Income Investor Perspectives

Independent municipal bond market insights for advisors

Month: October, 2016

Muni Catchup 10/31

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Nope! The Party’s Not Over!

The party may not be over, but it appears to be getting much more subdued. In last week’s Catchup, we noted that Lipper reported an end of the year-long muni inflow party. They reported that for the week ended Wednesday October 19, muni bond mutual funds had net outflows of $27 million–the first weekly net loss in assets in over a year. For the week ended October 26, Lipper reported a net inflow of $256 million. (They report only on muni bond mutual funds–not muni bond ETFs.) The authoritative ICI data always lags Lipper by a week, but preliminary data for muni ETF flows shows a return to positive flows after last week’s net outflows.

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Lipper and ICI use different methods to calculate their reports, but the takeaway is not who’s got the numbers exactly right, because they are both reporting a slowdown in flows. The more interesting questions are about the cause, and what investors should be doing.

Likely (or possible) causes: strengthening economy (see Friday’s GDP report) and increasing expectation for a post-election rate hike from the Fed.

What should investors be doing? While the decline in flows suggests that some investors are allocating out of munis, for individual investors, a change in asset allocation is generally appropriate when there is a change in goals or situation–not a change in the market. A change in market conditions can be more appropriately reflected in a change in security selection or risk exposure. In other words, a change in duration or credit risk exposure. It would make us feel better if the muni fund flows showed assets moving within the investment class rather than exiting…that suggests some investors trying to time rates, which is notoriously difficult.

See The Bottom Line, below, for more specific thoughts.

Supply

This week’s new issue supply is expected to be only the single-digit billions, which should take some pressure off the market.

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Trading Activity

Last week’s trading activity was higher than the month-to-date average–not surprising given the extremely heavy new issue activity. Notice, though, that the pace of customer buying is below the pace of the month–also not surprising, given the slackening flows into funds and growing expectations of a Fed rate hike soon.

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Market Wisdom

The shorter a portfolio’s duration, the more frequently maintenance is required.

From Managing a Family-Fixed Income Portfolio by Aaron S. Gurwitz.

Portfolio maintenance adds to costs–so shortening duration to reduce interest rate risk is not a cost-free solution for portfolios. Because of the likelihood of higher security turnover, consider using a muni ETF for temporary low duration exposure.

The Calendar

There’s always a lot on the calendar, so the trick is paying attention to the couple of things that may not be on the calendar or that may be overlooked. There are 9 weeks left in the year, and 4 of those weeks will be “impaired”: affected by holidays and/or major events: such as election day or market holidays. Below is the link to the complete economic calendar, and here are some key events to keep in mind:

11/1 & 2 Tue & Wed FOMC meets
11/2 & 3 Wed & Thu Inside ETFs: Inside Fixed Income 2016
11/6 Sunday End of Daylight Savings
11/8 Tuesday Election Day
11/11 Friday Veterans Day stocks open / bonds closed
11/24 Thursday Thanksgiving Day all U.S. markets closed
12/13 & 14 Tue & Wed FOMC meets
12/25 Sunday Christmas Day
12/25 Sunday Chanakuh begins
12/26 Monday Christmas Observed all U.S. markets closed
12/30 Friday Last Trade Date of the year bonds close early

Here’s the link to the complete economic calendar on the MSRB’s EMMA website.

The Bottom Line

While some of the supply pressures have eased this week, the upcoming partial weeks will also likely reduce new issue supply. However, investors will be distracted by the election and then focused on the potential post-election impact on the markets. Caution remains the watch word.

Curve: favor the shorter end of your duration range.

Credit: the economic numbers suggest an improving economy, but it is premature to “load up” on credit. A modest exposure to credit risk is a good diversifier, however. Exposure to non-investment grade credit risk should be for no more than 10% of the fixed income allocation and should be done using full-time professional management, such as an SMA, mutual fund or ETF.

Structure: continue to favor premium bonds, but pay attention to portfolio level exposure to call risk and the potential for bonds that are currently priced to the call to get priced to maturity if rates move higher–which would increase duration risk. (This is called extension risk.)

Products: slowing flows into funds will reverberate throughout the market. Do not chase recent performance! Select funds or SMA strategies based on how the objective fits with the investor’s goals.

Thanks!

Thanks for reading! Have a great week.

