trading at $1,753.80/ounce. On 6/04, it was trading at $1,726.80/ounce.
Bitcoin was trading at (around Repo Commentary Dates):
$8,185.21 on 7/25
$6,350 on 10/5
$3,774.97 on 12/24/18
$3,7774.97 on 01/07
$3,598.90 on 01/16
$3,421.10 on 02/06
$3,826.44 on 02/26
$8,100.00 on 05/16
$7,215.79 on 05/17
$9,088.59 on 06/18
$11,919.30 on 06/25
$9,790.37 on 07/24
$10,183.90 on 09/10
$8,235.46 on 10/02
$7,470.41 on 12/06
$8,876.87 on 01/17/20
$9,793.18 on 02/07/20
$7,871.60 on 03/11/20
$5,216.64 on 03/18/20
$6,728.03 on 03/24/20
$6,646.60 on 03/27/20
$6,443.44 on 03/31/20
$6,908.13 on 04/12/20
$7,128.45 on 04/19/20
$7,748.29 on 04/27/20
$8,775.36 on 05/04/20
$8,771.73 on 05/10/20
$9,525.54 on 05/20/20
$9,794.46 on 06/04/20
After rebounding in 2019 dramatically since the beginning of the year, although certainly not to its $19,000 high, Bitcoin hit a wall at the beginning of the Summer, then rallied during the Summer, and tumbled again in Q4, and had rallied in early in 2020. It then gave up all of those 2020 gains with the COVID-19 contagion. Now, it has rallied sharply in the last few weeks, leading to its impending ‘halving event’. In fact, this 15% rally in the past week is probably because of the allure of having twice as many bitcoins for owners, similar to a stock-split. Last week’s gain was part of the first seven-week rally streak in Bitcoin in a year. In fact, Bitcoin is up over 130% since 3/13/20, when it hit $3,867. This will be the 3rd‘halving event’ for Bitcoin, since its inception, and will occur on 5/12/20. There were strong rallies prior to the other two ‘halvings’ as well. ‘Halving’ refers to a programmed-in event in Bitcoin’s code, which reduces the reward per block mined by 50% every 4 years to control inflation. Following the halving, rewards issued will drop to 6.25 BTC from the current 12.5 BTC. I’ve heard the promotional material that halving events create lesser supply (half the payment for miners, so less supply of coins) and increase the media attention on Bitcoin and could lead to a rally. But, the charts from the previous halvings have shown more of a sideways move, even a drop in prices for one, and months later, a rally. You know, being a huge stochastics fan my entire career, I have always felt, naively, that any market, at any time, is operating in a pattern either predictable by stochastics or as the result of changing fundamentals. Except Bitcoin. I have not been able to recognize the stochastic patterns easily or correlated the fundamentals with market reaction. So, that’s what I reported in the 5/11 Repo Commentary, but instead, Bitcoin has rocketed higher, after the halving. In fact, it has already tested the $10,000 level three times by 5/20.
Global Financial News:
The Financial Times reported (finally, someone reported) that the sudden and sweeping changes brought by the COVID-19 pandemic to how bank traders conduct business has revealed how successfully traders can operate outside traditional, one location/metropolitan trading desks. This is on top of the success many firms are seeing with remote Sales from home, using Zoom or Team conference calls. Yet, major banks have begun planning the safest way to disperse staff in an eventual phased return to the offices. However, part of the plan may include reducing the head count at main offices and redeploying staff to statellite offices. Reuters reports that banks in the US have issued $3.4 billion in leveraged loans this past month for M&A activity (acquisition financing). Talent management company Cornerstone OnDemand is raising roughly $1 billion to support its acquisition of Saba Software. Technology firm Xperi is looking for $1.1 billion to back its merger with peer TiVo Corp. Deutsche Bank’s chairman will step down in 2022. Energy company Apergy is looking for $537 million loans to support its merger with Ecolab’s Nalco Champion. Broadband infrastructure Zipyl Fiber is completing at $791 million loan to back its acquisition by a group of investors led by Searchlight Capital Partners, according to Reuters. The US Senate has passed a bill that would impose requirements on Chinese companies, which could lead to their delisting on US stock exchanges and could prohibit the firms from raising money from US investors. The bill includes requirements that Chinese firms show they are not owned by a foreign government and that they undergo an audit reviewable by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. FINRA said that SEC’s Reg Best Interest largely replaces FINRA’s Suitability Rule, but that there are exceptions. It does not address variable annuities and options, for instance. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has finalized a rule to modernize the Community Reinvestment Act that applies only to national banks, after other regulations had not supported the rule. CFTC is updating its misconduct penalty guidelines for members. A crisis expert has been appointed as World Bank’s Chief Economist. ESMA is asking firms for transparency in their half-year reports.
US Market News:
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on global economies and equity markets, particularly the various business shutdowns and furloughs associated with it. Now, we are also contending with a nationwide public outrage over police brutality in Minneapolis, kind of a continuation of human rights being stripped from us all, which is beginning to impact the economy as well.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average continues to experience enormous volatility recently, Originally, it was due to the shutdowns of COVID-19, then it was due to central banks’ efforts to calm the markets, and now it may be because of political and racial unrest. However, over the last almost 3 months, the DJIA has recovered everything that it lost. Here are the latest DJIA closes for the past month or so, just to demonstrate the massive volatility (I’m starting to think I missed the bottom to buy in):
4/10/20 market closed
2/12/20 29,551.42 record high
The Dow Jones closed at (Repo Commentary Dates):
26,656.77 on 9/20/18
26,447.05 on 10/5/18
21,792.20 on 12/23/18
21,712.53 on 12/26/18
24,207.16 on 01/16/19
25,063.89 on 2/06/19
26,106.47 on 2/25/19
25,862.68 on 5/16/19
26,465.54 on 6/18/19
27,269.97 on 7/24/19
26,793.09 on 9/10/19
26,229.31 on 10/02/19
28,015.06 on 12/06/19
29,348.10 on 01/17/20
29,185.07 on 02/07/20
29,551.42on 02/12/20 record high
23,553.22 on 03/11/20
21,237.38 on 03/17/20
18,591.93 on 03/23/20
22,552.17 on 03/26/20
21,917.16 on 03/31/20
23,719.37 on 04/09/20
24,242.49 on 04/17/20
24,133.78 on 04/27/20
24,331.32 on 05/08/20
24,206.86 on 05/19/20
26,281.82 on 06/04/20
S&P 500 has closed on:
10/5/18 at 2,885.58
12/26/18 at 2,467.70
01/07/19 at 2,549.69
01/16/19 at 2,616.10
02/06/19 at 2,706.53
02/25/19 at 2,799.34
05/16/19 at 2,876.32
06/18/19 at 2,917.75
07/24/19 at 3,019.56
09/10/19 at 2,969.04
10/02/19 at 2,906.94
12/06/19 at 3,145.91
01/17/20 at 3,329.62
02/07/20 at 3,335.27 down 10.51 from new all-time high
03/12/20 at 2,480.64
03/17/20 at 2,529.19
03/23/20 at 2,237.40
03/26/20 at 2,630.07
03/31/20 at 2,584.59
04/09/20 at 2,789.82
04/17/20 at 2,830.88
04/24/20 at 2,854.65
05/08/20 at 2,929.80
05/19/20 at 2,922.35
06/03/20 at 3,130.94
S&P has regained everything it lost since 3/11 pandemic announcement, and more, and is approaching the 2/07/20 all-time high.
Nasdaq too gave up its 8/28/18 high of 8,030.04, closing on:
10/5/18 at 7,788.45
12/26/18 at 6,554.36
01/07/19 at 6,823.47
01/16/19 at 7,034.70
02/06/19 at 7,263.87
02/25/19 at 7,561.87
05/16/19 at 7,898.05
06/18/19 at 7,953.68
07/24/19 at 8,321.50
09/10/19 at 8,043.58
10/02/19 at 7,809.22
12/06/19 at 8,656.07
01/17/20 at 9,388.95
02/07/20 at 9,555.96 down 16.19 from new all-time high
03/12/20 at 7,201.80
03/17/20 at 7,334.78
03/23/20 at 6,860.67
03/26/20 at 7,797.54
03/31/20 at 7,700.10
04/09/20 at 8,153.58
04/17/20 at 8,650.14
04/27/20 at 8,730.16
05/08/20 at 9,121.32
05/19/20 at 9,185.10
06/04/20 at 9,615.81 don’t look now, but we have set a new record high, above the previous high of 2/07/20!
The appetite was strong for the first 20-year US Treasury bond in 3 decades (1986)! I was four years in the industry when that happened, that’s how long ago it was, lol! The yield was 1.22%, an advantageous interest rate for the US Government. It’s sort of like they took advantage of low interest rates (that ‘they’ created) to ‘refinance’ some of the $22 trillion in debt that ‘they’ have outstanding. That is something that homeowners, investors, and financial institutions have been doing all the time, with their own money. Now, if they could only pay that interest and principal back when USD are less valuable against other currencies, it would be a win-win…wait, the USD is less valuable against other currencies lately. Languishing Treasury yields over the last 8 weeks may have been a signal that there is diminishing economic confidence in the market and an expectation that the Federal Reserve will keep interest rates this low for an extended period of time. I don’t want to plagiarize myself from an upcoming article on the Fed, so I’ll just leave it at that for now. At least, the yields have ticked up slightly this week.
2 YEAR NOTES closed on:
10/5/18 at 2.88%
12/18/18 at 2.65%
01/07/19 at 2.53%
01/16/19 at 2.55%
02/06/19 at 2.52%
02/22/19 at 2.48%
05/16/19 at 2.20%
06/18/19 at 1.86%
07/24/19 at 1.83%
09/09/19 at 1.58%
10/01/19 at 1.56%
12/06/19 at 1.61%
01/17/20 at 1.58%
02/06/20 at 1.44%
03/11/20 at 0.50%
03/17/20 at 0.47%
03/23/20 at 0.28% wow!
03/26/20 at 0.30%
03/31/20 at 0.23%
04/09/20 at 0.23%
04/17/20 at 0.20%
04/27/20 at 0.24%
05/10/20 at 0.16% historic low
05/19/20 at 0.17%
06/03/20 at 0.19%
3 YEAR NOTES closed on:
10/5/18 at 2.99%
12/18/18 at 2.64%
01/07/19 at 2.47% (inverted to 2years)
01/16/19 at 2.53%
02/06/19 at 2.50%
02/22/19 at 2.46%
05/16/19 at 2.15%
06/18/19 at 1.80%
07/24/19 at 1.79%
09/09/19 at 1.52%
10/01/19 at 1.51%
12/06/19 at 1.64%
01/17/20 at 1.58%
02/06/20 at 1.43%
03/11/20 at 0.58%
03/17/20 at 0.54%
03/23/20 at 0.31% wow!
