Bonds: Total Market
This is a tough time to be buying bonds. Prices have become very rich over the last several years and on top of sky high valuations and low yields the risk of rising rates causing big losses is high as the Fed sticks to its hawkish path. With that in mind, floating rate bonds and ETFs are a good strategy to combat the situation, as their yields rise as the market’s do. Most also invest in short-term bonds to lessen interest rate risk. Two of the most popular floating rate ETFs are the iShares Floating Rate Bond ETF (FLOT) and SPDR Blmbg Barclays Inv Grd Flt Rt ETF (FLRN). Both hold floating rate bonds with maturities of 5 years and under.
FINSUM: These seem like good options. The one downside to these ETF is that yields are quite low given their conservative nature, but they obviously have great downside protection.
The Fed looks set for another hike in September, and likely another before the end of the year. That means that fixed income is a very tricky market, as many bonds will likely see losses. So how can one protect their portfolio but still earn reliable income? One option is to buy floating rate bonds. Luckily, there are several funds that can help investors own floating rate bonds. Some of them include the Fidelity Floating Rate High Income (4.36% yield), the iShares Floating Rate Bond ETF, the BlackRock Floating Rate Income Strategies Fund, or the Eaton Vance Floating Rate Income Fund.
FINSUM: We think floating rate bonds seem like a good strategy for the current environment. Just be careful of high credit risk in some of these funds.
You wouldn’t usually think of muni bonds when you are looking for juicy yields (at least not investment grade munis). However, if you look further out on the yield curve, there are some very interesting bonds. For instance, there are AAA rated 15-year munis yielding 2.7%, up from 2.2% earlier this year. Comparable two-year munis have just 1.7% yields, representing a 100 basis point spread versus the treasury market’s 29 bp spread. This is the steepest the muni yield curve has been since 2000, which creates opportunity at the long end of the curve.
FINSUM: Most advisors will be aware that even with the currently low yields in munis, the tax exemption for high income clients make the bonds very attractive, so this is just icing on the cake.
The yield curve is very close to inverting, an action that is widely considered to be the strongest and most reliable indicator of a forthcoming recession. Investors are afraid of it, and with good reason. So what is the best way to approach one’s portfolio as a dreaded inversion looms? The first tip is to re-evaluate any bank stocks you own. Banks become less profitable as the yield curve flattens, so they could see some big losses. Secondly, mentally prepare that returns over the next five years are probably going to be a lot lower than in the previous five. Be selective with your purchases and be defensive. Finally, don’t be too afraid to buy stocks you have a high conviction on, and that hold strong risk/reward profiles.
FINSUM: These seem like sound tips. Another obvious one is to buy stocks and bonds that will perform better in this kind of environment, such as strong dividend growing stocks or floating rate bonds.
There has been a lot of focus, including both worry and skepticism, surrounding the potential inversion of the yield curve. The two and ten-year Treasury are now just 20 bp apart. Because yield curve inversions have been a very reliable indicator of recession, many are worried. However, some are skeptical that the current near-inversion means much because of how distorted long-term bond prices have become because of quantitative easing. The reality though, according to the FT, is that it doesn’t matter if long-term yields are artificially low. Because the market believes in the predictive power of inversions, companies, consumers, and investors will act as though we are headed into a recession, and thus create one in a self-fulfilling prophecy.
FINSUM: This is an interesting argument that relies strongly on the concept of herd mentality amongst investors. We tend to agree that an inversion may cause an adverse reaction in the economy and markets.
Investors in fixed income need to be aware of a brand new loophole that was just opened to Delaware-based companies. A new provision allows companies (specifically LLCs) to split in two and divide their assets and liabilities between them as they see fit. The rule would allow companies to put certain assets beyond the reach of creditors, for instance putting debt in one entity and assets in another. The big problem is that most bonds don’t have provisions to protect against this behavior because it didn’t exist as a concept or legal process until it was approved this month. Another issue is that many contracts are written from the perspective of New York law, but that might have not much weight with Delaware-based rules.
FINSUM: This is a messy problem for anyone who owns private or smaller company debt. We thought investors should be made aware right away.