Pat

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This is not investment advice. The opinions expressed and the information contained herein are based on sources believed to be reliable, but accuracy or appropriateness is not guaranteed and are subject to change without notice. Past performance is interesting but is not a guarantee of future results. Investments in bonds are subject to gains/losses based on the level of interest rates, market conditions and credit quality of the issuer. Indices are not available for direct investment, although in some cases, there may be ETFs available designed to track some of the indices shown. The author does not provide investment, tax, legal or accounting advice. Investors should consult with their own advisor and fully understand their own situation when considering changes to their strategy, tactics or individual investments. Additional information available upon request.
©2016 Patrick F. Luby
All Rights Reserved

 

Muni Catchup 10/24

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This week in The Muni Catchup:

  • Is The Muni Party Over?
    • A look at trading flows, new issue supply and muni ETFs can offer some insight…
  • Market Wisdom
  • Are You Going to be in Newport Beach Next Month?
  • The Bottom Line

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Is The Muni Party Over?

Last week, Lipper US Fund Flows estimated that for the week ended Wednesday October 19, muni bond mutual funds had net outflows of $27 million–that’s the first weekly net loss in assets in over a year. The Muni Catchup relies on the weekly data reported by The Investment Company Institute (ICI), which lags the Lipper data by a week. However, based on this week’s muni ETF flows (below), which were also negative, we expect that ICI will likely also report negative flows for the same period. See the Context page for additional data. Keep in mind, though, that 2016 flows already greatly exceed the flows of the last couple of years–suggesting that the flows are influenced by the aging demographics of the baby-boomers as their portfolios enter the de-accumulation phase and the need to generate investment income. Demographics won’t change as a result of changes in market sentiment.

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So does this mean that the muni party is over? Based the recent levels of trading activity, it doesn’t look like it:

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Certainly, the recent very heavy new issue calendar has helped to drive trading activity, and will likely do so again this week with $16.5 billion expected to be priced.

But what should we read into the first week of negative muni fund flows in a year? There is a risk of over-analyzing these data or reading too much into them, but it can be helpful to look at what is going on with muni ETFs, because it is easier to summarize 35 ETFs than 574 open-end funds. If investors are indeed turning negative on municipals, then we might expect to see outflows across the entire universe of muni ETFs. On the other hand, if investors are reacting to an expected rise in interest rates, we should see flows out of longer duration ETFs and into shorter duration ETFs. The data below–sorted by duration–are from FactSet (via ETF.com) through October 20:

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To summarize:

  • The new issue calendar remains very heavy, suggesting that new issues may have to be priced “attractively” in order to clear the market
  • Trading activity this month has been heavier than the YTD average
  • ETF investors appear to be favoring shorter duration ETFs
  • Year-to-date, most muni market total return indices are in positive territory, even though price action for the last several months has been negative

The party does not appear to be over, but participants appear to be taking a more cautious stance, rather than exiting munis. See The Bottom Line (below) for our thoughts on the implications.

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Market Wisdom

I believe that to solve any problem that has never been solved before, you have to leave the door to the unknown ajar. You have to permit the possibility that you do not have it exactly right.

From The Meaning of It All, by Richard P. Feynman, winner of the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics.

While Feynman made this comment in a lecture on the uncertainty of science, I believe that it also applies to investing. Because the objectives and risk tolerances of every investor are unique, the planning and implementation processes are solving for a goal that has not been solved before, so there must be an allowance for the possibility that “you do not have it exactly right.” In practical terms, that is why the regular review of objectives and the portfolio are so important.

Are You Going to be in Newport Beach Next Month?

You know, for the world’s largest fixed income ETF conference? If so, please let me know in advance so we can say “hello.” If you haven’t made plans yet, it’s not too late.

In addition to hearing other fixed income luminaries, you can hear me present “The Case For Muni Bonds: Active vs. Passive In The Puerto Rico Era.”

Click here to see the complete agenda or to reserve a seat.

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The Bottom Line

Curve: We re-emphasize our cautious stance. Even with last week’s slight price improvement, the recent weakness in the bond market and the heavy new issue supply and growing expectations for a December rate hike from the Fed combine to encourage an underweight in duration. (For the sake of comparison, based on current rates and assuming par bonds, a 15-year laddered muni portfolio would have a duration of 7.1, and a 10-year ladder would have a duration of 5.2.)

The heavy supply may create some opportunities for investors to pick up some attractively priced bonds both in the primary and secondary market, but with the cautious stance, we remind readers to not stretch for yield–set your duration target to the lower end of your range and seek out the best available combination of risk and yield.

Credit: Holding a modest amount of credit risk can add some incremental income as well as diversification. If the economy continues to improve and pushes rates higher, that should also tighten credit spreads, which could offset some of the duration risk. But as always, when thinking about adding non-investment grade bonds, consider hiring a professional manager–either through an SMA, mutual fund or an ETF.

Structure: Premium bonds remain favored for their lower duration and higher cash flow.

Calls: Beware of the total call risk in portfolios, and watch out for extension risk with bonds priced to a call.

Products: Muni bond mutual fund and ETF inflows have dwindled and may remain negative in the weeks ahead, putting pressure on market prices and on NAVs.

Have a great week, and thanks for reading. Let me know if you have any questions.