03/26/20 at 0.36%
03/31/20 at 0.29%
04/09/20 at 0.29%
04/17/20 at 0.26%
04/27/20 at 0.29%
05/10/20 at 0.21%
05/19/20 at 0.22%
06/03/20 at 0.26%
5 YEAR NOTES closed on:
10/5/18 at 3.07%
12/18/18 at 2.65%
01/07/19 at 2.49%
01/16/19 at 2.54%
02/06/19 at 2.51%
02/22/19 at 2.47%
05/16/19 at 2.18%
06/18/19 at 1.83%
07/24/19 at 1.82%
09/09/19 at 1.49%
10/01/19 at 1.51%
12/06/19 at 1.67%
01/17/20 at 1.63%
02/07/20 at 1.45%
03/11/20 at 0.66%
03/17/20 at 0.56%
03/23/20 at 0.38%
03/26/20 at 0.51%
03/31/20 at 0.37%
04/09/20 at 0.41%
04/17/20 at 0.36%
04/27/20 at 0.41%
05/10/20 at 0.33%
05/19/20 at 0.35%
06/03/20 at 0.38%
7 YEAR NOTES closed on:
10/5/18 at 3.18%
12/18/18 at 2.74%
01/07/19 at 2.60%
01/16/19 at 2.62%
02/06/19 at 2.59%
02/22/19 at 2.55%
05/16/19 at 2.28%
06/18/19 at 1.93%
07/24/19 at 1.93%
09/09/19 at 1.57%
10/01/19 at 1.59%
12/06/19 at 1.78%
01/17/20 at 1.74%
02/06/20 at 1.56%
03/11/20 at 0.78%
03/17/20 at 0.91%
03/23/20 at 0.63%
03/26/20 at 0.72%
03/31/20 at 0.55%
04/09/20 at 0.60%
04/17/20 at 0.53%
04/27/20 at 0.56%
05/10/20 at 0.53%
05/19/20 at 0.54%
06/03/20 at 0.59%
10 YEAR NOTES closed on:
10/5/18 at 3.23%
12/18/18 at 2.82%
01/07/19 at 2.70%
01/16/19 at 2.73%
02/06/19 at 2.70%
02/22/19 at 2.65%
05/16/19 at 2.40%
06/18/19 at 2.06%
07/24/19 at 2.05%
09/09/19 at 1.83%
10/01/19 at 1.65% dramatic drop in one month!
12/06/19 at 1.84% dramatic rise in two months!
01/17/20 at 1.84%
02/06/20 at 1.65% and back down again!
03/11/20 at 0.82%
03/17/20 at 1.02% and back up again
03/23/20 at 0.76% and back down again
03/26/20 at 0.83%
03/31/20 at 0.70%
04/09/20 at 0.73%
04/17/20 at 0.65%
04/27/20 at 0.67%
05/10/20 at 0.69%
05/19/20 at 0.70%
06/03/20 at 0.77%
30 YEAR BONDS closed on:
10/5/18 at 3.40%
12/18/18 at 3.07%
01/07/19 at 2.99%
01/16/19 at 3.07%
02/06/19 at 3.03%
02/22/19 at 3.02%
05/16/19 at 2.84%
06/18/19 at 2.55%
07/24/19 at 2.58%
09/10/19 at 2.11%
10/01/19 at 2.11%
12/06/19 at 2.29%
01/17/20 at 2.29%
02/06/20 at 2.11%
03/11/20 at 1.30%
03/17/20 at 1.63% way up!
03/23/20 at 1.33% back down
03/26/20 at 1.42%
03/31/20 at 1.35%
04/09/20 at 1.35%
04/17/20 at 1.27%
04/27/20 at 1.29%
05/10/20 at 1.39%
05/19/20 at 1.43%
06/03/20 at 1.56%
Reuters reported, when I wrote last Repo Commentary, that about 4.1 million US borrowers have had their mortgage payments reduced or put on hold, due to the COVID-19 crisis, but that the pace of requests is marginally slowing, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Mortgages in Forbearance rose to 8.16% (from 7.91%) between 5/4 and 5/10, representing the smallest weekly increase since March. Today, the National Association of Realtors released Existing Home Sales for April, and it wasn’t pretty. The overall figure was down 17.8%! Each of the 4 regions experienced a sharp decline in month/month and year/year sales. The West region was hit the hardest. Yet, home prices remain strong. There is something that reminds me of LIBOR in that release, the price is still strong, even though not much actually traded there.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac intend to hire financial advisers to help them emerge from US Government conservatorship. These advisers will be tasked with developing strategies for recapitalization and updating their business plans. The FHFA has issued a proposal that FNMA and FHLMC should hold a combined $240 billion as a buffer against losses. One official snarkily said that if the GSEs had been under a similar obligation before the Financial Crisis, they would not have encountered such difficulties.
According to Black Knight, delinquencies on US home loans soared 90% or 1.6 million in April, the largest monthly gain on record. This new high is influenced, however, by the US government’s relief initiatives, which include forbearances for about 4.7 million borrowers on 5/12.
Repo/Securities Financing News:
“Et tu, Repo?” GC repo rates continue to confound and now frustrate the Federal Reserve, after dropping with Fed Funds at the low end of the target range, despite plenty of liquidity around, and now hitting 0.00% again on Wednesday, despite the Fed’s efforts and Chair Powell’s remarks to stop a policy of negative rates. The issue seems to be getting larger for the Fed, as the ECB is showing no signs of abandoning its negative rate monetary policy, and BOE is increasingly split on its course of monetary policy. The UK even sold its first bond ever with a negative yield on Wednesday. Germans have had negative interest rates for a while, and it doesn’t mean that people are paid up front to borrow money. They simply have to pay less back than what they borrowed, in the end. Even term GC rates continued to drop this week. With QE purchases winding down (now ‘only’ $4.5 billion in MBS outright per day) and issuance increasing, many thought that repo rates would move higher to at least the mid-target area. It looks like the new issuance is being absorbed easily by the market. Maybe there are other factors at play in the Repo market, although we saw the same things happen to the derivatives market last month.
Finadium just put out a report in Securities Finance Monitor about the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) issues and the industry’s varied responses. This includes regulatory limiting of short-selling and impact on securities lending participants.
In case you have been in a coma or are new to the Securities Financing market, this is broadly a summary of what has happened since the Financial Crisis.
- Issuance of US Treasuries was about $10 trillion.
- The regulators, particularly the Federal Reserve, instituted emergency liquidity programs for each of the different sectors of the money market (CP, Corporate Bonds, Broker/Dealers, GSEs, etc.). They eventually unwound those many programs.
- They opened up for a brief time the Discount Window to more participants and without the previous stigma attached, for collateral providers to access cash.
- They put FNMA and FHLMC into conservatorship.
- They began easing Monetary Policy massively for years.
- They began Quantitative Easing and built up the Fed’s balance sheet to $4.5 trillion. They added to it by buying more securities every month from the paydowns on their MBS portfolio.
- They propped up some of the 47 primary broker/dealers, allowed some to fail, and helped others to consolidate/merge.
- The Repo Market shrunk in the US from about $7 trillion to $3 trillion, before recent increase to about $3.6 trillion.
- Regulators instituted mountains of new reforms, especially the 310 new rules of Dodd-Frank, globally to decrease the likelihood of systemic risk in the financial system and to force, particularly the broker/dealers and GSIB banks to hold more capital/reserves for liquidity.
- The market began looking for alternatives to financing through the fewer and crimped broker/dealers via CCPs, peer-to-peer financing, Sponsored Repo, and electronic trading platforms (some of which I initiated).
- The Fed began its much hailed RRP program, kind of like a P2P repo, which added over 300 cash providers from the Repo market to finance the Fed’s balance sheet and provide ‘liquidity’ for those cash providers. Of course, that didn’t help the Primary Dealers, who were using those cash providers to finance their own balance sheets.
- The Fed stopped QE and began reducing their balance sheet down to $2.5 trillion.
- The US Treasury began ramping up issuance to the tune of about $1 trillion more, which is funneled through the 24 primary broker/dealers and the central banks.
- The Fed began tightening monetary policy and tinkering with new measures of repo rates and LIBOR replacement. They also began tinkering with the Interest on Excess Reserves (IOER) from banks and credit unions, to try to create higher reserves.
- COVID-19 pandemic hit. The Fed did an about-face and began easing monetary policy immediately. They also went back to doing daily System RPs and Term RPs with the primary dealers. They had also lowered IOER. They now have raised IOER in two of the last three FOMC meetings.
- The Fed effectively reinstated QE, injected at least $500 billion to buy US Treasuries again, $200 billion to buy Agency MBS again, and injected funds into the Dollar Roll market. They have said their buying power is unlimited. They have purchased about $733 billion in securities so far. They actually started QE BEFORE COVID-19, to raise “bank reserves” in Q4 2019.
- They then began reinstating specific bailout/backstop programs of 2008, and continue to add to the list.
- QE purchases are winding down slowly, about $2 billion per day. That would have QE end sometime in June. Of course, they can always restart QE. Open Market Operations (RP Operations) have continued, although at a less hectic pace.
- Issuance of US Treasuries hits $23.5 trillion, and is expected to go higher.
- The Fed is getting ready to roll out their Main Street Lending Program to mid-market companies.
The current state of Central Clearing Counterparties (CCPs) and Electronic Trading Platforms (ETPs):
- Eurex/Deutsche Borse/Clearstream (CCP)-has been doing predominantly European governments repo for some time now.
- LCH-Clearnet-London (CCP)-I do not have any info yet.
- LCH-Clearnet-Paris (CCP)-split out years ago, not because of Brexit.
- Shanghai Clearing House-China (CCP). I do not have any info yet.
- OCC (CCP)-has hit daily volumes of $80 bilion of repo and outright trading, with futures and options as well. It also still owns AQS/Quadriserve (ETP) for US securities lending.
- FICC/DTCC (CCP)-has hit high volume of $552 billion, increases coming from the 3 participant banks in Sponsored Repo, bringing their clients into the CCP, along with their standard dealer vs dealer repo.Has been around a while now.
- CDCC-Canada (CCP)-brand new CCP involving derivatives and repo.
- com (ETP)-fairly new, trades total return swaps.
- HQLAx (ETP)-securities financing, just started, uses blockchain tokens to represent trades.
- Liquidity Marketplace-LMX (ETP), I do not have any info yet.
- Asterisk (ETP)-brand new, focused first on government securities and equities financing.
- Treasury Spring (ETP)-fairly new, focused on European asset managers.
