Muni ETFs have set a record for inflows this year drawing a whopping $83 billion. Bond buyers are fleeing the low yield big government debt with inflation risk and flocking to Muni funds which have more attractive fees and still have some after-inflation yield. Active funds are seeing a large uptick as a subsegment with big winners like JPMorgan Ultra-Short Muni Income ETF, and new active funds are popping up at a fast rate. Institutional investors see lots of growth in active fixed-income ETFs as more investors are chasing outperformance in a stagnant bond market. 

FINSUM: As the Fed comes down on the treasury market, muni’s are in a prime position to get yield pass through to fight against inflation.

The low rate environment has flipped the paradigm of many investors when it comes to the bond market, and most investors are leaning on higher-yield fixed income ETFs to augment their portfolios. Sure fixed-income ETFs are mainly used as a risk mitigator for most investors, but they also are the way to generate alpha. Investors can better manage the liquidity of Fixed income ETFs as opposed to individual bonds, so they pose fewer liquidity constraints when selling. With liquidity concerns off the table, investors can more freely move securities to look for an advantage of standard indices, hence alpha. On top of this, their broader exposure is a better source of risk mitigation as well.

FINSUM: Being able to flip a fixed income ETF faster than individual bonds is a leg up in decision making, and another reason to cast a wider net in the current fixed income market.

2021 is wrapping up which means we will have annual launch numbers for different types of ETFs. One area of surging growth is active fixed income where there were 15 new launches this year, this is quite an historic change from over 5 years ago when there were a meager 7 new funds launched. Overall the growth is staggering because a decade ago there were only about 25 active fixed income funds and there are well over 175 today. Historically low yields around the globe and significant interest rates have many investors pouring over $137 billion into active fixed income funds, as they rely on pickers to outperform the stock market. A variety of quantitative funds are popping up in fixed income leading to smart beta strategies which can also drive better returns.

FINSUM: Active fixed incomes growth has stayed stable the last five years but the explosion is no doubt a retort to the global macro factors facing fixed income managers. 

The latest data release from BlackRock’s iShares division revealed troubling news about the state of Bond Market ETFs: inflows slumped to just $14 billion which is the lowest since the onset of the pandemic. It's the taxable corporate bond market that's fairing the worst as investors are pouring less dollars into traditional corporate debt and junk bonds, amid fears of inflation eating yields. Instead, investors are turning to shorter duration and inflation protected bonds. Nearly 40% of fixed income flows went into inflation linked bonds, an almost unprecedented number. Investors have also started to put inflows into Chinese bonds as the international sovereign debt market was a relative winner among bond ETFs. China’s yield is the biggest draw to international investors as they see the debt as relatively secure and paying more than developed countries.

FINSUM: Expect corporate bond outflows to continue until the TIPS spread starts turning towards the Feds 2% inflation objective.

Over 500 institutional investors were surveyed and one of the top 5 most important themes going into 2022 is active management in areas like fixed income markets. A combination of factors are leading to more investment but broadly speaking, it is uncertainty which is having investors leaning into active management. On top of this, active management is preferred as the best strategy in risk management overall. A majority of those surveyed believe high fluctuation in inflows and outflows to passive funds put the market in a more systemically risky position. Despite a dragging start to 2021, 70% of investors said their active funds outperformed passive ones.

FINSUM: Picking stocks is always hard, but increased volatility could give pickers an edge.

Jerome Powell and the Fed turned a 180 this week with the future of its asset tapering and interest rate hikes. The Fed sees Covid and omicron as yesterday's demons and have set their sights on inflation. With that the Fed is gearing up for potentially three rate hikes in 2022 and is moving away from the transitory inflation story. This could be bad for bond investors as the Fed’s tune could change if omicron picks up or inflation shifts gears, meaning there is a lot of uncertainty about future rates. Nonetheless, higher rates could undercut existing long term bonds so those still invested in bonds should consider switching their investments to shorter duration Fixed Income ETFs or less sensitive corporate bonds. Lower duration bond ETFs will be more stable when there is interest rate uncertainty (unlike in standard times).

FINSUM: The Fed could just as quickly hop off the inflation fighting hawk train if they get a series of lower PCE reports, which means investors need to be ready for various scenarios.

Saying the bond market is difficult would be more than an understatement, and while yields are creeping it's still hard to get the historic performance. However, many investors are turning to active fixed income ETFs. This has led to a swelling of inflows into the market category making up 16% of ETF inflows in 2021 through October. Turmoil at the Fed and the continual threat of a taper tantrum have many investors looking to pros to sort out the difficulties in the bond market. Active FI ETFs can also fit narrower targets and accommodate the rapidly shifting macroeconomic environment.

FINSUM: Seasoned veterans at the helm make the most sense when the environment is shifting, and active ETF can edge out when the future is uncertain.

The low yields in the bond market have made it relatively uninteresting to the average investor, but there is a revolution underway. The bond market has been dominated by traditional techniques and old school investors, but many of the quants and hedge funds that overturned the equity market are eyeing the bond market. Systematic corporate bond investing is expanding and firms are taking advantage of trends in government debt or pricing anomalies in bond derivatives. Driving this trend in the bond market is swaths of data that are a part of how trades are now realized. Companies like Blackstone Credit are prepared for the shift into a more systematic trading environment in bonds, and other companies are ramping up their tools to accommodate this shift. FINSUM: Hard to acquire data, and a less liquid market have made bonds less desirable for quants, but the information age is rapidly changing that standard. 

The bond market boon has been bad for many fixed income investors, and debt is coming to term in a higher inflationary environment which is eating up all the return. However, bond market investors are turning to factor based investing to earn excess returns. Factor investing is a $700 billion market in equities, and it dwarfs the $25 billion dollar fixed income factor market. Factor investor modifies indices based on factors they think can give an edge over traditional indices. Active bond factor investing can outperform traditional indices in rising yield environments, but factor investing is looking to rival these active funds with systemic decisions. A ‘smart beta’ approach will look to outperform in high yield and emerging market debt.

FINSUM: The extensive literature on systemic fixed income is relatively small, and that's why smart beta strategies have failed to take off in the bond market like they have in equities.

Worried about rising interest rates? These three strategies can help mitigate interest-rate risk ... Read More

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