A, um, fixation, among investors this year: the performance of fixed income assets, according to Wells Fargo.

Wells Fargo published several reports on issues playing a role in the challenging environment today. The intent of the executive summary was to address heard often voiced by investors. Some of the top questions revolving around fixed income included:

  1. What is happening to bonds so far in 2022?
  2. Why continue to invest in bonds?
  3. Why is the Fed garnering so much attention this year?
  4. What should investors expect from the remaining three Fed meetings of this year?
  5. What does Fed quantitative tightening mean?
  6. What do you mean when you say, “financial conditions in the economy are tightening”?
  7. Should we be worried about liquidity in bond markets?

Equity and fixed income markets simultaneously endured negative returns in the first of the year – catching a number of investors off guard. While all major fixed indexes bounced back in July in light of receding yields, year to date, they remain negative.

Inflation? Yep; it’s stuck in gear; that is, elevated. Meantime, the broader economic environment – especially the labor market, has proved to be one tough cookie, according to gsam.com.

”Higher inflation and higher growth volatility are propelling us into a higher yield environment, marking a departure from the post-financial crisis era,” according to Whitney Watson, global head of Fixed Income Portfolio Management, Construction & Risk. “Ultimately, we think this presents opportunities in high-quality fixed income assets, such as investment grade corporate bonds and agency MBS.”

State Street Global Advisors is teaming up with Barclays’ research business to build and manage active products in systematic fixed income. While systematic equity strategies have been around for a while, the strategy is somewhat new to fixed income due to a lack of data. While most stock trades are easy to track, fixed-income trades are typically over-the-counter, with electronic platforms only handling a part of the business. This makes accessing and harvesting data in fixed-income markets more complex. However, that’s changing. Efficiency in the bond markets is increasing the viability of implementing systematic debt strategies. With fixed income, managers attempt to generate alpha through data analysis that uncovers asset mispricing, according to SSGA. This comes as the demand for systematic fixed income is increasing. According to a State Street survey of 700 investors, 91 percent of institutions are interested in using systematic fixed-income strategies over the next 12 months. The survey also showed that investors managing more than $10 billion were most interested in implementing these strategies using investment-grade and high-yield corporate securities.

Finsum: As demand for systematic fixed-income strategies heats up, State Street Global Advisors and Barclays are teaming up to build and manage active systematic fixed income strategies. 

According to an index that measures Treasury market volatility, bond volatility is at a level not seen since the peak of the COVID market crisis in March 2020. This is a worrisome sign that the Treasuries markets, which are considered a safe haven for investors, are not functioning as they should. For context, the biggest one-day move for the benchmark 10-year Treasury in 2021 was 0.16. This year, there have been seven days with larger moves. Liquidity is evaporating, which has caused the soaring volatility. A Bloomberg index is currently showing that liquidity in the Treasury markets is worse now than in the early days of the pandemic, while implied volatility, measured by the ICE BofA MOVE Index is near its highest since 2009. This is coming at a time when Bloomberg News reports that the largest buyers of Treasuries, including Japanese pensions, life insurers, foreign governments, and US commercial banks, are pulling back at the same time. Even Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has expressed concern about a potential breakdown in trading, saying that her department is “worried about a loss of adequate liquidity” in the US government securities market.

Finsum: A lack of liquidity and a pullback in large-scale treasury purchases has triggered volatility not seen since March 2020.

When it comes to direct indexing, a little daylight seems to be peeking in.

As investors, young and old, flock to ETFs, you might say direct indexing’s keeping an eye out for its lane, according to blomberg.com.

Two hands on the wheel, of course.

Questions surface about whether investors have an inclination to dive into direct indexing in light of the burgeoning attraction to ETFs, notes new research from Schwab.

If you have an appetite for index funds and ETFs, but greater control over fund holdings and the possibility to outperform, direct indexing just might float your boat, according to schwab.com.

By paring down costs while stepping up access among investors to different segments of the market, index funds and ETFs have put an entirely new face on investing. That said, when it comes to direct investing, contrary to performance historically, make way for the fly in the ointment: when it comes to control over the fund’s individual holdings, control – perhaps of any sort – is nonexistent.

However, times, it seems, have changed. Limited, back in the day, to institutional and high-net-worth investors, today, direct indexing’s available to a wider range of investors. Why? Technological strides, which have coaxed down investment minimums.

Direct indexing, of course, is surging in popularity, according to barrons.com. While Fidelity, Schwab and Vanguard have initiated direct indexing products over the past year or so, direct indexing’s leveraged by only 12% of advisors. Not to pile on – but piling on – a survey showed, when it comes to direct indexing, half of advisors have too clue what it is. 

Um, someone say Wikepedia?

It might be a bit brisk north of the border, but at least some fixed income ETFs seem to be hot in Canada, according to moneysense.ca.

In the aftermath of around 20 years of essentially solid returns, as interest rates nudge yields up and drive down prices, bond portfolios are absorbing some body blows. the iShares Core Canadian Universe Bond Index ETF (XBB) – which missed the panel’s picks of best fixed income ETFs for portfolios – still dispenses broad exposure to investment-grade Canadian bonds.

“I’m not committed to bonds at all,” says panellist Yves Rebetez. “People are now seeing the truth in the descriptive ‘return-free risk’ that some have been pointing to for a while. This ‘return-free risk’ is a tongue-in-cheek play on that. Who wants to invest in risk, void of potential returns?”

