AllianceBernstein is moving forward with the development of two new ETF products and they are meeting the demands of the market. There has been a sharp uptick in active management particularly in the bond ETF segment in the post-pandemic environment. The predominant view is that managers are better suited at picking winners with macro-flare proving so effective. The two portfolios they are launching are coming in an ultra-short income offering which will have a combination of government and investment grade corporate debt. As well as a tax-aware short-duration ETF. There has also been a shift towards shorter duration bond funds as a response to a rise in interest rate risk.
Finsum: With the Fed stomping on the gas pedal, if inflation comes under control quickly longer duration debt could be under-priced.
State Street launched a new fund LQIG which started trading on May 12, an effort to give investors exposure to liquid bonds with high traceability. The market is rife with turmoil, and investors are looking to different fixed-income products to provide an inflation-beating yield and relatively liquid assets. The fund seeks exposure to 400 investment-grade corporate bonds denominated in dollars. These differ from most fixed-income funds which are designed to give broader market exposure that doesn’t prioritize traceability. The high traceability comes with lower bid-ask spreads as well as more transparency into their holding's real-time valuations.
Finsum: Investment-grade corporate debt is looking relatively more attractive with market volatility at such highs.
The Fed had its largest hike in two decades, and the ECB has gone ultra-dovish. This has sent a huge influx of Euro area investors into U.S.-short-durations bond ETFs. Funds like the iShares 3-7yr UCITS ETF had over $600 million in inflows last week. Short-duration corporate debt was also favored by euro area investors. Overall the bond market had seen an exodus in the previous weeks but this confluence of factors has been enough to entice investors. While the Fed has made up its mind they have contributed to inflation, bank heads in Europe are mixed which will leave policy to be accommodative for the near term.
Finsum: The Fed could be over-reacting and Europe could be under-reacting to inflation, but if Europe doesn’t tighten they will find their bond market in a similar position to the US a couple of weeks ago.
Markets are in turmoil which has investors looking for more secure options, but American bonds are a risky option with rising yields (falling prices), which means active international is in a good position. Over the last year, 82% of active bonds have outperformed, and while that doesn’t hold up in the long run the unique conditions put them in a good position. International bonds can offer less interest rate risk, already better yields, and comparable credit profiles. The added advantage of international active funds is investors can make hedges with currency trading which can allow investors to hedge or leverage for more potential gains.
Finsum: The Fed will continue to put pressure on both bonds and equities in the U.S., and investors need a backup plan.
Years of QE and ultra-low interest rates have caused income investors to migrate from fixed-income to dividend stocks, but things are shifting. The rising rates from the Fed have caused retail and institutional investors to really consider taxable fixed income as an income alternative. Investors are really interested in 4.5-5% investment-grade corporate debt with longer maturity. Investors believe we are reaching the bottom of the bond prices and short-term rates could be a little over 3% next year. Other advisors and institutional investors are skeptical that longer-term bonds like the ten-year treasury can prove to be appetizing in the next decade.
Finsum: Things are precarious in the bond market still but medium-range corporate debt is delivering an attractive yield currently.
The IMF has warned investors that there are growing concerns about an emerging market debt crisis. There is anxiety that sluggish growth, higher interest rates, and surging inflation will hurt developing economies much more severely than developed ones. They will be disproportionately affected because highly indebted countries will have a dip in their investment and suffocate their currencies. These concerns aren’t new and emerged at the start of the pandemic, but this swell seems different. The Fed responded by pumping trillions into the economy in 2020 and they are doing the exact opposite now. Additionally, war and other risks are heightened now with Russia-Ukraine’s escalation.
Finsum: Investors searching for yield should be wary of emerging market bond funds given unprecedented risk levels.
Calling bond prices stubborn would be an understatement, and the bears have been continuing to pull investors out of the bond market in the mass exodus of outflows. The tides could be starting to shift, and the reasons are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Investing yield curves and recession indicators are flashing, which means investors will flock back to the bond market as a safe asset when equities fall. On the other side of things, if inflation is being driven by supply-side factors more than the Fed thinks, then inflation will fall dramatically, and less tapering will be needed to get there. This means bond prices could rise as yields fail to. Broad bond exposure is still a good idea with volatility rising.
Finsum: It’s been rough in the bond market the last few months, but there are economic reasons that could turn around.