- GLMX (ETP)-a Silicon Valley solution, primarily dealers and some asset managers.
- TradeWeb (ETP)-longtime system, primarily dealers and some asset managers.
- BNY DBVX (ETP)-fairly new and has changed, for internal BNY Mellon clients now.
- DealerWeb (ETP)-primarily for dealers.
- AFX/CBOE (ETP)-trades collateralized loans and futures.
- State Street Direct Access (ETP)-fairly new, has started securities financing for internal State Street clients.
Securities Finance Industry Conferences: (subject to COVID-19-related postponements or cancellations)
- Deutsche Borse/Clearstream/Securities Lending Times held their annual GFF Summit in Luxembourg, 1/28-1/30/20, which I attended two years ago.
- IMN 26thBeneficial Owners International Securities Finance conference will be held in Fort Lauderdale, FL on 2/12-2/13/20. I was the Chairperson in 2019 and will be a moderator this year. I hope to see many of you there!
- iMoneyNet/Informa has yet to announce its annual MMExpo, after the merger. I have spoken at this one several times.
- PASLA/RMA will hold its 17thannual Conference on Asian Securities Lending in Tokyo, Japan on 3/3-3/5/20.
- GIOA will hold its 16thannual conference in Las Vegas 3/18-3/20/20. I have spoken (and sung) at this one. I may attend.
- Crane Data will hold its annual Bond Fund Symposium in Boston, MA on 3/23-3/24/20.
- IHS Markit will hold its annual Securities Finance Forum in London, England on 3/24/20.
- Finadium will hold its 4th annual Investors in Securities Lending Conference in NYC on 5/13-5/14/20. I’ve spoken and sponsored this one.
- GFOA will hold its gigantic 114th(wow!) annual conference in Los Angeles on 5/17-5/20/20. I have attended this one in the past.
- IMN/AFME will hold its annual Global Bank ABS (West) conference in Barcelona, Spain on 6/16-6/18/20.
- Worldwide Business Research will hold its annual Fixed Income Leaders USA Summit in Nashville, TN on 6/8-6/10/20.
- ISLA will hold its 29thAnnual Securities Finance and Collateral Management conference in Vienna, Austria on 6/23-6/25/20. I have spoken (and sung) at this one before.
- ICMA/Securities Lending Times will hold their annual AGM and conference also in Vienna, Austria, on 6/24-6/26/20.
- Crane Data will hold its annual Money Fund Symposium on 6/24-6/26/20 in Minneapolis, MN. I heard there were 580 attendees in Boston last year. I have spoken at this conference before.
- National Association of State Treasurers will hold its annual conference in San Diego, CA on 9/13-9/16/20. I’ve spoken and sung at this one.
- IMN will hold its annual European Securities Finance conference in London, England on 9/15-9/16/20. I’ve attended this before.
- Worldwide Business Research will hold its annual Fixed Income & FX Leader Summit in Singapore on 9/22-9/24/20.
- IMN will hold its annual ABS East conference in Miami Beach, FL on 10/5-10/7/20. I’ve attended this before and might again.
- Worldwide Business Research will hold its annual Fixed Income Leaders 2020 conference in Barcelona, Spain on 10/12-10/14/20.
- RMA will hold its 38thannual Conference on Securities Finance and Collateral Management in Amelia Island, FL on October 12-15. I saw many of you last year in Boca Raton. It was my 37thRMA I’ve attended.
- Crane Data has yet to announce its annual European Money Fund Symposium.
- Finadium has yet to announce its 4th annual Investors in Securities Lending Conference Europe.
- American Financial Professionals (AFP) will hold its large annual conference in Las Vegas, NV on 10/18-10/21/20.
- Finadium has yet to announce its Rates & Repo conference in New York. I’ve spoken and sponsored this one.
- net has yet to announce its 26thannual Risk USA conference. I’ve chaired this one.
- SIFMA has yet to announce its annual Meeting.
Federal Reserve News:
The Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) is supposed to be a broad measure of the cost of borrowing cash overnight collateralized by US Treasury securities. It is also reported by the NY Fed on its website. It has been controversial and has been considered as the likely replacement for LIBOR. SOFR includes trades in the Broad General Collateral Rate of Repo plus bilateral Treasury Repo transactions cleared through the DVP services at CCP FICC, ostensibly filtering out issues trading Special. However, critics (and I am one) say that it only picks up the Offered Side of Repo (not a median), that it only picks up the small amount of DVP transactions cleared at FICC and Triparty Repo done at Bank of NY, ignoring the growing amount of bilateral (non-Triparty) repo being done peer-to-peer, dealer-to-dealer, and client-to-dealer, outside of FICC. It is a good representation of where Money Funds (except for a few savvy ones who trade peer-to-peer) are paid on their cash versus US Treasuries in Repo each day by broker/dealers. It almost completely ignores other sectors, particularly buy-side clients with collateral. My friend Scott Skyrm addressed this recently in his Repo Market Commentary, pointing out that since the beginning of April, GC Repo averaged 4.2bp above SOFR, and that the difference is even greater in the futures contracts (where it increases to 7.2-14.9bp spread, depending on the term.) He agrees with me that SOFR will always be lower than GC Repo, because it is skewed to the offer-side of the market, particularly with the inclusion of the tri-party repo rates.
The Fed Funds rate, which is still the target rate of Federal Reserve monetary policy and changes to which are made by and announced by the FOMC at regularly scheduled meetings, is currently set at 0.00-0.25% (remember, the Fed has been using a target ‘range’ for a while). The Federal Reserve posts an Effective Fed Funds Rate (EFFR). The Overnight Bank Funding Rate (OBFR), is also published by the NY Fed to capture the volume-weighted median of overnight federal funds transactions, Eurodollar transactions, and the domestic deposits reported by banks.
The next FOMC meetings (and they are all two-day meetings so these are the second day, when they actually announce) are: 6/10/20, 7/29/20, 9/16/20, 11/5/20, and 12/16/20. However, as we saw on 3/3/20, the FOMC can call emergency meetings at any time, even on weekends, especially during the Crisis we are facing now.
The Federal Reserve’s Reverse Repo Facility (RRP), which has over 300 approved participants (mostly banks, GSEs, and MMFs) is used as a tool by the Federal Reserve, along with its Fed Funds target-setting monetary policy, and IOER for depository institutions, to help control short-term interest rates. The Fed is currently only repoing out US Treasuries from its portfolio and typically only Overnight.
The Federal Reserve has begun buying ETFs and Corporate Bonds, as well as Municipal debt. Fed Chairman Powell explained the Fed’s new round of $2.2 trillion in lending programs, which will include Corporate Debt backstops for states, cities, and small businesses. This will include riskier bonds issued by corporations that had recently lost their investment-grade status. This brings me back to my earlier point about CMBS and mortgage loans needing a Fed backup program like TALF. For the Fed’s $500 billion municipal lending facility, the Fed has told US states, cities and counties that they must show written proof that they have applied for a municipal loan from a bank, BEFORE they will be considered for the lending facility. This positions the Fed facility more as a ‘last resort’ for applicants. The Fed has since broadened the eligibility for the MLF, lowering the population requirement to 250,000 from 1 million for cities and to 500,000 from 2 million for counties. Also, the Fed has expanded the duration of the debt it will purchase to 3 years from 2 years. More than 200 municipalities are already eligible to participate.
I didn’t add much to this section in this Repo Commentary, as I am working on a larger article about the Fed for another publication, due out shortly. I hate getting my peanut butter in my chocolate (except for food), so I’m going to refrain from commenting much on Fed policy here, so that the article will be fresh information and tantalizing dialogue, that you haven’t read already, as a savvy Repo Commentary reader.
Earthquakes and Volcanoes:
The Earth remains seismically active, as the atmosphere becomes active for hurricane season.
Earthquakes above 5.0-magnitude, in the last few days:
06/04 5.0 Kota Ternate, Indonesia
06/04 5.1 Port-Vila, Vanuatu
06/04 6.4 Tobelo, Indonesia
06/04 5.5 Searles Valley, CA
06/03 5.9 Fiji Islands
06/03 5.2 Ierapetra, Greece
06/03 6.8 San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
06/02 5.1 Isangel, Vanuatu
06/02 5.0 Grytviken, South Georgia
West Palm Beach, FL has, on average, 136 days of rain per year, which amounts to about 62.3 inches of rain. In June, the average high temp in West Palm Beach is 88 degrees and the average rainfall is 8.30”. in the last 5 months, we have received 17.10” of rain already. Typically, June has 15.3 days of rain, whereas May has 9.7 days of rain, in West Palm Beach, however, it has actually been raining here for 14 of the last 17 days and is expected to rain for the next 7 days. Yesterday, Palm Beach County received one month of rain. So, you’ll understand some of the picture gallery above. They are forecasting massive rains in Central America.
On 5/20, two aging, crumbling dams in Edenville, MI and Sanford, MI flooded and gave way, endangering thousands of residents downstream in Midland. The people were evacuated. Federal regulators had actually seen this coming, as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has long-warned the owners of the dams to increase capacity of the Edenville dam’s spillways to prevent a flood, going back as far as 1999. The agency issued another warning in 2004, when the ownership changed hands, and another in 2017, when it declared the dam to be a “high hazard”. In 2018, the FERC revoked Boyce Hydro’s license, leading to years of litigation. Part of the stall was that Boyce Hydro was planning to sell the system (including the dam) to a regional authority in 2022 for $9.4 million, and the cost of improving the dams was expected to be $100 million. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality found that 82 of its 88 dams it oversees were approaching or past 50-years-old, the average engineered lifespan for a dam. The American Society of Civil Engineers released a report in 2009, stating that more than 90% of Michigan’s nearly 2,600 dams will reach or exceed their design life by 2020.
The Atlantic Hurricane Season began June 1stand ends November 30th. According to Accuweather, the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is expected to have a more-active-than-normal season. They expect about 12 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 4 of them major hurricanes. The 2019 season had 18 named storms, matching 1969 for the 4thmost-lively season in the past 150 years. For the 2019 storm season, CSU, which has historically been the most used, had forecast a near-average season of 13 named storms, 5 hurricanes, and 2 major hurricanes. It turned out to be the 4thyear in a row of above-average damaging seasons. We had 18 named storms, 7 hurricanes, of which 3 were major hurricanes. It became the 7thyear that there were multiple Category-5 hurricanes in one season. CSU is predicting an above-average hurricane season in the Atlantic for 2020, with the likely absence of El Nino. Tropical and subtropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures are currently higher than normal, which tends to promote active hurricane seasons. Consequently, CSU predicts 16 named storms in the Atlantic, with 8 to become Hurricanes, and 4 to reach Category 3 or above strength.Okay, this week the third named Tropical Storm, Cristobal, formed in the Gulf of Mexico off the Yucatan Peninsula, and is now bearing down on Louisiana on Monday. The season is already active.