Pat

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This is not investment advice. The opinions expressed and the information contained herein are based on sources believed to be reliable, but accuracy or appropriateness is not guaranteed and are subject to change without notice. Past performance is interesting but is not a guarantee of future results. Investments in bonds are subject to gains/losses based on the level of interest rates, market conditions and credit quality of the issuer. Indices are not available for direct investment, although in some cases, there may be ETFs available designed to track some of the indices shown. The author does not provide investment, tax, legal or accounting advice. Investors should consult with their own advisor and fully understand their own situation when considering changes to their strategy, tactics or individual investments. Additional information available upon request.
©2016 Patrick F. Luby
All Rights Reserved

Muni Catchup 10/17

screen-shot-2016-07-11-at-6-50-17-amLooking Back

Bond market yields finished the week mostly higher, further eroding the year-to-date total returns for most indices. Nonetheless, if muni ETFs can be used as the bellwether, new money appears to be continuing to flow into the muni market. Weekly total net flows into muni ETFs increased to $150 million from $146 million in the prior week. (Estimated muni ETF flow data are available a week before mutual fund flow data are available. See the Context page for the flow data table.)

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Looking Ahead

screen-shot-2016-10-16-at-10-31-04-pmIt is notable that just as the bond market is showing signs of weakness, a heavy slate of $15.4 billion in new issues is expected to be offered this week.

Part of what may be driving such heavy supply this week is that in the 11 weeks left in the year, four of them will be shortened by holidays (Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s), and a fifth week will have the election. Another possible driver of the timing of issuance may be the recent increase in yields–providing incentive for issuers to try to lock in at current rates.

While mutual fund flows have continued, the flows are dwarfed by the supply, so in order to attract sufficient buying interest, do not be surprised if new issue yields are cheapened in order to clear the market, creating some potential buying opportunities–particularly in the secondary market.

Market Wisdom

In accepting the Nobel Prize for economics, Economist  Friedrich Hayek counseled being “apprehensive” regarding “the uncritical acceptance of assertions which have the appearance [emphasis Hayek’s] of being scientific.”

What looks superficially like the most scientific procedure is often the most unscientific, and, beyond this, that in these fields there are definite limits to what we can expect science to achieve. This means that to entrust to science – or to deliberate control according to scientific principles – more than scientific method can achieve may have deplorable effects.

“Friedrich August von Hayek – Prize Lecture: The Pretence of Knowledge”. Nobelprize.org.Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 7 Dec 2014.

The entire speech is worthwhile reading for any investor or student of economics.

The Bottom Line

Curve: The cautious stance is re-emphasized, given the recent weakness in the bond market and the heavy new issue supply. For investors with new money to put to work or reinvest, favoring the shorter end of the maturity (or duration) target range can make sense.

Credit: Holding a modest amount of credit risk can add some incremental income as well as diversification. If the economy continues to improve and pushes rates higher, that should also tighten credit spreads, which could offset some of the duration risk. But as always, when thinking about adding non-investment grade bonds, consider hiring a professional manager–either through an SMA, mutual fund or an ETF.

Structure: Premium bonds remain favored for their lower duration and higher cash flow.

Calls: Beware of the total call risk in portfolios. If you are going to accept call risk, be sure that you are getting paid to do so.

Products: Muni bond mutual fund and ETF inflows continue to be positive. Favor lower duration solutions. There is a new muni ETF offering that investors can consider as well. MCEF from FirstTrust invests in muni bond closed-end funds, and may offer attractive yields, but beware of the high duration and therefore interest rate risk.

Sellers: Investors who will be selling should pay attention to the new issue calendar and the overall tone of the bond markets.

Have a great week, and thanks for reading. Let me know if you have any questions.

Pat

 

catchup-bottle-1132-by-468

This is not investment advice. The opinions expressed and the information contained herein are based on sources believed to be reliable, but accuracy or appropriateness is not guaranteed and are subject to change without notice. Past performance is interesting but is not a guarantee of future results. Investments in bonds are subject to gains/losses based on the level of interest rates, market conditions and credit quality of the issuer. Indices are not available for direct investment, although in some cases, there may be ETFs available designed to track some of the indices shown. The author does not provide investment, tax, legal or accounting advice. Investors should consult with their own advisor and fully understand their own situation when considering changes to their strategy, tactics or individual investments. Additional information available upon request.
©2016 Patrick F. Luby
All Rights Reserved

 

 

The Case for Muni ETFs

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Join me in Newport Beach at the world’s largest fixed income ETF conference, where I will present “The Case For Muni Bonds: Active Vs. Passive In The Puerto Rico Era.”

Click here to see the complete agenda or to reserve a seat.

