For investors with assets in active bond mutual funds, there has never really been a time to implement tax-loss harvesting. Tax-loss harvesting is the process of selling securities at a loss to offset capital gains tax due on the sale of other securities. Until this year, investors had mostly experienced gains in their fixed income holdings tracing back to the 2008-2009 financial crisis. However, due to significant losses in fixed income this year, an opportunity has arisen for investors to transition their assets to ETFs through tax-loss harvesting. According to Morningstar Direct data, US fixed income funds have seen more than $205 billion in redemptions during the first half of the year. Sales in taxable bond ETFs, on the other hand, while slowing, still generated $53.8 billion in net inflows during the same period. This has set the stage for tax-loss selling out of mutual funds and into ETFs.
Finsum: Losses in active bond funds this year sets the stage for tax-loss harvesting into fixed income ETFs.
PIMCO saw the second quarter sell-off in bond funds as investors pulled nearly $30 billion in the last three months. The biggest cause for the sell-off is the rising rate hikes and inflation which may be causing yields to rise and bond prices to fall. Still, analysts say that if interest hikes begin to stabilize then the bond outflows will seize and even reverse into inflows.
This is the largest sell-off since the start of the pandemic, and investors are concerned a recession is around the corner. PIMCOs shining light are the few funds that it has that are doing okay despite macro headwinds and could prove to be a driving force for inflows when markets stabilize.
Finsum: Bond prices are just too low right now and yields will fall with inflation easing and the fed tightening, but its a matter of it happening soon enough.
Research from Morningstar's annual Global Fund Flows found that actively managed fixed income funds saw $422 billion in outflows during the first half of the year. That figure accounted for 74% of all outflows from active portfolios. Active funds as a whole saw $568 billion in outflows, while index funds generated $432 billion in inflows. The net difference of $136 billion in outflows was the most since June to December of 2008, during the height of the Financial Crisis. The high percentage of active fixed income outflows is partly a result of the automatic rebalancing of model portfolios and target-date funds. Since equity returns have been more negative, automatic rebalancing has been triggering more trades to equity strategies to get allocations back in line. Passive fixed income funds saw $90 billion in inflows.
Finsum: Active fixed income funds accounted for 74% of all outflows from active portfolios during the first half of the year as automatic rebalancing favored equity strategies.
According to a paper published last month by Christopher Reilly of Boston College, corporate bond ETFs listed in the US, on average, pay 48 basis points a year in hidden costs that result from custom creation baskets. Since most fixed ETFs track thousands of individual bonds, custom creation baskets allow issuers and authorized participants to create a sample of the holdings which mirror the performance of the ETF. An authorized participant is an organization, typically a bank, that manages the creation and redemption of ETF shares in the primary market. Without sampling, the authorized participants would have to source every security. However, the custom ETF creation baskets allow authorized participants more flexibility to include securities that could significantly underperform the underlying index. This customization results in hidden costs that investors of ETFs could incur.
Finsum: Corporate bond ETFs are paying an average of 48 basis points a year in hidden costs resulting from customized creation baskets.
The ETF sell-off is rampant as a response to the wild and sudden market volatility, but its time to get rid of your fixed income funds? Some experts are saying there is a breakdown in the traditional 60-40 portfolio, but outflows aren’t present yet at the rate in bond funds. This is despite funds like AGG being down over 10% YTD. One possible reason for this is that investors are more worried about macro factors than most other factors. Over a third of advisors are worried about inflation, rates, and geopolitics whereas only one in ten are as concerned with volatility. This is could cause a shifting of flows into more stable macro flavored products like bond funds.
Finsum: We’ve said it once we can say it again, bond fund holders aren’t eyeballing returns like equity ETFs they are holding for security.
There has been a sharp uptick in the high-value bond ETF trades in the last 12-months which most investors are attributing to activity from large institutional investors. Transactions are up as much as 36% on some platforms from the previous year. This has been part of a longer more ongoing trend that has been successful for many bond funds. Since the GFC, investors have questioned the resiliency of these funds to economic downturns, but regulators and investors alike are pleased with their performance in the covid pandemic. Just as important to this is the support from the Fed and Fiscal policy to the economy. Stepping in with bond relief has helped these ETFs. Finally, the increase in investment in bond ETFs has actually led to tighter underlying spreads in bond markets themselves and reflects better liquidity.
Finsum: Many believe that over-investment in index funds could be disruptive to equity volatility over time, but it appears to be stabilizing bond spreads.
Macro conditions have left many investors skittish regarding the future of fixed income funds, but BlackRock is firm in its belief in the future of Fixed Income ETFs. BR said that despite headwinds from rising rates and inflation they expect bond ETFs to surpass $2 trillion in the next year and a half and to hit $5 trillion by 2030. While the current environment doesn’t make investors ecstatic about the bond market future, many overlook the traditional role they fill in a portfolio: stability. That resilience especially during volatility and the ultra-low rate environment has proved useful enough for many investors.
Finsum: ETF trends have been amplified by the pandemic and will be enduring moving forward.
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.