The Pacific Hurricane Season started 5/1/20 and ends 11/1/20. There is yet to be a forecast for this Hurricane Season. CSU says, for the Pacific Hurricane Season, they have warm ENSO conditions, with waters slightly warmer than normal in the eastern and central tropical Pacific, but will likely cool and dissipate El Nino. There are no tropical cyclones expected in the Central Pacific or Eastern Pacific in the next 5 days. India’s financial capital of Mumbai narrowly escaped Cyclone Nisarga, as nearby areas bore the full brunt.
The 2019 MLB regular season began on 3/28 last year and ended on 9/30 (more than 6 months). The Washington Nationals beat The Houston Astros in 7 games in The World Series. As these 2 teams played each other in March 2020, in the Spring Training facility that they share and that I sing the National Anthem at, the Spring Training season (and eventually MLB season) ended about 3/15, with the pandemic shutdown. MLB shut down both the Cactus League and Grapefruit League Spring Training about halfway through. Then, MLB cancelled the Minor League seasons for all 3 levels of the Minors. Then, MLB cancelled its Baseball Hall of Fame 2020 Induction Ceremony for 7/26. Instead, the plan is to honor the inductees (including Derek Jeter) in July 2021, along with its class of 2021 inductees.
On 4/29, USA Today reported that MLB was discussing a plan to start the regular season in late June, no later than 7/2, playing at home stadiums, but with realigned league. Three executives said that they plan to play at least 100 regular season games. But, there would be no fans in their stadiums, and it would likely be a 3-division, 10-team plan, in which teams play only within their division. This would abolish the traditional American and National Leagues, and realign teams based on geography, which was the original intent. The players seem to like the idea, as they could still play in their home ballparks and not have to travel as much. The players were opposed to playing the entire season in Arizona/Florida/Texas. The new MLB protocols will include no spitting, high-fiving, or team showers. This is what USA Today was thinking was likely:
NY Yankees, NY Mets, Boston Red Sox, Washington Nationals, Baltimore Orioles, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays, and Miami Marlins
Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, San Francisco Giants, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Texas Rangers, Houston Astros, Seattle Mariners
Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals, Kansas City Royals, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Minnesota Twins, Atlanta Braves, Detroit Tigers
MLB is considering how the 30 teams could refund COVID-19 postponements. As for not having fans in the seats, MLB and union officials are discussing the ramifications of not having fans, ticket sales, and concession revenue. Last season, MLB attendance was 68.5 million and the average ticket price was $53. Several teams want significant pay cuts for players, to play a shortened season. There is division about how the revenue-sharing should be split, from the lucrative TV contracts. MLB’s revenue was $10.7 billion in 2019, mostly due to its TV deal. Since I wrote in the last Repo Commentary, the two sides are further apart now, in restarting the MLB season. In fact, the disagreement about revenue-sharing and cutting players’ contracts back, has become more heated and is endangering this team sport from even having a season in 2020.
The Korean Baseball Organization season start was postponed in March, due to COVID-19, but by the end of the month, teams were playing with masks on, but no spectators. The league finally began its season on 5/5. I have actually seen parts of 2 games, which is 2 games more than I have ever watched before.
Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball Organization (NPB) postponed its baseball season, which was due to start on 3/20, and now is looking to start in June.
The NCAA College World Series was cancelled. Vanderbilt Commodores were the champs from 2019. The NCAA Women’s College World Series (softball) was also cancelled.
The COVID-19 pandemic also picked off the fan-favorite Little League World Series on 4/29, when it was cancelled for the first time in its history. It is typically held in August in South Williamsport, PA.
The PGA Tour 2020 season was in ‘full-swing’ and they had the Players Championship at Ponte Vedra, FL (TPC Sawgrass and the island green). But, then it cancelled the tournament before Friday’s Round 2 and shut down for the pandemic. At that time, it also announced that it was postponing the Masters in Augusta. Augusta National Golf Club announced that the postponement of the Masters would be to November 9-15. On Friday, the PGA announced that the Tour would resume its 2020 season with tournaments on 6/11. On Monday, the USGA announced that the local and sectional qualifying for the US Open have been cancelled. I think that was wise, since there were to be some 120 events around the country and 3 sectionals outside the country to be staged. However, those 36-hole events, with club pros, amateurs, mini-tour players, and nonexempt Tour pros competing were how half of the US Open field made their way into the tournament, and it was the allure of this particular Major and what made it an “Open”. I’m sure many of you remember the movie which portrays an amateur beating the great Ben Hogan in the US Open. Instead, the tournament will be an all-exempt field, whatever that means. The US Open has been postponed until 9/17 Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, NY. The PGA Championship is still scheduled for August. The USGA, at the same time, also announced that 4 of its other championships were being cancelled: the Mid-Amateur, the Women’s Mid-Amateur, the Senior Amateur, and the Senior Women’s Amateur. That will leave the USGA with just (besides the US Open): the US Women’s Open (12/10-12/13) at Champions Golf Club in Houston, US Amateur (8/10-8/16), and the US Women’s Amateur (8/3-8/9). The Ryder Cup is being postponed until the Fall. Muirfield Village will host back-to-back PGA Tour events.
Last week’s charity golf tournament on Sunday between Matt Wolfe/Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy (current World No.1)/Dustin Johnson, at ultra-private Seminole Golf Club, home course of Ben Hogan (and now member, Tom Brady), which was won by McIlroy/DJ on a tiebreaker 19thhole, raised $4 million for COVID-19 relief and drew 2.35 million sports-starved TV viewers. As entertaining as that tourney was, another live tourney was held this past weekend in nearby Hobe Sound, at Tiger Wood’s own newly constructed ultra-private golf course. This charity tournament raised $20 million for COVID-19 relief and was a very entertaining match-play event between Tiger Woods/Peyton Manning and Phil Mickelson/Tom Brady. It was billed as the rematch of last year’s $10 million duel between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, won by Mickelson in a boring 4-hour event, in which the microphoned players rarely talked. This time around, with the addition of the 2 colorful legendary QBs, plus many Tweets, bets, and challenges from commentators and other professional athletes, the tournament was a blast to watch. In the end, Tiger and Peyton held off a late charge by Mickelson and Brady. All players were microphoned and provided a lot of banter and golf instruction.
The European Tour’s Hero Indian Open, was postponed due to COVID-19 concerns, as have all other scheduled tournaments.
Cheyenne Knight is returning to the site of her first LPGA victory for today’s start of the Texas Women’s Open. She actually had to book a tee time for her practice round on Monday.
The 100thNFL season ended last year, in Miami, in an entertaining 31-20 comeback Super Bowl victory for the Kansas City Chiefs over the San Francisco 49ers. The 2020 NFL Draft, which was scheduled for 4/23-4/25 in Las Vegas, was cancelled and held remotely. An Indianapolis infectious disease doctor has voiced significant doubts about having an NFL season this year. However, NBC News quotes direct sources who say that ongoing pandemic has created only an “extremely small” chance that there will be no NFL season in 2020. According to NFL personnel, the biggest impediment to playing football would be the availability of adequate testing, both for players/staff and the general public. But, it is expected that testing will be prevalent by August and expected to be simple, with a quick turnaround time. This is one of the few team sports that believes it will open up the season with fans IN the seats. The NFL is also the one team sport that puts a lot more weight on the unfair advantages and disadvantages of fans in home stadiums. So, not having fans would have a much greater impact on NFL outcomes, as opposed to NHL, NBA, or MLB. I don’t know if I agree with that. I think that is true for NCAA team sports though. The NFL also recognizes that ‘social distancing’ will be impossible for fans in a stadium. All of this does not mean that training camps will necessarily open in late July/early August and that the regular season will start precisely on Thursday night, 9/10. QB Cam Newton has still not been signed by anyone.
The Canadian Football League’s season was postponed from 6/11 to an unspecified date in July. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are the CFL’s defending Grey Cup champions.
The new Vince McMahon-backed XFL, on 3/8, suspended and then cancelled its inaugural season. By mid-April, the league filed for bankruptcy, and currently has no plans to field teams in 2021.
The Tennis Tours (ATP, FFT, WTA) are discussing when and how to reopen their seasons. We know that the French Open will has been postponed to 9/24-10/4. We know that the 134thWimbledon, scheduled for 6/29-7/12 has been cancelled for 2020. The US Open is still expected to be played at its normal time in September. There is still a strong possibility that initially there will NOT be fans in the tennis stadiums.
The Summer Olympics, which were to start in July 2020, will be postponed until July 2021. This is the first time ever that a Summer Olympics was held on an odd year. The start of WWII in 1939, forced the 1940 Summer Olympics to be delayed a few weeks, and then canceled. The 1944 Olympic Games were also not held. The Summer Olympics did not begin again until London in 1948. But, they were never postponed.
The 2020 X-Games, that were to be held in Minneapolis in July, were cancelled on 4/24 due to COVID-19 (although now they could have been cancelled for another reason).
The Scripps National Spelling Bee, which had been scheduled for Memorial Day weekend, was cancelled for the first time since 1945.
The World Series of Poker didn’t fold, but the 2020 tournament, scheduled to begin 5/26 in Las Vegas, was pushed back to an unspecified date in the Fall. Although the tournament of thousands of players begins rounds typically in May, the final table doesn’t normally play until November. So, the gap between the preliminaries and the finals will be much less time in 2020.
MMA and UFC are back on. Unlike most pro sports that shut down, UFC kept fighting on until 3/14, when they finally suspended because of COVID-19. However, they restarted on 5/9 with UFC 249, and have been fighting fanless fights since. CBS had reported that Mike Tyson (53) and Evander Holyfield (57) were working out the details of Tyson vs Holyfield III! They are both in tremendous shape and want to stage a 4-round charity exhibition fight (kind of like the end of Rocky III). Holyfield won the first fight between the two in November 1996. In the rematch, in June 1997, Tyson was disqualified after biting both of Holyfield’s ears in the fight, taking a big chunk out of one of them. Both of them have been separately talking about returning to the ring for short charity exhibition bouts, but now are intrigued about fighting each other again. Tyson had said that he would only return to fight against a “real boxer”, after turning down $3 million to fight New Zealand rugby star Sonny Bill Williams. Holyfield absolutely wants to fight Tyson, calling the potential fight a “win-win-win”, although he is even more interested in fighting Riddick Bowe, another old rival. I don’t know what the 3 “wins” are either. With both Tyson and Holyfield in their 50s, it may be unsafe for either of them to be on the receiving end of punches. Neither of them ended their careers well, with Holyfield hanging on to try to get one last heavyweight championship and failing, while Tyson finished with losses to Danny Williams and Kevin McBride. I think it’s risky for them to do, although it would be a huge audience draw and would likely have a lot of action. After all of that, it appears that Tyson changed his mind about only fighting a real boxer, and has now agreed to a fight with former UFC champ, Tito Ortiz, instead of Holyfield.