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Muni Catchup 10/10

seeing-red2This week in The Muni Catchup:

  • Seeing Red
  • Duration is No Longer Your Friend
  • Market & Calendar Preview
  • Market Wisdom
  • Money Market Fund Assets & Flows
  • The Bottom Line

Seeing Red

Take a look at the recent month-by-month total returns for the muni market and you’ll see that even though the YTD returns are positive, the recent trend suggests a change in momentum.

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As shown in the table below, duration is no longer your friend. When the bond markets are rallying (prices rising/yields declining), more duration often can mean more return, but when the market shifts, more duration can mean more downside risk. With the end of the week sell-off in bonds, the performance of the S&P Dow Jones muni indices revealed the impact of higher duration. (The list below is sorted in duration order.)

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By the way, I’m assuming that you have already looked at and printed out this week’s Context page. If you haven’t, please go do that now.

Preview

Even with the 4-day week in the bond market, new issue muni supply remains robust, with $8.4 billion scheduled for the week. The U.S. Treasury will be auctioning 3, 10 and 30-year debt this week, so the Treasury market is likely to remain soft in advance of that new supply coming into the market. However, keep in mind that bond fund flows remain positive, so if there is strong enough demand to absorb this week’s heavy muni and Treasury supply, don’t be surprised if yields finish the week lower.

Important Dates

10/10 Monday Columbus Day stocks open / bonds closed
10/12 Wednesday Yom Kippur
10/14 Friday effective date for Money Market Fund reform
11/1 & 2 Tue & Wed FOMC meets
11/2 & 3 Wed & Thu Inside ETFs: Inside Fixed Income 2016
11/8 Tuesday Election Day
11/11 Friday Veterans Day stocks open / bonds closed
11/24 Thursday Thanksgiving Day all U.S. markets closed
12/13 & 14 Tue & Wed FOMC meets
12/25 Sunday Christmas Day
12/25 Sunday Chanakuh begins
12/26 Monday Christmas Observed all U.S. markets closed
12/30 Friday Last Trade Date of the year bonds close early

Here’s a link to the complete economic calendar on the MSRB’s EMMA website.

Market Wisdom

Targeting arbitrary hurdles quickly leads to undisciplined and, in the end, unproductive, investment management.

From Due Diligence, by Christopher Carosa.

This quote points out the importance of planning as the necessary prerequisite to investing. None of us can control the market or the returns available, but we can control our asset allocation, investment selection and costs. Yes, it is important to watch the benchmarks to follow the market, but it is also important to have a plan (or investment policy) and to stick with it.

Money Market Funds Update

Tax-exempt money market funds declined by $2.6 billion last week, but the big number there is the continued dramatic decline in the assets for institutional tax-exempt money market funds. If you missed it, see last week’s Catchup for more background on money market fund reform.

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Source: ICI

The Bottom Line

Shortened week and heavy supply may present some buying opportunities for investors.

Curve: Continue with the cautious stance as it pertains to maturity selection. For investors with new money to put to work or reinvest, favoring the shorter end of your maturity (or duration) target range can make sense.

Credit: Holding a modest amount of credit risk can add some incremental income as well as diversification. If the economy continues to improve and pushes rates higher, that should also tighten credit spreads, which could offset some of the duration risk. But as always, if you’re thinking about adding non-investment grade bonds, consider hiring a professional manager–either through an SMA, mutual fund or an ETF.

Structure: Premium bonds remain favored for their lower duration and higher cash flow. Some pre-refunded bonds have been offered at more than 100% of Treasury yields recently, making the yields attractive for “pre-re” buyers.

Calls: Beware of the total call risk in portfolios. There are attractive opportunities right now for short call “kicker” bonds that would have higher yields to maturity if they don’t get called–but be sure that you are well compensated for that extension risk. If you are going to accept call risk, be sure that you are getting paid to do so.

Products: Muni bond mutual fund and ETF inflows continue to be positive. Favor lower duration solutions.

Sellers: Investors who will be selling should pay attention to the calendar and the overall tone of the bond markets–watch the 10-year U.S. Treasury for direction. If the Treasury auctions do well, look for a better bid-side to the market later in the week.

Have a great week, and thanks for reading. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Pat

 

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This is not investment advice. The opinions expressed and the information contained herein are based on sources believed to be reliable, but accuracy or appropriateness is not guaranteed and are subject to change without notice. Past performance is interesting but is not a guarantee of future results. Investments in bonds are subject to gains/losses based on the level of interest rates, market conditions and credit quality of the issuer. Indices are not available for direct investment, although in some cases, there may be ETFs available designed to track some of the indices shown. The author does not provide investment, tax, legal or accounting advice. Investors should consult with their own advisor and fully understand their own situation when considering changes to their strategy, tactics or individual investments. Additional information available upon request.
©2016 Patrick F. Luby
All Rights Reserved

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