Wealth Management

Active fixed income is one of the fastest growing categories in terms of inflows and new issues. It’s taking market share away from mutual funds and passive fixed income ETFs. Now, Vanguard is adding to its active fixed income ETF lineup with the launch of 2 new active fixed income ETFs for later this year.


The Vanguard Core Bond ETF and Vanguard Core-Plus Bond ETF provide exposure to a diversified portfolio of bonds across sectors, credit quality, and durations. The Core Bond ETF will focus on US securities with small allocations to higher-risk areas like high-yield credit and emerging market debt. The Core-Plus Bond ETF will have greater allocations to riskier parts of the fixed income market. Each has relatively low expenses at 0.10% and 0.20%, respectively.


Each of these has a mutual fund counterpart and will be managed by the same management teams, share benchmarks, and have the same costs. Yet, they are considered distinct products. It’s simply a reflection that a portion of investors, specifically younger investors, simply prefer the intraday liquidity and ease of these products vs mutual funds.


Active fixed income is also seeing greater interest due to the current uncertainty regarding monetary policy and the economy’s trajectory. Active managers have greater latitude and more flexibility to navigate this environment in contrast to passive funds. 

Finsum: Vanguard is launching 2 active fixed income ETFs which are based upon successful mutual funds. The active fixed income category is rapidly growing in terms of inflows and new issues.


Equity and fixed income markets were battered following the September FOMC meeting where the committee left rates unchanged but the committee members’ dot plots for the future trajectory of monetary policy and Chair Powell’s press conference had a decidedly hawkish tilt. 


The message was that another rate hike is likely before year end and that rates are likely to stay elevated for longer. Thus, Fed futures markets reduced the odds of rate cuts in 2024, leading to pain for the long-end of the fixed income complex. In contrast, the short-end of the curve saw major inflows as investors look to shield their portfolio from volatility and take advantage of high rates. 


Following the Fed meeting, there was $25.3 million of inflows into the iShares Treasury Floating Rate Bond ETF which was about 40% of the total inflows in the previous month. This marks an acceleration of a trend which began last quarter of outflows from longer-term Treasury ETFs and inflows into short-duration Treasury ETFs. 


Supporting this notion is the uncertainty over the economy and monetary policy as this tends to lead to volatility for long-duration assets. Additionally, the flatness of the yield curve means that there isn’t sufficient compensation for the additional duration risk.  

Finsum: Most of the fixed income complex suffered losses following the hawkish FOMC meeting, but one exception was short-duration Treasury ETFs. 


One of the best real-time measures of the population’s interest in a subject can be gleaned through Google search data. Since the start of the year, searches for the topic are up by 50% and continue to climb with rates. In fact, there is a 0.9 correlation between search volume and longer-term rates.


According to Standard Life, interest in the topic really accelerated once rates exceeded 4%. Currently, many annuities are offering returns in the 7% to 8% range which is leading to strong demand from retirees or those close to retirement who are looking for income. 


Recent months have seen rates continue inching higher, while inflation expectations have moderated. Higher real rates are also adding to the appeal of annuities given concerns about the economic outlook and costs.


Two more contributing factors behind annuity demand are pent-up demand and demographics. For more than a decade, rates were so low that annuities simply didn’t deliver sufficient returns for investors or retirees. Instead, monetary policy was designed to push them higher up the risk curve in order to generate yield. 


Demographics also can’t be ignored. Next year, 12,000 Americans will be reaching retirement age every day. And by 2031, 70 million Americans will be above retirement age. The population is even older in Europe and Japan and will likely be interested in boosting their income during retirement. 

Finsum: Google search data shows that interest in annuities has surged since the beginning of the year. It’s not a coincidence that this happened as long-term rates were breaking out to multi decade highs. 


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