Bonds: Total Market
US Treasury bonds got walloped yesterday. Yields on the ten-year fell over 10 basis points following weeks of relative calm. The big move happened in the early afternoon yesterday, and sent ETFs sharply lower. The jump in yields was not contained to the 10-year either, as 20-years and 2-years rose as well. The big question is why the sharp move occurred. Analysts are saying it was actually overseas influences that drove the losses. In particular, the Bank of Japan announced a policy change that would send rates higher, which spilled over to the US. Further, some better news on the trade war front might have sent some money out of Treasuries after a flight to quality in previous weeks.
FINSUM: This is a really sharp move for it to have been from overseas alone, as these kind of big jumps usually move in reverse. It is hard to draw any conclusions, but it may indicate there are bigger losses to come.
There is a new big asset class getting very popular on Wall Street. You may think it is some new esoteric structured credit or volatility product. But guess what, it is just about the oldest product in the world—business lending, or “direct-lending” as it is being called. It has been increasingly apparent on the fringes that big Wall Street players, like Goldman Sachs, have recently taken an interest in direct lending. Now, the whole Street is getting in on the action. Major private shops like KKR and others have started direct lending funds, and the area has returned handsomely, up over 20% this year. The idea of the funds is to lend to businesses and whose credit excludes them from the usual channels.
FINSUM: These funds seem likely to do well until a recession or period of deleveraging occurs, at which time they are likely to see high levels of defaults.
The rise in yields across the world has seemed to stall over the last couple of months. Ten-year Treasuries are back under 2.9%, and while the yield curve is flattening, the risk of big losses from rising long-term yields seems to be mitigated. Not so fast. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that many of the world’s central banks are now aligning themselves with the Fed and are preparing to begin lifting rates. The pattern is emerging across both the developed and emerging markets (e.g. the Bank of England and the Reserve Bank of India).
FINSUM: We think this could be a risk for US investors. The main reason why being that one of the things that has kept long-term yields low is demand from overseas investors for our relatively higher-yielding bonds. If that changes, there won’t be such a lid on Treasuries.
Those seeking to buy income-focused investments have a dilemma on their hands right now. Is it safer to buy high-yielding blue chips like AT&T, or better to buy a diversified high yield fund? Barron’s tries to answer this question and gives a definitive opinion—the bond fund. While both may offer similar yields of between 5-6%, holding money in just one or a small handful of blue chips offers much more risk. Not only could dividends be cut, but underlying businesses could deteriorate. And without the benefit of diversification that a broad ETF offers, a portfolio could see heavy losses.
FINSUM: This is a good, basic article to share with any clients who ask why they are buying debt instead of just owning a few stocks.
All the focus in the fixed income world is currently centered around whether the yield curve will invert. However, investors should know something—the yield never inverts in municipal bonds. That’s right, the muni yield curve has never inverted. The reason why being that short-term munis are always very rich, with small supply and high demand. However, looking at longer-term yields, munis look like a great buy. While the average ten-year muni yield is only 2.43% versus 2.86% for Treasuries, for any investor in a tax bracket above 15%, buying munis makes more sense.
FINSUM: The current spread between ten-year munis and Treasury bonds makes the former look like a smart purchase right now, especially because the market seems to be in healthy shape.
The current fixed income environment is very challenging. The yield curve continues to flatten, and long-term yields have stalled, yet could move higher at any point. One great way to play the situation is through floating rate notes and funds. One floating rate fund that has been very successful is the American Beacon Sound Point Floating Rate Income, which has a 5.7% annualized return over the last five years. This year it has returned 4.5% versus Vanguard Total Bond Market Index’s -0.1%. The fund specializes in floating rate bank loans, so the higher rates go, the more those loans pay.
FINSUM: Floating rate notes and funds seem like a really good approach in the current environment, and this one might be an excellent choice.