Investors were beginning to be skeptical of Hedge Fund performance, but volatility was enough to get them back in. Inflows this quarter have hit a 7-year high as they nearly hit $20 billion in Q1 2022. The biggest factors were inflation, the Fed’s response, and rising geopolitical tensions, which are all major sources of volatility recently. Macro strategy had the best performance for Q1 with a 9.1% return which is the highest its been in nearly 30 years. Multi-strategy and value were next up all with positive returns. The S&P 500 meanwhile dropped 5% over the same period. Corporate credit default and other short positions have been grabbed up by hedge funds recently to help counter volatility.
Finsum: This is a hedge fund's most crucial role in the financial world, they excel in these macro scenarios that are crippling standard markets.
The most recent week of April saw a mass exodus in the global bond market as investors were fleeing in concerns of economic growth. Based on a report from Refinitiv Lipper investors dropped $14.5 billion in bond investment, over ten times the losses from the previous week. Ten year treasury rose sharply to a near three year high, which sent bond prices falling. While inflation is rampant, March actually saw a little bit of relief in core prices as inflation was mainly driven by food and energy. One area of bond funds that hasn’t seen investors scared off is inflation protected funds which are on their seventh straight week of gains and inflows. More concerning than just the tightening cycle is the growth that could result in overtightening which could send the economy reeling.
Finsum: This could be the bottom of the bond market, investors should prepare for a little bit of a rally if supply chains free up.
It's never too early to begin thinking about tax-loss harvesting and there is a ripe situation in the bond market. The yield curve has been on the rise due to Fed tightening and inflation. Rising yields mean lower bond prices and ETF owners have taken a bath. Selling off those funds right now could give you a tax advantage later this year. However, investors should get out of the fixed income route altogether. Markets are beginning to show signs of a recession or straight volatility so replacing your bond ETF with another fixed-income ETF could help in the case of a recession. Or if bond prices begin to take off it's a good option to have some skin in the game.
Finsum: The wash rule makes harvesting losses in equity markets a bit difficult, but the plethora of bond funds and options gives investors better ability to harvest losses now.
The bond market has taken a beating and investment-grade debt has been anything but a safe haven for income investors. This has been one of the third-worst stretches in history as the YTD returns have been -10.5% which is only bested by the Lehman collapse in late 2008 where returns crept to -14.3% and Volcker’s days of battling high inflation and hiking rates. Investors are selling off investment-grade debt as the risk-free rates on Treasuries are climbing as the Fed’s tightening cycle is beginning. These rising yields are all corporate bond ETFs and driving returns down, but things could get worse as rates will only continue to rise and inflation is only beginning.
Finsum: Income investors need to look to active funds or abroad if they want relief in the bond market.
Acquisitions and launches are running hot in direct indexing and in an attempt to match rival Fidelity, Charles Schwab announced the launch of their new direct indexing products. The funds will be available starting on April 30th, but unlike Fidelity’s ultra-low initial investment of $5k, Schwab will require a $100,000 minimum. They want their direct index investors to have a better conceptualization of the market and think the minimum will attract this. The launch comes fresh off of tax season and will hopefully drive interest as tax is an advantage of DI. Schwab will concentrate on the tax advantages of their custom offerings as opposed to ESG or other flavors popular with these funds.
Finsum: The timing of this launch could put investors over the hump when it comes to taking advantage of tax-loss harvesting with their DI products.
BlackRock sent waves through the market announcing they were slashing fees from 0.04% to 0.03% for the largest bond fund in the world the iShares Core U.S. Aggregate Bond ETF (AGG). This wasn’t the only move they made as equity funds LRGF and INTF got their fees reduced as well. The fee battle is a prominent part of the game as lower expense ratios definitely garner more attention from investors. Previously BR had reduced fees on other fixed-income products as part of the escalating competition with Vanguard.
Finsum: FI income investors should keep an eye out, with prices and fees at lows, bond market ETFs could be in the ‘buy the dip’ territory’.
The bond market has given investors pause, and the international bond market especially so. While continuing Covid-19, international war, and rising rates may scare investors, international bonds still add enough diversification to justify their place in the portfolio. Investors are more worried about inflation/interest rates now than Ukraine and Russia, and that risk is heightened domestically. As the Fed hikes rates, yields will rise and hurt domestic bond and equity portfolios. The Euro area has significantly less interest and inflation risk in the near term. Additionally, the deglobalization of covid is slowly going away, and as markets open up that will only improve the position of international bonds.
Finsum: ETFs with large exposure are best in international markets because tensions surrounding global issues are heightened right now.