Franklin Templeton is optimistic about fixed income in the coming year due to the Federal Reserve ending its hiking cycle, and inflation continuing to trend lower. However, it believes that rates will remain at these levels for much of 2024 in order for inflation to fall to the Fed’s desired level, leading to a more challenging environment in the first-half of the year.
Amid this backdrop, the firm is bullish on municipal bonds especially with so many investors on the sidelines, overweight cash, or in short-term credit. Municipal bonds offer historically attractive yields, favorable tax treatment, and a longer-duration which should outperform in an environment with falling rates and a flattening yield curve.
The firm notes that local governments remain in strong shape from a fiscal perspective even despite a slowdown in economic activity and rising costs. Many still have excess funds leftover from federal aid during the pandemic and have been relatively disciplined in terms of spending. Further, muni bonds have lower default rates than corporate credit while also having higher after-tax returns. Franklin Templeton believes many investors will reallocate from money markets into municipal bonds in order to lock in yields at these levels especially as monetary policy eases.
Finsum: Franklin Templeton is bullish on fixed income in the coming year. It also highlights a bullish case for municipal bonds due to the sector’s strong fundamentals and favorable positioning in this macro environment.
Goldman Sachs Asset Management recently launched the Goldman Sachs Community Municipal Bond ETF (GMUN). The ETF, which trades on the NYSE Arca, seeks to provide investment results that closely correspond, before fees and expenses, to the performance of the Bloomberg Goldman Sachs Community Municipal Index, a rules-based index designed to track the municipal securities market with remaining maturities between one and 15 years. The ETF also has screens that consider certain social or environmental factors. By focusing on 1-to-15-year maturities within the investment grade municipal bond universe, the portfolio will seek to deliver diversified market exposure with lower duration and higher credit quality than the broader municipal market. The ETF is managed by Goldman’s Municipal Fixed Income team which brings decades of experience with an active and disciplined approach to investing in a market that is vast and fragmented. The fund has an expense ratio of 0.25%. According to Goldman, targeted allocation into municipalities and projects with positive impact will provide the opportunity to invest in education, healthcare, clean energy, and more community-related initiatives.
Finsum:Goldman recently launched its first muni ETF, the Goldman Sachs Community Municipal Bond ETF (GMUN), which provides exposure to tax-exempt municipal securities with remaining maturities between one and 15 years.
Vanguard recently expanded its tax-exempt bond ETF lineup with the launch of the Vanguard Short-Term Tax-Exempt Bond ETF (VTES), which is built to help investors earn consistent, tax-exempt income. The fund’s objective is to track the performance of the S&P 0-7 Year National AMT-Free Municipal Bond Index using a sampling technique to closely match key benchmark characteristics. The index measures the investment-grade segment of the U.S. municipal bond market with maturities between one month and 7 years. This is Vanguard’s first US-listed ETF launch in nearly two years. The ETF, which is managed by Vanguard Fixed Income Group, has been listed on NYSE Arca with an expense ratio of 0.07%. Sara Devereux, Global Head of Vanguard Fixed Income Group had this to say about the launch, “The Vanguard Short-Term Tax-Exempt Bond ETF is built to optimize tax efficiency for investors seeking to allocate to the shorter end of the municipal bond market. The new ETF complements our broad fixed income line-up and provides clients with another avenue to tap our municipal bond team’s talent and capabilities.”
Finsum:Vanguard expanded its tax-exempt bond ETF lineup with the launch of the Vanguard Short-Term Tax-Exempt Bond ETF (VTES), its first US-listed ETF launch in nearly two years.
According to Vanguard, investors that allocated part of their portfolios to low-yielding municipal bonds at the beginning of last year should now be looking forward to the prospect of higher income, thanks to a rapid rise in rates. In a fixed-income report for the first quarter, the fund firm wrote, “Following a year with $119 billion of outflows from municipal funds and ETFs, we expect the tide to turn. For high-income taxable investors, we are expecting a municipal bond renaissance.” According to the report, muni bonds only offered yields of around 1% at the start of 2022, compared to yields that now exceed 3% before adjusting for tax benefits. Tax-equivalent yields are at 6% or even “meaningfully higher for residents in high-tax states who invest in corresponding state funds.” Vanguard said that this makes munis a “great value compared with other fixed income sectors and potentially even equities—especially with the odds of a recession increasing.” According to the Vanguard report, muni bonds also remain strong from a credit perspective, with attractive spreads over comparable U.S. Treasurys and corporate debt. In fact, municipal balance sheets are stronger now than they’ve been in two decades, leaving states well-prepared to navigate an economic slowdown.
Finsum:According to Vanguard, higher yields and solid balance sheets make muni bonds a highly attractive option for investors this year.
The $4 trillion municipal debt market is expected to have a “bounce back year” in 2023, according to Charles Schwab’s Cooper Howard. The director and fixed-income strategist for the Schwab Center for Financial Research said in a recent Bloomberg TV interview that “A slower pace of interest-rate hikes, attractive yields, and relatively healthy state and local government finances should lure investors back after demand plunged this year.” He also stated “Credit quality is very high in the municipal bond market. State and local revenues have surged to record-level highs driven by the economic recovery. Given the rise in yields, it is more attractive for retail investors, so there will be more demand coming into the market.” Munis had fallen out of favor due to a combination of inflation and recessionary concerns. According to data compiled by Bloomberg, muni sales are down nearly 19% this year at about $351 billion. However, 10-year municipal yields have more than doubled since the start of the year. While recessionary fears may continue, the municipal market won’t be as affected due to healthy credit ratings. Howard expects municipal debt tied to public transportation to lead the rebound as the airline industry is bouncing back.
Finsum:Schwab strategist Cooper Howard predicts a bounce-back year for munis due to slow rate hikes, attractive yields, and healthy credit in state and local governments.
Last week, Charles Schwab announced the upcoming launch of the Schwab Municipal Bond ETF (SCMB). The ETF, which is expected to begin trading on October 12, will trade on the NYSE Arca. SCMB will have an expense ratio of only 0.03%, which will be much lower than comparable funds. The ETF will provide access to the broad U.S. investment grade, tax-exempt bond market. The fund’s goal is to track the total return of the ICE AMT-Free Core U.S. National Municipal Index, which measures the performance of the U.S. AMT-free municipal bond market. SCMB seeks to provide income exempt from federal taxes and is not subject to the federal alternative minimum tax. The ETF will have a high credit quality profile, investing only in investment-grade rated securities. John Sturiale, Head of Product Management and Innovation, Schwab Asset Management, stated, “As bond yields have risen, fixed income investing is more attractive than it has been in years, making this an opportune moment to introduce a new choice for investors seeking a low-cost, straightforward approach to income, diversification and risk management in their portfolios.”
Finsum: Charles Schwab is launching an ultra-low-cost Municipal bond ETF targeting investment-grade securities.