All leagues are now discussing when to reopen and whether to have fans in the seats. Germany’s Bundesliga resumed soccer games 5/16, as Bayern Munich beat Werder Bremen 4-1. Irish Premier and AFC Champions League, and Ugandan Super League have yet to restart. Costa Rican Primera Division Clausura has restarted. The games will be played in empty stadiums, which could influence the results, as the home team won’t have the advantage of its cheering fans. However, research shows that it has less effect on the players and a raucous crowd influences the referees more. The MLS season was suspended on 3/12.
LSU played Clemson for the College Football National Championship, and despite being down 17-7 in the 2ndquarter, came roaring back behind Heisman Trophy-winner QB Joe Burrow, and won 42-25. The NCAA announced that all Spring sports were cancelled, including NCAA Spring Football, and that all players in all sports would have another year of eligibility, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Big 12 commissioner has been vocally optimistic ab out having fans back in the college stadiums. Clemson star WR Justyn Ross has been ruled out for the 2020 season, as he prepared to undergo surgery for a congenital fusion.
Here is the post-bowls, final AP Top 25 Poll:
- LSU 13-0
- Clemson 14-1
- Ohio State 13-1
- Georgia 12-2
- Oregon 12-2
- Florida 11-2
- Oklahoma 12-2
- Alabama 11-2
- Penn State 11-2
- Minnesota 11-2
- Wisconsin 10-4
- Notre Dame 11-2
- Baylor 11-3
- Auburn 9-4
- Iowa 10-3
- Utah 11-3
- Memphis 12-2
- Michigan 9-4
- Appalachian State 13-1
- Navy 11-2
- Cincinnati 11-3
- Air Force 11-2
- Boise State 12-2
- UCF 10-3
- Texas 8-5
Near the halfway point of the college hockey season, analysts were seeing Cornell University (my alma mater) and North Dakota as legitimate national title contenders to be in the Frozen Four. Cornell is currently ranked No.1 in the nation. That all froze, when the NCAA cancelled the college hockey season due to the COVID-19.
As teams entered their week of Conference Championship Tournaments, prior to the Committee’s decision on the 68 seeds for the National Championship (also known as March Madness), it all came to halt due to COVID-19. One after another conference cancelled their tournaments and the NCAA cancelled the National Championship, before it ever started, on 3/12. The NCAA did the same with the Women’s Basketball Tournament.
I know this is a little weird, but Kentucky is No.1 on the early 2020-2021 Coach’s Poll basketball rankings. Gonzaga is No.2, followed by (in order) Baylor, Creighton, FSU, Villanova, Virginia, Duke, Iowa, and Texas Tech.
Here was the current AP Top 25 for the regular season:
- Kansas 28-3
- Gonzaga 29-2
- Dayton 29-2
- FSU 26-5
- Baylor 26-4
- San Diego State 30-2
- Creighton 24-7
- Kentucky 25-6
- Michigan State 22-9
- Duke 25-6
- Villanova 24-7
- Maryland 24-7
- Oregon 24-7
- Brigham Young 24-7
- Louisville 24-7
- Seton Hall 21-9
- Virginia 23-7
- Wisconsin 21-10
- Ohio State 21-10
- Auburn 25-6
- Illinois 21-10
- West Virginia 21-10
- Houston 23-8
- Butler 22-9
- Iowa 20-11
Last season ended in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals on 6/12, when the St. Louis Blues beat my Bruins 4-3 in the Finals. The puck dropped on this current season on 10/2/19. Then it all ended about 70 of 82 games into the regular season. The NHL is providing updates to the public every Monday. Although the 31 NHL general managers said they intend to resume the regular season in July, on-ice action remains on the shelf. Commissioner Gary Bettman said that ending the season without awarding a champion is “not something I’m even contemplating.” I’m glad for that, being a Bruins fan and that the Bruins were in first place overall. Luc Robitaille, Kings’ president, told season-ticket holders last Thursday that it seems the NHL is “leaning toward” jumping right to the playoffs, rather than concluding the regular season. The working plan is a 24-team playoff field, which would include the ‘bubble’ teams (just on the bubble of the 8 teams of each conference), Blackhawks and Canadiens. It is clear that there has been pushback to restart the season from the teams that are far outside the playoff picture and having teams reconvene at centralized sites for about a dozen regular season games. The NHL and NHLPA have a jointly appointed Return to Play Committee that was working over the weekend. Here are the issues that ESPN reports the Committee is working on:
- How long they need for training camps?
- What would be the playoff format?
- How quarantine and testing procedures would work (for example, since Russia has seen a recent spike in cases, forced to self-isolate and for how long)?
- What happens if someone tests positive?
- How to accommodate the players’ wishes to bring their families to hub cities?
- What to do about fans or fan noise?
On 5/28, in a very unusual move, the NHL concluded the 2019-2020 regular season and awarded my Boston Bruins with the Presidents’ Trophy (for having the best record), which is typically a curse for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for that team. The Bruins also received the William M. Jennings Trophy (both Bruins’ goalies Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak, for best goals-against avg.) and Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy (David Pastrnak for most goals, 48, tied with Alex Ovechkin).
This year, the NBA season did not start until 10/22/19, 18 days later than last year. We were nearing the playoffs, when the pandemic shut the regular season down, with just a little over a month left. Basketball fans, unlike many of the other team sports’ fans, have had something new and interesting to watch, in the Michael Jordan documentary The Last Dance.Unlike some of the other professional team sports, the NBA and the NBA players’ union had agreed, in a poll, to restart the season, and have at least some regular season and then the playoffs. However, after much chatter, since LeBron took his last shot on 3/11, there have been no concrete plans to reopen. A one- or two-site setup for teams is among the most likely scenarios, such as Orlando and Las Vegas, per ESPN. The Union and the NBA did agree on a deal that would begin with bimonthly paychecks to withhold 25% of player salaries in the event that games are formally canceled under the league’s Force Majeure provision in the CBA. That withholding began with the last paychecks. Late 6/4, the NBA reportedly approved a 22-team format to restart the season in the Summer. All games would reportedly be played at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fl. Some coup for ESPN/Disney! The vote was 29-1, with the Blazers the only team against the format. The top 8 teams in each conference, plus the Blazers, Pelicans, Suns, Kings, Spurs, and Wizards (the bubble teams). The training camp would start 6/30, and all teams would fly to Orlando on 7/7. The tip-off would be 7/31, and a game 7 of this modified playoff format would be on 10/12. Each team would play 8 games before the playoffs would start. Gone, will be the home court advantage.
The WNBA season was postponed from mid-May start, although the 2020 WNBA Draft went on as scheduled 4/17.
The Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) season was suspended on 2/1. The latest word is that the CBA would restart its season in July.
On 5/28, the 124thBoston Marathon announced that the 2020 race, postponed from April (Patriot’s Day) to 9/14, has now been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and will be held virtually. The virtual part is to reward people who run the marathon with participant t-shirts and medals like the ones that are normally given out. Runners, at this time, will NOT be automatically entered into 2021’s race, because they don’t yet know what that race will look like. The Boston Marathon typically brings in more than $200 million to Boston’s economy and raises another $36 million for charities, each year. About 30,000 people usually run the Boston Marathon each year and there are about a million spectators along the 26.2-mile route.
The Tour de France was scheduled to begin 6/27, but that date was pushed back until 8/29-9/20. Then, the French government said that no sports events may be held until September, so they will likely have to tweak the start date or cancel the race.
For the first time since WWII, the Kentucky Derby was postponed. It will be run on 9/5/20, Labor Day weekend. Horse racing is expected to begin soon, but will likely be without in-person fans. Churchill Downs ran a virtual showdown of the 13 Triple Crown winners running the Kentucky Derby. Seattle Slew was leading from the wire, but Secretariat and Citation overtook Seattle Slew, and Secretariat won. It was very cool to watch! The production raised funds for COVID-19 relief charity. Other horseraces have been held in the past month, but without spectators, like the Florida Derby and Arkansas Derby.
NASCARbegan the 2020 season with 4 races at Daytona, followed by 3 scheduled races, the last on 3/8/20. But, then the pandemic shut everything down, wiping out the next 7 scheduled races. The season finally restarted this past Sunday, at Darlington Raceway on 5/17. The race was run without fans in the stands. NASCAR is making every effort to get as many of the originally schedule races in to the abbreviated season that had been postponed. Some races will be cancelled.
In the NASCAR Cup Series of 2019, Kyle Busch won in the last race at Homestead. In 2018, the winner was Joey Logano, who beat Martin Truex Jr. in the final 15 laps of the final race at Homestead. Truex Jr. won the crown in 2017. The 2020 regular season will begin in February with the Daytona 500. Here is the complete (updated) schedule of races for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup in 2020 and the results (you will notice that, after 3/8/20, some races have been postponed, some have been cancelled, and some have been replaced by other races):
2/16 Daytona 500 (postponed by rain to 2/17)-winner Erik Jones
2/23 Las Vegas, Jiffy Lube Pennzoil 400-winner Joey Logano
3/1 Auto Club 400-winner Alex Bowman
3/8 Phoenix, FanShield 500-Joey Logano
3/15 Atlanta, Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500-POSTPONED
3/22 Homestead, Dixie Vodka 400-POSTPONED
3/29 Texas, O’Reilly Auto Parts 500-POSTPONED
4/5 Bristol, Food City 500-CANCELLED
4/19 Richmond, Toyota Owners 400-POSTPONED
4/26 Talladega, GEICO 500-POSTPONED
5/3 Dover, NASCAR Cup Race at Dover-POSTPONED
5/9 Martinsville, NASCAR Cup Race at Martinsville-POSTPONED
5/16 Charlotte, NASCAR All Star Open-CANCELLED
5/17 Darlington, Darlington 400-winner Kevin Harvick
5/24 Charlotte, Coca-Cola 600 as originally scheduled
5/31 Kansas, Kansas 400-replaced by NASCAR CUP SERIES at Bristol which was scheduled for 4/5
6/7 Michigan, FireKeepers Casino 400-replaced by Atlanta, which was scheduled for 3/15
6/10 Martinsville, NASCAR Cup Race at Martinsville, which was scheduled for 5/9
6/14 Sonoma, Toyota/Save Mart 350-replaced by Homestead, Miami, which was scheduled for 3/22
6/21 Chicagoland, Chicagoland 400-replaced by Talladega, which was scheduled for 4/26
6/28 Pocono, Worry-Free Weather Guarantee 350-as scheduled
7/5 Indianapolis, Big Machine Vodka 400-as scheduled
7/11 Kentucky, Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart-as scheduled
7/19 New Hampshire, Foxwoods Resort Casino 301-as scheduled
8/9 Michigan, Consumers Energy 400-as scheduled
8/16 Watkins Glen, Go Bowling at The Glen-as scheduled
8/23 Dover, Drydene 400-as scheduled
8/29 Daytona, Coke Zero Sugar 400-as scheduled
9/6 Darlington, Southern 500
9/12 Richmond, Federated Auto Parts 400
9/19 Bristol, Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race
9/27 Las Vegas, South Point 400
10/4 Talladega, Alabama 500
10/11 Charlotte, Bank of America ROVAL 400
10/18 Kansas, Hollywood Casino 400
10/25 Texas, Texas 500
11/1 Martinsville, NASCAR Cup Fall Race
11/8 Phoenix, NASCAR Cup Series Championship
Formula Onebegan with F1 Car Launch Dates for the various teams from 2/12 through 2/15 for Renault, Racing Point, McLaren, and Ferrari. That was followed by the Pre-Season Testing schedule. The opening of the season coincided with the COVID-19 lockdown and FIA announced that the season would be delayed at least until the 5/3 Dutch Grand Prix. It announced a number of race postponements. F1 is considering having an abbreviated 19 race season, when it begins. The reports are that they are thinking about 7/5 as a start date. It was set to have a record 22-race season, when pre-season testing ended and the Australia Grand Prix was about to run. Fortunately, I never posted the original 2020 schedule, so I don’t have to update it. F1 is currently working with its promoters on a revised 2020 calendar with the actual sequence and schedule dates for races expected to differ significantly from the original 2020 calendar. There will likely be no summer break and they anticipate that the season end date will extend beyond the original end date of 11/27-29.
