Wednesday, June 19, 2013

What Does the End of QE Mean for Wine?

Everyone likes Fridays. This Friday is a little more special so I decided to post a non-Sunday blog for the first time. Why the deviation? Because Friday is the day we receive the most hours of sunlight in 24 hours .... and then its all downhill after that.

While that sounds a little gloomy phrased up that way, consider that its coming from someone who has been following and predicting the movements in the economy and wine business the past few years. Its been enough to make anyone gloomy especially since I've been consistently right. (Editors note: Please don't wake me and remind me of a forecast that was wrong. Thank you.)

Anyway, something happened yesterday that is making me put on economic sunglasses to protect my eyes: The Fed announced the economy is looking pretty darned good, inflation is in check, and unemployment is coming down to manageable levels. Add to that the US Credit Rating was raised back to AAA about 10 days ago and that is down right exciting right? What did the markets do? The Dow dropped 200+ points and the 10 year Treasury Bill rose 13 basis points. In fact the 10 year, which is the benchmark used for vineyard and acquisition financing has increased about 40 basis points since May. So what gives? If this is good news why is the market off and what does that mean for the wine business?


In conjunction with the other good news, the Fed announced they were going to pull the monetary sucker out of the Market's mouth of the toddler-like economic recovery, and targeted an end to their Quantitative Easing program starting early in 2014 and ending mid-year. The market has been feasting on cheap money for a long time and the announcement and timing was just a little more firm than many suspected, putting a damper on the investors mood.
 
Along with the announcement, the US dollar strengthened because there is now a higher return realized from investing in US$. In addition, the dollar also gained strength because the announcement demonstrated the US is not like Japan and won't be forever in a weak growth environment. A stronger dollar will mean we should see cheaper imports and that's a risk in a business that is running at balance to short in grapes and juice.

The announcement also signals an end to a cycle that has led to the lowest rates in the history of the US, and created a refinance stampede from wineries and vineyards in the past couple years. While the short term rates are for the present still low, the long end of the yield curve is trending up as noted to the left, and rates should continue to go higher based on this announcement. At some point in the next 24 months, it appears we are likely to see the short end of the rate curve start to rise as well.
 
Higher long term interest rates normally mean stabilized land values as higher interest costs mean larger property payments and a property can only produce so much in the way of cash flow so that lowers the sales price of land. In the case of vineyards, that may or may not prove out because the supply of vineyards is also lowish, and there has been a rush by many in the business to acquire new producing vineyards to support their programs driving land values higher. If this signals higher consumption levels, wineries will be looking for even more land. That's a long discussion and will have to wait for another Sunday.
 
The good news in all of this is the US Consumer is indeed making headway coming back and our economy is leading the World in showing recovery. Employed and confident consumers buy more wine, and higher priced wine. Higher bottle pricing will be needed if the wineries are going to be able to pass on the higher price of grapes that growers have been taking during the first half of this year. Consumers aren't quite there yet in being willing to spend more on wine but hopefully we will see that soon. That too is a blog post for another day.
 
Bottom line is the consumer is coming back so we might start spending our way back to prosperity .... which has always amused me ... that we can eat our way to prosperity, consume the worlds goods and be the envy of most other countries in the process. Doesn't that seem unnatural in some economic Darwinian way?

Back on point, this announcement signals rate increases will be coming. A 6% prime rate isn't that unusual. What happens to your winery's profitability if we see short term rates go up 3.00% in the next couple years at the same time consumers demand is growing and imports are cheaper?
 
Hopefully you've already locked in your capital and rate structure and got your piece of the cheap long term real estate money Ben Bernanke has been handing out, so your business wont be subject to a cycle of growth financed by higher priced debt in a margin strained wine industry.
 
Its a lot to digest and this barely touches the subject on the business and the changes we are going to see in this next cycle. For now I'd suggest you enjoy Friday because its all down hill after that ........... ( I'm talking about the hours of sunlight of course .....)
 

What do you think about the Feds announcement? Please sign in and offer your thoughts.