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Volatility skips over the municipal bond market

Secured, Or Unsecured, That Is The Question

Tennis Without a Net

Gold’s Crash Outshines the Need for Heat

Equity Auguries?

Volatility skips over the municipal bond market

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J.R. Rieger

Head of Fixed Income Indices

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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The S&P National AMT-Free Municipal Bond Index is up 1.25% year to date improving by 0.91% so far in April. Exactly where we were at the end of last week.

The ‘belly’ of the curve, or the 5 to 10 year maturity range, is performing as well as longer term bonds as the weighted average yield of bonds in the 5 year S&P AMT-Free Muni Series 2018 Index have come down by 11 bps in April, exactly where we were at the end of last week, to return 1.21% year to date.  Ten year bonds in the 2023 Index have improved by 25bps to end at a weighted average yield of 2.25%.

Even with a slip of 3 bps to the cheaper since month end, the high yield municipal bond market tracked by the S&P Municipal Bond High Yield Index remains on track to making April the 17th consecutive month in a row where it has seen a positive monthly return. Year to date the high yield municipal bond market has returned 2.88% with April contributing 0.75% so far. The yield to worst of these bonds is a 5.27% (tax-free) while investment grade corporate bonds in the S&P U.S. Issued High Yield Corporate Bond Index have a weighted average yield to worst of 5.04% (taxable).

Comparing municipal bonds to other asset classes:

 

 

The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.

Secured, Or Unsecured, That Is The Question

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Kevin Horan

Director, Fixed Income Indices

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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The S&P U.S. Issued High Yield Corporate Bond Index is returning 4.01% year-to-date with a weighted average yield of 5.78%.  Similar to high yield bonds—whose credit ratings are below the investment grade cutoff of ‘BBB’ assigned by the rating agencies—are senior loans. William Shakespeare’s famous quote from Hamlet, “To be, or not to be, that is the question” can be rephrased by investors comparing high yield to senior loans as “secured, or unsecured, that is the question,” when pondering the risks of each product. Senior loans rank higher in the capital structure and are secured to the assets of the business, unlike the unsecured nature of high yield bonds. The loan’s coupon is typically the higher of a floor rate or a certain spread over three-month LIBOR. Because their coupons are tied to a short-term rate, senior loans have less interest rate risk and are considered a floating rate instrument. In a rising rate environment, senior loans are at an advantage to high yield whose bullet structure and fixed coupon would be negatively affected. Not surprisingly, senior loans tend to have slightly smaller, but less volatile returns than high yield bonds (See Total Returns table).

When investing in lower rated credit instruments, the risk of default should always be a concern. Though now, after the 2008 financial crisis, the majority of companies have put their balance sheets back in relatively good financial shape. Presently, default rates are near historical lows, with senior loan defaults at 1.4% and high yield defaults at 2.3%.

Weighing the risks, both senior loans and high yield bonds are attractive investments. Not only because of their higher yields, but also because they are relatively short investments which, when compared to other long term investments, won’t be as affected by changes in long term rates. The duration of the S&P U.S. Issued High Yield Corporate Bond Index is 5 years, while the average life of senior loan is 4.48 years as measured by the S&P/LSTA U.S. Leveraged Loan 100 Index.

An additional benefit of these two investment choices is that their returns are negatively correlated to other markets, so as one product is underperforming the other is providing return (See Correlation Table).

 

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The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.

Tennis Without a Net

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Craig Lazzara

Managing Director and Global Head of Index Investment Strategy

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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Indices existed well before the launch of indexed financial products. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, e.g., goes back to 1896; the first indexed institutional portfolios appeared in the 1970s, the first index mutual fund in 1976, and the first index-tracking exchange traded funds in the 1990s. In all these cases, the index provider was independent of the provider of the index-linked financial product.

We think that this independence is an under-appreciated aspect of the success and growth of indexed assets. There are three distinct steps that separate the investor from the product:

  • Data — price and volume data must first be created (on a securities exchange or otherwise) and aggregated
  • Index — using price data and other inputs, an index is created
  • Product — an investment product is created by linking to an index

Independent index providers (ourselves prominent among them) occupy only the middle stage of this process.