Here is the IndyCar Racingcircuit (Indy cars are generally considered faster than F1 car along straight lines, mostly because their races are on oval tracks, while F1 tracks are more intricate, requiring better brakes and more aerodynamic grip than Indy cars). In 2019, Josef Newgarden came in 8thin the last race, to just edge out Simon Pagenaud for the championship. COVID-19 pandemic was going to allow only one IndyCar race to run so far this season, St. Petersburg, and it would be without spectators. However, just before the race, IndyCar announced that the rest of the season would be postponed at least until June 14, and several races would be cancelled, including this one. It then announced that all races through April would be cancelled. They have announced some postponements of later races, which I will update as I receive them:
3/15 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg-POSTPONED to 10/25
3/22 Circuit of the Americas-CANCELLED
4/5 Grand Prix of Alabama-Takuma Sato-CANCELLED
4/19 Grand Prix at Long Beach-CANCELLED
4/26 AutoNation IndyCar Challenge at Austin, TX-CANCELLED
5/9 GMR Grand Prix of Indianapolis-postponed to 7/4
5/24 104thIndianapolis 500-postponed to 8/23
5/30 Chevrolet Dual in Detroit Race 1-CANCELLED
5/31 Chevrolet Dual in Detroit Race 2-CANCELLED
6/6 Genesys 600 at Texas Grand Prix-This race is expected to be run without spectators in a shortened 300 miles
6/21 Rev Group Grand Prix at Road America-
6/27 Indy Richmond 300-
7/12 Honda Indy Toronto-POSTPONED
7/18 Iowa 300-moved to double-header with Monterey Grand Prix
8/16 Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio-
8/22 Bommarito Automotive Group 500-
9/6 Grand Prix of Portland-
9/20 Firestone Grand Prix at Monterey-moved to double-header with Iowa 300
10/3 IndyCar Harvest GP at Indianapolis-ADDED
10/25 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg-ADDED as final race
I assure you that I am not involved, but Disney World announced that it will be reopening on my birthday, 7/11. Sea World is reopening 6/11. Sea World will have a new attraction soon, the Ice Breaker, which is its first launch roller coaster, which features 4 airtime-filled launches, both backwards and forwards, culminating in a reverse launch into the steepest beyond vertical drop in Florida—93 feet with a 100-degree angle. I’m no longer familiar with roller coaster terms, like ‘airtime launches’ and ‘beyond vertical’, but it sounds extremely scary, if you are beyond 90-degrees in a plummet! Moving on to Universal Parks, there are 4 Universal them parks worldwide. Three of the parks are called Universal Studios and are located in Florida, California, and Japan. The theme park in Florida will re-open the Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay on 6/5. Universal City Walk, where they have the restaurants, Hard Rock, bars, and nightclubs, is already open, but for limited operations. South Carolina’s theme parks and attractions were allowed to reopen Memorial Day weekend. This included zoos, museums, aquariums, planetariums, historic buildings and sites, waterparks, amusement park rides, Go-Kart tracks, Bingo facilities, and Miniature golf facilities. As you noticed, it still doesn’t include bowling alleys, nightclubs, spectator sports, and movie theaters. Back to roller coasters, North Carolina has just officially opened the state’s first “alpine coaster”, a mind-blowing mountain-side roller coaster ride. The new “Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster” features 2-person carts that wind through the trees, over rocks, and around 360-degree loops on over 2,160 feet of track at speeds up to 27 mph. It is slightly longer than the legendary Canyon Flyer Coaster, America’s first of 34 alpine coasters, which opened in 2014.
Although NYC is preparing to reopen on 6/8, the MTA has not shared its plans for the NYC Subway. Always considered a hot-bed of germ activity, no doubt COVID-19 presents some challenges for the MTA to sanitize and lure its 8 million daily riders back. I saw the huge UVB flashers on one of the national TV broadcasts, intended to kill the virus, now that officials have finally agreed that sunlight DOES kill the virus, something that was alleged about 3 months ago, and finally is accepted. But, zapping is intended to be done when the cars come out of service at night, not during operation with riders in and out all day. It’s unlikely that COVID-19 has a watch, and will avoid those daytime hours with riders. Alternatively, NYC Transit workers have been using a chemical called Goldshield 75 to clean the subway cars. The problem with that is that the EPA has not approved that cleaner. Also, 4 years ago, the company that makes Goldshield was forced to settle a complaint filed by the EPA alleging that it made false statements about the effectiveness of the spray. One change that NY Transit did reveal is that every subway rider must wear a mask. However, it did not say who would enforce that rule, how, and whether MTA would distribute masks to riders or force them to buy their own. The Governor of NY has admitted a number of times that social distancing will be impossible on the subways. City and transit officials are fine with expecting/wanting returning NYC workers (some 300,000-400,000 of them in Phase I) to avoid the subway. When the NYSE reopened last week, it directed its employees to avoid subways and buses, and drive their own cars or take taxis, even offering 30% discounts at one parking garage.
Pittsburgh’s iconic funicular, Monongahela Incline, is turning 150-years-old. Its younger sibling, the Duquesne Incline, is probably the one seen most often in Pittsburgh skyline images. These are the only 2 inclines remaining in Pittsburgh, which once sported nearly two dozen inclines.
This was a sad story for me, as I adore San Francisco (not that I don’t adore a lot of places, like Boston, Chicago, New Orleans, Savannah, Cleveland, etc.). A fire destroyed the warehouse on Pier 45 of San Francisco’s famous Fisherman’s Wharf, a week ago. It almost engulfed a historic WWII-era ship, SS Jeremiah O’Brien,in the process. 130 firefighters had to battle the flames and one was injured.
Italy has now opened up travel to its citizens again.
As of this evening (6/4), globally, more than 389,644 people have died from COVID-19. More than 6.6 million people have been infected with COVID-19. On the positive side, more than 2,853,358 people have totally recovered, after getting COVID-19. The US has the most confirmed cases and most deaths, as well as most recovered from the virus. No.2 in number of confirmed cases is now Brazil, and those numbers are growing. No.3 is now Russia, followed by the UK, and then Spain, and then Italy. As for deaths from the virus, No.2 is the UK with 39,987, No.3 is Italy with 33,689, No.4 is Brazil now with 32,548, and No.5 is France with 29,068. According to Italian authorities, 96% of the COVID-19 fatalities there were suffering from other illnesses before the virus. 1.1% of the victims were under 50-years-old there, and the average age of those who died was 80-years-old.
The death toll from COVID-19 in the US, as of 6/04, now exceeds 108,208. Over 26% of those deaths were elderly people. New York is by far the worst-hit state by COVID-19. As of 6/04, there have been 30,174 deaths in the state, while 66,756 people have recovered from the virus. COVID-19 now has two strains: L strain and S strain. The CDC has determined that the early estimate of a 3% mortality rate was grossly inaccurate and that the mortality rate is now close 0.30%.
The US and Europe are now dealing with a rare, COVID-19-related Inflammatory Disease affecting children. The disease is referred to as PMIS and has been reported in parts of the US and Europe and reportedly some children have experienced organ failure. At least 3 deaths have been reported in NY.
Authors of a major study on the drug hydroxychloroquine have asked the scientific journal “The Lancet” to retract their study, saying they are no longer confident in its findings. The study was published on 5/22 and raised questions about treating severely ill patients with the drug typically used against autoimmune diseases and malaria. The study, which found no benefit from the drug, but potentially serious cardiac side effects, led other researchers, including the WHO, to halt studies of the drug for treatment of COVID-19.
LabCorp’s COVID-19 IgG Antibody Test is now available. If you have been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19, your body will typically produce immunoglobulin G antibodies as part of the immune response to the virus, and this serology testing checks for that antibody. The test does not show if you have been exposed to COVID-19, because it can take 2-4 weeks after exposure to develop antibodies. So, this test is for individuals who think they may have had COVID-19 and do not currently have symptoms. It does not tell you if you have an active infection. There is a new contact tracing app that could become the model to save the world from the spread of COVID-19. I mentioned this test in the last Repo Commentary, and since then, scientists have found it to be only about 50% accurate.
Some fire departments are warning about leaving hand sanitizer in your car on a warm day, which has sparked a debate. It started in Wisconsin, with a fire department pointing to a burned-out car as being caused by a hand sanitizer in the vehicle on a hot day. Most hand sanitizers are alcohol-based and flammable. They also warned against clear water bottles being left in vehicles, as they can focus light to the point that it can boil the water and cause the bottle to explode. As reports spread across social media, questions about the validity of the claim started to rise. The Poynter Institute of Media Studies found similar warnings in Thailand, Costa Rica, and Brazil. A further study, it noted, found hand sanitizer would need to reach a temperature of approximately 300 degrees to combust, and that vehicles, which can get hot enough to kill people or animals, can only reach about 160 degrees.
