Displaying items by tag: bonds
There is alarm growing among muni bond investors as credit quality continues to deteriorate. During COVID there has been a widening gap in pension deficits among municipalities, and investors are keeping a close eye because it is leading to deferred pension payments. This is troubling for a number of reasons. Firstly, it digs municipalities into a bigger hole because they must pay interest on deferred payments; and secondly, it spooks bond markets and makes it harder for them to access liquidity. In other words, deferred pension payments, such as the nearly $1 bn one New Jersey elected to do in May, dig muni issuers into a deeper and deeper hole.
FINSUM: Pension recipients are very likely to be considered senior to bondholders, so this is a very alarming situation for investors.
One of the best ways to watch the damage to the economy is to monitor the performance of consumer debt. Auto loans, student loans and beyond give a clear indicator of the health of American finances. Right now, the data is looking bad, reinforcing why this might be a long and difficult recovery. According to the WSJ, “Americans have skipped payments on more than 100 million student loans, auto loans and other forms of debt since the coronavirus hit the U.S … The largest increase occurred for student loans, with 79 million accounts in deferment or other relief status, up from 18 million a month earlier. Auto loans in some type of deferment doubled to 7.3 million accounts. Personal loans in deferment doubled to 1.3 million accounts.” The total of deferments is triple the number from the end of April. Lenders, who have generally been accommodative to this point with borrowers, expect delinquency to soar later this year.
FINSUM: You cannot have 50m people—roughly a third of the US workforce—lose their jobs and not have any repercussions. This is the kind of data that makes stock indexes look rather ludicrous right now.
Big debt investors are pouring dollars into risky debt markets and products, such as CLOs and their subprime-backed assets. Why you may ask? (as anyone might right now) The answer is that the riskiest borrowers are surviving this downturn much better than anyone expected. Spreads between subprime-backed products and US Treasuries have narrowed sharply, while new deals have seen big demand. According to an analyst at Loomis Sayles “What is surprising is how strong credit performance has been … Fiscal policy is really keeping the subprime borrower afloat”.
FINSUM: Regardless of whether or not you are involved in this market, it is good news that the demand for these securities is actually being driven by fundamentals. It is both a sign of economic resilience, and also of market rationality.
You might not pay much attention to them—most don’t—but closed end muni funds are an excellent deal right now. They are offering high yields relative to other fixed income peers. For example, you can readily get 5% yields on CEF muni funds, equivalent to an 8.45% taxable yield if you are in the top tax bracket. And to be clear, these are not junk muni bonds. The reason yields are so strong is leverage gained from borrowing money at short-term interest rates and buying longer-term bonds. That usually creates a risk that short-term rates could rise, causing losses. However, given the Fed’s position right now, that seems highly unlikely.
FINSUM: This is an ideal time to by CEF muni funds given the low rate risk and solid overall yields. Check out BlackRock’s MFT (5.39% yield), Putnam’s PMM (5.18%), or BNY Mellon’s LEO (5.56%).
Muni bonds are seeing yields way above average right now even as Treasury bonds linger near all-time lows. The reason why is that it is increasingly apparent that there has been a huge erosion in municipal credit quality alongside the lockdown. Costs have surged at the same time as revenues have plummeted, leading to a significantly deteriorated financial picture for municipal issuers. The has been exacerbated by the fact that municipalities have largely been unsupported by the Fed as opposed to corporate issuers. But the sell-off has created opportunity, as even AAA issuers are seeing big discounts and much higher than usual spreads to Treasuries.
FINSUM: This is all about careful credit selection, as there are big opportunities, but there may also be major pitfalls.