Bonds: Total Market
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.
Anybody who is worried about a pending bond bear market might take some solace in recent news. Bond markets are becoming increasingly skeptical of the Fed’s bullish stance on the economy, and traders believe there won’t be nearly as many rate hikes as the Fed says. The US has just seen a weak inflation report, and a flattening of the yield curve, both at home and in the Eurodollar market, spells ill for the economy. So while the Fed says it will continue to hike rates into 2020, top market analysts are saying things like “The markets are telling us that there is a pretty high risk of economic slowdown or recession at the end of 2019” (Janney Capital Management).
FINSUM: We think the economy will definitely start to weaken before 2020. Perhaps we will not have a deep recession, but we definitely don’t think there will be continuous hikes for the next year and a half, which is good news for bonds.
Those who only pay causal attention to muni bonds might be scared away from the market by negative stories about big buildups in debt, bankruptcies, and a general erosion in credit quality. However, this year, nothing could be further from the truth. There has been a massive deleveraging of the sector in 2018, with total US muni bond issuance down a whopping 17% to-date, and on pace for 25% by the end of the year. The dearth of issuance has pushed yields down and prices up. “It’s a seller’s market”, says one muni bond analyst.
FINSUM: Part of the lack of new issuance is due to the federal tax changes, but nonetheless, the market is looking increasingly healthy.