WHO is now concerned that immunization campaigns for other illnesses, that were stalled or disrupted by COVID-19 pandemic, may lead to many preventable deaths in children.
The doctor in charge of a San Francisco Bay area trauma center said that the state should end its lockdown orders, after an “unprecedented” spike in suicide attempts amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Russia’s President Putin declared a state of emergency, when 20,000 tons of oil leaked into a river in the Arctic. Although, it’s time that the great white sharks usually move North, as Florida waters are warming up to about 84 degrees, 3 different great white sharks pinged off of palm beach county beaches in the past few days. A 9-year-old Arkansas boy was killed in a dog attack while checking the mail. His mother had seen several dogs running near the field where police found his body. Carole Baskin has been awarded ‘Tiger King’ Joe Exotic’s former zoo of exotic cats. They were both featured on the popular reality TV show Tiger King, in which the audience discovered that Joe Exotic had taken out a contract to murder his rival, Carole Baskin, who runs her own Big Cat Rescue in Florida. He was found guilty and is serving a 20 year sentence now. There are also some questions surrounding the death of Carole Baskin’s first husband. A Siberian zoo has seen an animal baby boom during the COVID-19 lockdown. An alligator rumored to have belonged to Adolf Hitler has died in Moscow. Another woman was attacked by a bison at Yellowstone. The Calgary Zoo is returning its two pandas to China, because bamboo is too hard to obtain, but plentiful in China. An aggressive swarm of bees killed 3 dogs in Arizona. A 52-year-old Chicago-area woman was fatally mauled by the French bulldog that she rescued. Authorities believe the dog had bitten the woman’s boyfriend last month. Brexit may turn out to be a boon for Britain’s wild ponies. The next thing in the COVID-19 saga is that tigers will be social distancing at zoos. US Senators want to ban US from purchasing animals from purchasing animals from China’s ‘wet markets’. America’s rats are getting desperate during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, starving, angry and resorting to cannibalism. According to The Trust for Public Land, the COVID-19 pandemic quarantine highlighted that is was difficult for 100 million people in the US to get outdoors, as they don’t live within a 10-minute walk to a public park. They urge that we need to invest in urban communities. So, the day that the NASA/SpaceX mission was scrubbed, did you see the 6-foot Florida alligator that showed up in the press corps area, uninvited? I’m leaving that to you all to craft a joke about.
Based on the success of the streaming movie release of TROLLS WORLD TOUR, Disney has decided to move up the release date of its film version of HAMILTON, from October 2021 to 7/3/20 on its streaming service Disney+. With all of us shut in for months, it seemed no streaming movie companies or networks could do any wrong, with a literally captivated/captured audience. But, not true, as HBO Max found out with a disastrous launch over the last two weeks. Pricing, content, and distribution did not generate any new excitement. Perhaps, it cannibalized regular HBO, or perhaps, there are so many HBO offerings (5 channels at least, and HBO GO, HBO NOW, and HBO Max), that consumers were confused. It has been nearly 4 years since the momentous AT&T acquisition of Time Warner and a promised streaming service from AT&T that would include the valuable assets of Time Warner. So, HBO Max was also late to the party and didn’t get the buzz that Disney+, Netflix, Amazon, and others received. HBO Max also failed to make a deal with the popular services Roku and Amazon Fire TV, so its distribution is impaired. According to data from 2019 Q1, those two platforms accounted for almost 70% of the installed base of streaming devices in the US. Ironically, as Amazon points out, many HBO customers access HBO via Amazon, but now won’t be able to simply upgrade to HBO Max, because it’s not offered. I am still glued to catching up on the many seasons of Madmenon Netflix, but hope to see some of the new Space Force sit-com, with Steve Carell and John Malkovich. I’ve seen stellar reviews from London and horrible reviews from TheVerge. It appears that the people who like it, also liked The Office. The people who dislike it, are the people who thought for once a show would produce a compelling or funny response to the Trump era and mock the President’s concept of a military Space Force and the Tweeting man in charge. It sounds like politics are getting in the way. The show began 5/29 and has received 6.9 stars out of 10 from imdb. Fred Willard, who plays General Naird’s (Steve Carell) father in Episode 1, died 14 days after the premiere. Despite Kylie Jenner’s drama with Forbes over her billionaire title, it just gave her the No.1 spot on the magazine’s highest-paid celebrities. Drew Brees has apologized for “insensitive” comments about National Anthem kneeling. The latest Tom Hanks movie will premiere on the small screen, on Apple TV+. GREYHOUND, a WWII thriller, starring Tom Hanks, will premiere on digital release, skipping the theaters. No word yet on whether he is either on a boat or a plane, but whatever you do (based on his hit movies), don’t be on either with him! Comedienne Kathy Griffin is on the Secret Service radar (again), as she has wished President Trump dead (again) in a new attack, involving injecting him with a syringe with nothing but air. Dolphins Stadium (Hard Rock Stadium) here in Miami is going to be converted to a huge drive-in movie theater, until the NFL season begins.
Technology & Space News:
In just the last 2 months, the world’s 25 richest billionaires gained nearly $255 billion in additional wealth, led by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. After last Wednesday’s NASA/SpaceX mission to put astronauts back in space from US soil, the first time since 2011, the launch was scrubbed with 17 minutes to go, because of the awful weather we have been having in Florida. But, the mission was successfully launched on Saturday from Cape Canaveral, and the rocket used was successfully landed on a floating landing pad, the technology that is saving the space program, due to the ability to reuse rockets, instead of building from scratch. On Sunday, the crew of 2 successfully rendezvoused with the International Space Station, where there are now (unusually) 5 spacecraft docked, making it actually LOOK like a Space Station, for once. Since the 1950s, there has always been something captivating about space exploration for Americans, and crowds cheered and many watched the launch on TV. Well, here’s a news item that somehow didn’t show up on the launch or the media hype: the head of human spaceflight at NASA resigned a week before the NASA/SpaceX launch of human into space! A little intrigue. I’m waiting for when THAT comes on Dateline. SpaceX is now set to launch its latest batch of internet satellites. I’m always learning new things and discovered that the Fortnite World Cup 2020 has been cancelled. Apparently, the 2019 Fortnite World Cup drew some 19,000 fans into NYC’s Arthur Ashe Stadium (the site of tennis’ US Open) for the Epic Games video game Fortnite World Cup Finals. Amazon warehouse workers are suing Amazon over risk of COVID-19 infection. With the COVID-19 pandemic and humans risking their health to work as delivery drivers during the lockdowns, autonomous vehicles and drones seem to have missed their opportunity to shine. Their rise certainly has enormous implications for business and for society. But, they weren’t ready from a development or a commercialization standpoint, to step in, as it were. Dyson has shared new photos and videos of its cancelled electric SUV. In related news, there may be consolidation coming to the delivery services, as Uber, fresh from a round of massive layoffs to Uber ride-share services (14% in a Zoom conference call), is reportedly looking at trying to buy Grubhub food-delivery services. Grubhub is Uber Eats main competitor, along with DoorDash and Delivery Dudes. Even though it seems hard to believe, since Uber is only offering stock to Grubhub, and a stock that’s taken a beating after Q1 losses of $3 billion for Uber, the WSJ says it could make sense to combine the two firms. Also, Uber sold of its UberEats arm in India to a rival at the beginning of the year, and less than a week ago, ended operations for UberEats in 7 other countries. The combined company would have a market share in food delivery of about 48%, compared to DoorDash’s 42%. Spotify has improved its parental control features by enabling parents to view their child’s listening history and block any unwanted content. Snapchat has stopped promoting President Trump’s account and dropped it from Discover, over “racial violence and injustice.” Despite news reports, Nintendo’s Donkey Kong statue was not actually stolen from its New York store.
Google launched a very thoughtful initiative that involved hundreds of people with Down syndrome lending their voices to Google, so voice-to-text and other Google Assistance features can be programmed by programmers to detect their voices more accurately. As the brother of a great special needs brother, I am touched to see this.
The States are each reopening on their own schedules now. Connecticut was the last State to finally start reopening. NYC is next to begin reopening. But, the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown reopening is now running into some looting and larger social protest, which is currently causing another kind of shutdown, has caused some further damage to small businesses, and led to some quarantine-like curfews.
A shocking video went viral nationwide last week of a white Minneapolis police officer (accompanied by 3 other white police officers), kneeling on an unarmed black man’s (George Floyd) neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, on 5/25. The victim died on the way to the hospital and had been saying to the officers that he couldn’t breathe. All 4 officers were fired the next day. It was later learned that the main protagonist had been involved in a previous racially-charged event, and actually had worked with the victim off-duty as a bouncer for a nightclub. The District Attorney, the Governor, and the FBI did not move quickly enough to charge all of the officers involved with crimes, which made the public furious. It was apparently lost on authorities how blatant the racially-motivated police brutality was (despite having a similar incident with the same result happen in NYC in 2014), the already existing tension nationwide between law enforcement and the public, and how the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown (viewed by some as a governmental stripping of citizens’ rights) could lead to volatile public outrage. Authorities waited until 5/29, before they arrested the main protagonist officer, Chauvin, and charged him with 3rd-degree murder and manslaughter. Chauvin’s wife has filed for divorce. According to the Minneapolis Police Department, they were responding to a call that a man was trying to use a $20 counterfeit bill. On 6/3, the District Attorney upgraded the charge against Chauvin to 2ndDegree Murder, and finally charged the 3 other officers with Aiding and Abetting a Murder. The State of Minnesota has now filed a civil rights charge against the Minneapolis Police Department. The backlash had already begun days before, with violent protests and looting in Minneapolis, and has spread quickly to all metropolitan areas and even suburban areas of the country. In Atlanta, the College Football Hall of Fame was looted and destroyed. Even here in West Palm Beach, a peaceful demonstration Sunday night turned into looting, shooting of mall windows, and attacks on police. The backlash is escalating and has led to some States (Florida being one of them) to mobilize the National Guard to stop the looting and to enforce curfews in many cities. West Palm Beach is now under a 9pm curfew. NYC is under an 11pm curfew, since Monday, but it has not prevented destruction. The doors of Macy’s flagship store in Manhattan were breached by looters. The Manhattan Nike store was looted and storefront windows near Rockefeller Center were smashed. The protests seem to have had two completely different elements: a peaceful protest, then another crowd with violent intent and looting in mind, that has sort of used the first protesters as a screen. Video posted on social media showed some protesters in NYC arguing with other people breaking windows, urging them to stop. Last night was the 9thday of protests, and most of them were seas of people that were much more peaceful than the first days of protest, with only a few hotspots, like Brooklyn and Manhattan, the latter of which had a police officer stabbed and 22 shots fired. There have been at least 5 people who have died in the 9 days of protests, including a retired police captain in Detroit. There is backlash to the backlash too. Singer Lana Del Ray posted a minute-long video of looters to her 16.5 million followers on Instagram and criticized the protesters. Fans immediately took to social media and Twitter to slam the singer for her actions. Model Chrissy Teigen has pledged $200,000 to bail out protesters who may be arrested. Tiger Woods urged calm after “shocking tragedy”, and said violent protests weren’t the answer. He said he had the “utmost respect” for police and likened the situation to the Los Angeles riots of 1992, after four police were acquitted over the beating of motorist Rodney King. Other athletes have also weighed in, including legend Michael Jordan, who said he was “plain angry” and tennis star Coco Gauff, who asked, “Am I next?” The protests across America are probably the largest and most widespread since the 1960s. Multiple historical landmarks in Washington, DC were vandalized by crowds, referred to by CNN as “far-left domestic terrorists.” The historic Lincoln Memorial, WWI Memorial, WWII Memorial, and historic St. John’s Episcopal Church. President Trump is denying reports that the protests forced him into the bunker at the White House on Friday, saying that he was actually inspecting the bunker.