To see why this is important, consider what happens when the second step is combined with either the first or the third. For an example of why combining the first two steps (data generation and index creation) is undesirable, think of the word “LIBOR.” The LIBOR scandals of the last year were only possible because the same entities controlled both the data and the index. An independent provider would have had the ability to audit and challenge the raw inputs, helping to insure the integrity if the index creation process.

Combining steps two and three can be equally problematic, if less obviously so. When the same entity provides both index and product, how can the end user assess the performance of the index portfolio manager? And how can he know whether index construction decisions are being driven by the best interests of the client or by the commercial interests of the product provider?

Investing in an indexed product without an independent index provider is like playing tennis without a net. It may be good exercise, but it’s not the same game.

The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.

Gold’s Crash Outshines the Need for Heat

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Jodie Gunzberg

Managing Director, Head of U.S. Equities

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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Year-to-Date S&P GSCI is off 6.81%

  • S&P GSCI Gold had its biggest one day loss ever,-9.3%, on April 15, 2013, since its inception on Jan 6, 1978, and hit its lowest level since Feb 2, 2011. The decline was due to worries about central bank sales, especially from Cyprus, but also, from the Fed winding down bond purchases.  However, buying improved from India ahead of the Akshaya Tritiya, a gold buying festival, next month.  Also, the wedding season has started and will continue until June. The S&P GSCI Silver hit its lowest level on April 19, 2013 since Oct 4, 2010.  On April 15, 2013, the S&P GSCI Silver had its 6th biggest one-day drop, 11.3%,  since its inception on Jan 5, 1973.
  • Weak economic data including cooling factory activity and a rise in jobless claims drove the S&P GSCI Energy down 2.9% last week for a total loss in April of 8.8%.  The S&P GSCI Unleaded Gasoline lost 11.3% MTD after the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported gasoline demand was at a 16-year low. Despite the fall across the energy sector, the S&P GSCI Natural Gas added 4.1% last week bringing the MTD and YTD returns up to 9.2% and 26.7%, respectively. continues to rally from cold weather and high electric power sector demand, especially as stricter environmental rules make coal burning more expensive.
  • Cold weather also increased demand for warm drinks like hot cocoa and coffee as better-than-expected first-quarter North American cocoa grindings rose nearly 6%. Also, Brazil’s coffee areas have moved northwards, so the frost may not affect the crop as much as in past years as the frost-risk period approaches. To sweeten the softs, the harvest of cane and output of sugar was slowed by a very rainy start to April. The S&P GSCI Cocoa, Coffee, and Sugar, are up 6.7%, 2.6%, and 1.3%, respectively MTD.

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Index Performance through April, 19, 2013

 

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The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.

Equity Auguries?

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Craig Lazzara

Managing Director and Global Head of Index Investment Strategy

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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The market for credit default swaps is typically not well-understood by equity investors (myself emphatically included).  This is unfortunate, since the price of insuring a company’s bonds (which is what a CDS measures) can sometimes provide insight into the same company’s equity securities.

For example, in September 2012, the S&P 500 financials sector began to open up a large performance advantage over the S&P 500, after running neck and neck with the 500 earlier in the year.  But the relative price of insuring financial sector debt began to cheapen dramatically in May, four months before the start of the equity rally, as shown at http://us.spindices.com/documents/research/iis-leading-indicator-or-confirming-evidence.pdf.

More recently, U.S. bank stocks performed much better than their European counterparts in the first quarter of 2013.  This seems appropriate in view of the continuing supply of Cypriot headlines, although it’s notable that until mid-February the Europeans were in the lead.  But the relative cost of insuring European bank debt began to increase in January – well before the equity markets adjusted.  In anthropomorphic terms, the equity and CDS markets temporarily “disagreed;” the disagreement was resolved in February and March when European bank stocks underperformed (by quite a lot).  (See http://us.spindices.com/documents/research/iis-european-bank-woes-reflected-across-asset-classes.pdf for more details.)

It appears, at least on the surface, that in these two cases movements in CDS prices foreshadowed later developments in the equity market.  Of course two anecdotes do not a summer make.  But the interconnections are none the less intriguing.  In a world of integrated capital markets, equity and fixed income markets probably can’t agree to disagree for long.

The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.