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As part of the Coronavirus CARES Act, the $2 trillion fiscal stimulus meant to resuscitate the US economy, Congress allocated $454 billion to help underwrite the special lending programs from the Federal Reserve. This could generate up to $4.540 trillion in new lending (assuming 10x leverage for highly-rated assets) likely geared toward small and medium-sized businesses.
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It now turns out that the first industry to benefit from direct Fed loans is the imploding US energy sector, which for the past decade benefited indirectly from Fed generosity by issuing junk bonds to yield-starved investors who are now facing near-certain bankruptcy in the face, as the price of oil - if it stays at this level - assures they will never be repaid.
Speaking at a White House news conference on Thursday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said energy companies squeezed by the oil-price war can turn to the Federal Reserve’s lending facilities for aid but won’t get direct loans from his department.
“I have very limited ability to do direct loans out of the Treasury,” he said, suggesting that distressed shale companies should instead beg the Fed.
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As Bloomberg notes, the $2.2 trillion coronavirus-related economic package authorizes the secretary to provide loans and grants to passenger airlines, cargo airlines, contractors and companies important to national security, Mnuchin said. Other companies must turn to the Fed, which is authorized to inject $4 trillion into the U.S. economy through various lending facilities approved by Congress.
"Our expectation is the energy companies, like all our other companies, will be able to participate in broad-based facilities, whether it’s the corporate facility or whether it’s the main street facility, but not direct lending out of the Treasury,” he said, leaving the Fed as the only option.
And now we look forward to the populist backlash when a line of insolvent shale CEOs forms outside the Marriner Eccles all begging to have their junk bonds taken out at par, and refinance with a Fed loan yielding, well, nothing and ideally forgivable if the new round of cheap debt manages to bankrupt Saudi Arabia as the price of oil goes negative.
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