Opting for cost efficient funds like ETFs in Canada and elsewhere, the variety of them is, well, substantial, according to wealthawesome.com. As last year wound down, there were 1,177 Canadian listed ETFs in Canada.

Canadian ETFS are available in every shape and size. Among that wide range of options, it’s key to buckle down on the best funds.

Most portfolios commonly carry fixed income or bond ETFs – particularly if risk doesn’t float the boast of those investors who are most risk repellant.

Want to talk logic? For a second? A combination of income exchange-traded funds are most, well, logical for a substantial chunk of investors.

Many investors are now adding private credit investments to their portfolios according to a global survey of institutional investors conducted by State Street Global Advisors. The survey report, The Future of Fixed Income, asked institutional investors how they view the fixed income market and how they’re allocating their investments amid the current market volatility. The findings were based on answers from 700 pension funds, endowments, foundations, and sovereign wealth funds, as well as wealth and asset managers. The results also found that investors have become more open to systematic fixed income strategies to help them fight the impact of rising prices and inflation. In addition, 51% of survey respondents stated their interest in increasing allocations to bank loans and 42% want to increase their allocation to inflation-linked bonds over the next 12 months. The findings also showed that investors are embracing index-tracking investments to gain efficient access to attractive sectors due to fee pressure and increased transparency. Over one-third of the respondents said that more than 20% of their fixed income portfolio is allocated to index strategies. The figure rises to 57% for investors with AUM over $10 billion.

Finsum: A survey conducted by SSGA noted that institutional investors are shifting their fixed income allocations amid the current market environment.

Location? Location? Location?

Actually, it’s more a matter of opportunity -- at least in the case of market conditions and active fixed income, according to wellington.com.

Said the authors: In our judgement, having an opportunistic element to asset allocation implementation will be key to exploiting the regional imbalances that are likely to arise later this year and beyond,” stated the authors, who emphasized the views were theirs at the time of writing and that other teams might view the situation differently and make different investment decisions. They continued that by homing in on strategies evolving around global investment -- with flexible regional allocations – to pinpoint opportunities like early and teak heir geographic weights in light of fresh information, investors can cast their chips on the skills and depth of active portfolio managers.

Speaking of opportunity, inflation can be exactly that for investors in active fixed income, according to us/allianzgi.com.

While escalating price tags for goods and services are a blaring red flag for those who pluck down cash in conventional government bonds, when it comes to whipping up returns in the midst of climbing or receding inflation, let’s just say active managers have their ways.

In a recent article in FT Adviser, Lumin Wealth Investment Manager Elliott Frost wondered how much alpha left is in active fixed income. Frost believes that a fixed income allocation should include a strategic mix of active and passive management. He notes that active fixed-income managers have generally outperformed passive strategies in the fixed-income space due to several reasons. The first is that companies with the most debt typically make up the largest component of a fixed income market index, leaving the portfolio more exposed to unfavorable changes in credit. Another reason is the lack of risk mitigation. Passive managers cannot “dial up or dial down risk.” However, he noted that the alpha generated by active managers has been to some degree, due to a long-term overweight on credit. Frost believes that if we account for a manager’s credit exposure, fees, and other factor exposures such as volatility, there might not be much alpha left. This is why he recommends not putting “all your eggs in one basket” and incorporating a passive fixed index into a portfolio for cheap access to a liquid market.

Finsum: Lumin Wealth’s Elliott Frost wonders if there is much alpha left in active fixed income once a manager’s credit exposure, fees, and volatility are accounted for.

Last week, Charles Schwab announced the upcoming launch of the Schwab Municipal Bond ETF (SCMB). The ETF, which is expected to begin trading on October 12, will trade on the NYSE Arca. SCMB will have an expense ratio of only 0.03%, which will be much lower than comparable funds. The ETF will provide access to the broad U.S. investment grade, tax-exempt bond market. The fund’s goal is to track the total return of the ICE AMT-Free Core U.S. National Municipal Index, which measures the performance of the U.S. AMT-free municipal bond market. SCMB seeks to provide income exempt from federal taxes and is not subject to the federal alternative minimum tax. The ETF will have a high credit quality profile, investing only in investment-grade rated securities. John Sturiale, Head of Product Management and Innovation, Schwab Asset Management, stated, “As bond yields have risen, fixed income investing is more attractive than it has been in years, making this an opportune moment to introduce a new choice for investors seeking a low-cost, straightforward approach to income, diversification and risk management in their portfolios.”

Finsum: Charles Schwab is launching an ultra-low-cost Municipal bond ETF targeting investment-grade securities.

Lingering doubts over escalation inflation and the response of the Fed aside, longer duration US Treasuries and investment grade corporate debt ETFS are the cat’s meow among European investors, according to etf.com.

As of the end of July, in Europe, fixed income ETFs attracted more than $4.2bn over the past three months, according to data from Bloomberg Intelligence.

Meantime, Fitch Ratings reported that, in all likelihood, U.S. insurers will continue, unabated, to up their fixed income exchange-traded fund holdings, according to pioonline.com.

Since last December – when new guidelines kicked in in The Big Apple -- Fitch indicated it has rated 10 such ETFs. It eased the way for insurers to hang onto shares of fixed income ETFs. Until Jan. 1, 2027, shares of an ETF, for the purpose of a domestic insurer’s risk based capital report, on the condition the ETF satisfies certain criteria, in a regulation adopted by the New York State Department of Financial Services. It became effective Dec. 15.

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