On the Unemployment front, the weekly US Initial Jobless Claims data skyrocketed from 282,000 on 3/14, to a record (and twice as high as expected) 3,283,000 on 3/21. Then, on 3/28, the number skyrocketed again by 6,648,000, making it almost a 10 million increase in 2 weeks (way more than expected). The 6,648,000 reading was also “the highest level of seasonally adjusted claims in the history of the seasonally adjusted series,” per the Department of Labor. On 4/9, Initial Claims jumped by 6,606,000. Then, on 4/15, Initial Claims were up another 5,000,000, taking the four week total of new Unemployment Claims to 22,000,000. Many officials and economists had forecasted a total COVID-19 impact on new Unemployment Claims reaching 20-30 million people, and that looked like a spot-on forecast. But, then on 4/23, weekly Initial Jobless Claims were reported up another 4,427,000, taking the grand total to over 26 million. On 4/30, Initial Claims jumped another 3,839,000. On 5/7, weekly Initial Claims was up another 3,169,000, which at least was a decrease from the 4/30 reading. But, that brings the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown total since 3/14 to 33 million, more than forecasted. The Unemployment Rate was 15.5% for the week ending 4/25. That is the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression. Looking at the ADP National Employment Report, business closures to fight the COVID-19 pandemic prompted private employers to lay off a record 20.5 million people in April. On 5/14, Initial Claims were reported to be 2,981,000 more, although less than the previous week, bringing the total since 3/14 to 36 million. That put the Unemployment Rate up to 15.7% for the week ending 5/2. Then on 5/21, Initial Claims went up another 3,044,000 and on 5/28, Initial Claims were up another 2,123,000. And, today, 6/4, Initial Claims were up another 1.9 million, another lower increase, although still way above the average reading. This brings the grand total, so far, since 3/14 due to COVID-19 11-weeks of shutdown to 43,020,000. Maybe, a more important figure is in a survey by the Census Bureau, which shows that 47.5% of adults are from households that have lost income because of the COVID-19 lockdown. The hardest-hit households are in states that rely heavily on energy or tourism for employment, according to the WSJ.
New Jersey, during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, released some 1,000 inmates from its county jails, in what was the nation’s broadest effort to address risks of COVID-19 spreading among the incarcerated.
Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings were up 26% in April. Financial hardships are continuing to increase across the country and around the world. Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings actually increased in the US 6% just from March to April. On 5/16, The Economist ran an article “US faces unpredictable rate of business bankruptcies”, citing that 2020 is already the worst year for US bankruptcies since 2009, but it is even uncertain whether it will get worse. OpenTable predicts that 25% of US restaurants won’t reopen, as restaurants lost more than $30 billion in sales in March and $50 billion in sales in April. Some insiders think the percentage could be closer to 50%. Some analysts believe that a higher percentage of the more than 27,000 NYC restaurants won’t reopen. According to NY Governor Cuomo, COVID-19 has already forced 100,000 NY small businesses to close permanently.
There has been a trend over the last few years of large retail chains filing bankruptcy, certainly more recently due to the COVID-19 shutdown, but in the past year, more due to brick and mortar stores losing revenue to online retailers. Just in 2019, Destination Maternity filed in October, Sugarfina filed in September, Forever 21 filed in September, Fred’s filed in September, Barneys New York filed (for the second time) in August, Avenue filed in August, A’Gaci filed (for the second time) in August, Charming Charlie (for the second time) in July, FTD Florists in June, Sonia Rykiel in April, Roberto Cavalli in April, Z Gallerie (for the second time) in March, Diesel in March, Charlotte Russe in February, FullBeauty Brands in February, Payless in February, Gymboree (for the second time) in January, and SHOPKO in January. And, that was just in 2019. In 2018, we saw some major retail bankruptcies in David’s Bridal, Sears, Mattress Firm, Gump’s, Brookstone, National Stores Inc., Rockport, Nine West, Remington Outdoors (a gun manufacturer during the height of that industry because of the lawsuits stemming from 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre), Claire’s, The Walking Company, Bon-Ton, among others. I mentioned a few weeks ago that Pier 1 is just waiting to reopen stores to sell off assets. Now, Waffle House has closed 365 locations out of 1627. Victoria’s Secret closed 250 stores in US and Canada. Bath & Body Works closed 50 stores. Tuesday Morning shut its 230 stores and filed for bankruptcy on Wednesday morning. I’m aware that that is ironic. And the list goes on…
According to USA Today and 24/7 Wall St., these are the 23 American brands that might not survive COVID-19 pandemic:
- Neiman Marcus
- C. Penney
- AMC Theatres
- Frontier Communications
- Bed, Bath & Beyond
- Steak ‘n Shake
- GNC Holdings
- Ruby Tuesday
- Gold’s Gym
- Norwegian Cruise Line
- Dave & Buster’s
- Party City
- Modell’s Sporting Goods
- Best Buy
On the COVID-19 front, Japan has had only 16,986 confirmed cases, but 845 deaths in a country of 17 million, by far the lowest COVID-19 numbers in the G-7. An expert panel says that citizens wearing face masks, kept the death toll low. Face-coverings have sparked angry confrontations in some parts of the world, were initially dismissed as ineffective by WHO, and continue to be used or not used, to almost equal degree in some countries. Yet, face-coverings have been a part of everyday life in Japan for years. Also, the government, which is just now inching toward resuming activities, was very quick to react and shut down, and is keeping watch for a second wave of infections. PM Shinzo Abe ended the national state of emergency on 6/1. But, in Japan, the model seems to have worked very well to contain COVID-19, but the healthcare system there came close to collapse, according to Japan Times. The man behind Sweden’s highly-lauded and controversial COVID-19 plan (to not impose a strict lockdown and to rely on herd immunity) Anders Tegnell, says that decision has led to too many deaths. Sweden has now seen a far higher mortality rate than its neighbors and its citizens are now being barred from crossing neighbors’ borders. Sweden now has had 4,542 deaths and 40,803 infections in a population of 10 million, while Denmark, Norway and Finland have imposed lockdowns and had far lower rates (580, 237, and 321 deaths, respectively). Tegnell points out that the flaw in their plan was not the lack of lockdown, but the inability to keep homes for the elderly virus-free.
The US protests over George Floyd’s death have been exported to other countries, particularly in the UK, bringing new awareness to many other world citizens. Reportedly, Russia, China, and Iran are using the films of protests and police violence as propaganda to their people versus the US. In unrelated news, Gambia demands a probe after US police in Georgia shot a diplomat’s son to death, after a car chase.
Gov. DeSantis announced that Florida would enter full Phase 1 on Monday, 5/18. He allowed for gyms and fitness centers to be open, beaches to be open, and retail stores and restaurants up to 50% capacity. Just as States are dramatically varying in how and when they reopen, so are establishments. So, not all bars are still closed here (and those that aren’t are subject to fines), some bars have figured out to put tables up against the bar to present a technicality, while others are maintaining social distance. It’s amazing how it depends on the establishment. In West Palm Beach, authorities have gone out of their way to install tented outdoor seating into the streets in front of the restaurants, expanding their outdoor capacity. On 6/3, Gov. DeSantis said that all counties, except Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach, could move to Phase 2, which will include opening Bars and Nightclubs to 50% capacity (and 100% capacity outdoors), movie theaters (to 50% capacity), bowling alleys, and theaters (to 50% capacity). I really don’t understand how these establishments are going to sanitize sufficiently. I did find out that my gym, LA Fitness, which reopened to 25% and now can do 50% capacity, indicated no real changes in their email to me, but actually are now giving each member towels and a sanitizer spray bottle to clean each machine after their use. That’s better. Now, if I go really early in the morning, the machines won’t have been used by many members and will be still sanitized from the morning staff. Gov. DeSantis is still keeping Jacksonville as a possible GOP convention city. Gov. DeSantis was originally attacked for his handling of COVID-19 pandemic, quarantining visitors from Louisiana, Georgia, and the tri-state area, locking down elderly care facilities, and treating higher-population counties with harsher restrictions. It appears now that those policies have worked, and he is now being praised for particularly
I am usually singing in Palm Beach County, FL, at least somewhere. My National Anthems for MLB came to an abrupt halt in mid-Spring Training, due to the pandemic lockdown. I still did some charity singing in my 6-part harmony group Generation Gap, but mostly just drive-ups in parking lots at restaurants. I will be doing more solo gigs as Elvis Presley ETA, and have already begun singing on friend entertainers’ gigs. I took an indefinite leave of absence from my harmony group (after 12 years). I will be expanding my songs to other artists, besides Elvis (Michael Buble, Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond, Tom Jones, Josh Turner, Sinatra, Jason Mraz, Roy Orbison, etc.).
Here are the upcoming scheduled concerts, still subject to change due to COVID-19, in South Florida:
07/07 Motley Crue/Def Leppard/Poison/Joan Jett-Miami
07/09 Chris Botti-Fort Lauderdale
07/18 The Weeknd-Miami
07/29 Boz Scaggs-Fort Lauderdale
08/01 Dave Matthews Band-West Palm Beach
08/18 John Legend-Sunrise
09/03 Brad Paisley-West Palm Beach
09/26 Backstreet Boys-West Palm Beach
12/20 Andrea Bocelli-Miami
Jokes and Such:
A poodle and a collie are walking together when the poodle suddenly unloads on his friend. “My life is a mess,” he says. “My owner is mean, my girlfriend ran away with a schnauzer, and I’m as jittery as a cat.”
“Why don’t you go see a psychiatrist?” suggests the collie.
“I can’t,” says the poodle. “I’m not allowed on the couch.”