Sep 10, 2020 - Economy & Business

Big companies can't lose with Fed money up for grabs

an illustration of someone sitting on top of a stack of cash
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Business has entered its next evolution — the can't lose market — but only for large companies with access to public markets.

The state of play: Companies with enough size are starting to take advantage of the moment, and backed by a seemingly endless supply of free Fed money can go all-in on whatever they want.

Driving the news: Mall owners Simon Property Group and Brookfield Property Group unveiled plans to acquire "substantially all of JCPenney's retail and operating assets" for $1.75 billion Wednesday.

  • It's the biggest and riskiest of Simon's recent acquisitions through its joint venture with Authentic Brands Group that includes recently scooped-out-of-bankruptcy Brooks Brothers, Forever 21, Lucky Brand and a portfolio of brands known as SPARC.

The big picture: Doubling down on malls might seem a risky strategy, but with the Fed seen as guaranteed to bail out credit markets if asset prices fall too far, big companies are seeing the green light to take risks with little worry about consequences.

  • If things go bad and ideas flop, companies can simply borrow more in the credit markets — investors have shown they will buy up debt even at negative interest rates, or from companies literally barred from operating.
  • That's largely because the Fed has backstopped the market and purchased billions in bonds from large companies.
  • Or better yet, as SoftBank demonstrated with its $4 billion options buying spree, companies can simply make big bets on the stock market going up to raise money.

Why it matters: Simon and its partners can blitzscale shopping malls or eight-track cassettes or the return of TaB cola with no real fear of running out of money or opportunities to get more and try again.

The other side: Small businesses without access to the Fed's money machine or public debt markets are running on fumes. More than one in three of those surveyed recently by Goldman Sachs said they expect to run out of cash before year-end without more aid from Congress.

  • An increasing number of U.S. households say they are going without food and many of the 29 million Americans collecting unemployment benefits are having to cut back on things like grocery purchases.

Watch this space: This new normal is fueling distrust of the financial sector.

  • The latest Axios/Ipsos poll shows 62% of Americans have little or no trust in the Fed, compared to 51% in May.
  • A MagnifyMoney survey last month found just 17% of Americans say they completely trust their money in the stock market, and only 5% of women.
  • 23% said they don’t trust any financial source, including financial advisers, journalists or Wall Street analysts.
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