Today we wanted to write a story covering the topic of rate hedged ETFs. We have been examining these lately and feel they are in high demand because of the need for stable income for retirees and the still-relevant threat of higher rates. Mortgage REIT ETFs, such as iShares’ REM really caught our eye with 9%+ yields. However, they are very rate sensitive, so we wanted to find a better option. Enter ProShares’ HYHG, or the High Yield-Interest Rate Hedged ETF. The fund yields over 6% in a highly hedged manner, it goes long high yield US and Canadian debt and simultaneously shorts US Treasuries. The expense ratio is 0.50% and the fund has $127 under management.
FINSUM: This seems like a great fund to us—6% income with only 50 basis points in fees, all in a rate hedged package.
Bond investors are getting nervous, and not about the Fed or interest rates. Rather, they are worried about corporate credit. Most will be aware that corporate credit issuance surged over the last decade, especially in fringe investment grade BBB debt. Now, investors are fearing a “wall of maturities”. In the next three years, one third of all triple B rated US debt will come due, a huge test for the group of highly indebted companies. Companies will then need to refinance in this much-less-friendly environment. The Bank for International Settlements warns that in the next downturn, many BBB rated bonds will be downgraded to junk, which will cause fire sales.
FINSUM: Our big worry here is that many institutional investors have strict mandates to not hold junk bonds, so if a solid number of companies fall from the BBB level, there will indeed be huge fire sales in credit markets.
Small caps are having a great year so far, but there are increasing worries that the good times might not last. The Russell 2000 is outperforming the S&P 500 by 3% (13% vs 10%) this year, but has tumbled in recent days, a troubling sign. What could be driving the losses is that the big gains in price have not corresponding to improving fundamentals. For instance, small cap performance is very tied to purchasing managers index data (PMI), but the rise in price has not been tied to changes in the PMI. Additionally, small cap companies tend to have the most floating rate debt, which puts them at a higher risk of rising rates. They also tend to have much lower credit quality, meaning they are the most susceptible to shifting rates. More than half the debt issued by small companies is rated as junk.
FINSUM: There is no reason to think the bottom is going to fall out here. However, a sense check seems necessary for small cap investors as there are significant risks.
The junk bond market is going through an eye-opening drought. Not one company under investment grade has issued a bond since November, the longest spell of this kind in more than two decades. Investors are worried over the economy and market volatility, which has basically shut down any new issuance. It has now been 41 days since a junk bond sale, the longest period since 1995. December was the first month since 2008 without a junk bond sale.
FINSUM: When credit starts to get ugly, investors would be wise to pay attention. The question is whether this is just a short-term hiatus or a sign of worse things to come.
The credit market taught investors a very good lesson in the Crisis (not that many of them were paid attention to). One of those lessons was that the first signs of weakness in the market should be taken seriously, as they can be indicative of a pending meltdown. This occurred in 2007 before the cataclysm in 2008. It appears to be happening again now, as both US and European credit marks are showing some fault lines. For instance, the downgrade of GE is seen as a sign of weakness very similar to what occurred with Ford and GM in 2005.
FINSUM: There has been an extraordinary credit boom since the Crisis and there are bound to be consequences. The question is what the extent of those consequences will be. The market is starting to feel a bit like musical chairs.