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How Cheap Gasoline Can Lead to Costly Insurance

Understanding the Risk and Return Drivers of Smart Beta Strategies

The Rieger Report: Munis Rich or Cheap? It's all relative

U.S. Treasuries: A Higher Chance of Lower Yields

Recession Angst

How Cheap Gasoline Can Lead to Costly Insurance

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Jason Giordano

Director, Fixed Income, Product Management

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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With oil prices at 12-year lows, drivers are spending less money to fill their tanks.  However, investors looking to insure themselves against the default risk of energy bonds are being asked to pay up.  Rapidly decreasing oil prices have had a negative impact on the forecast operating cash flows of energy companies.  As uncertainty rises, the cost of credit protection (i.e., credit default swaps [CDS]) within the energy sector has skyrocketed, as evidenced by the S&P/ISDA CDS U.S. Energy Select 10 (see Exhibit 1).  The index, which seeks to track the performance of a select number of reference entities in the U.S. energy market segment, was up 20% YTD and over 110% for the one-year period as of Jan. 15, 2016.  Comparatively, CDS spreads within the energy sector are currently 280 bps wider than those of high-yield U.S. corporate entities, as measured by the S&P/ISDA CDS U.S. High-Yield Index.  This is especially noteworthy given the recent fears in the high-yield market.

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High-yield bonds offer higher rates of interest, given the higher risk of default, than bonds issued by investment-grade corporations.  The S&P/ISDA CDS U.S. High-Yield Index is constructed using 80 equally weighted, five-year CDS contracts of the underlying reference entities.

While there is a strong correlation between CDS spreads and deteriorating credit, CDS spreads act more as a measure of the perceived risk of the underlying bond.  CDS spreads also depend on other factors such as market liquidity, counterparty risk, and interest rates.  It’s also worth mentioning that CDS buyers can seek insurance for credit events other than default.  For example, contracts can be written that protect investors against a credit downgrade from investment grade to below investment grade or “junk” status.

Looking further within the energy sector of the S&P 500®, performance of bonds and equity can be compared using the S&P 500 Energy Corporate Bond Index (TR) and the S&P 500 Energy (TR).  While the S&P 500 Energy Corporate Bond Index (TR) was down 10% over the one-year period, the YTD performance was fairly flat.  The S&P 500 Energy (TR), however, was down 24% and 6% across the same time horizons, respectively.

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Why the difference?  Also, why are bond prices not falling as CDS spreads spike?  It’s a great example of how the equity, bond, and CDS markets react to information and price risk differently.  Between the CDS and bond markets, historically speaking, CDS spreads tend to lead, and sometimes by a significant length of time.

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

Understanding the Risk and Return Drivers of Smart Beta Strategies

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Daniel Ung

Director

Global Research & Design

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Within the passive investment arena, smart beta strategies have witnessed a substantial growth in assets, and there is now a swathe of such strategies in the marketplace, many of which bear similar names and share similar objectives.  One may therefore expect that all these strategies are similar and that any differences would only elicit interest in academic circles, but our research suggests that the drivers of risk and return for these strategies can be poles apart, even though the strategies appear, at first glance, to be indistinguishable.

Optimized Minimum Variance or Simple Low Volatility: One and the Same Thing?
For example, the minimum variance and low volatility strategies share similar objectives in that they each target less-volatile stocks.  The main difference between the two derives from the strictness of their sector- and stock-level constraints.  Minimum variance applies strict constraints and involves optimization, whereas low volatility tends to involve selecting the least volatile stocks based on the last 12 months of standard deviation.

Exhibit 1 shows that these strategies were exposed to different fundamental factors from December 1994 to December 2014.  Less surprisingly, both strategies had lower market beta than the S&P 500®, and the simple low volatility strategy had a much lower exposure to price volatility than the minimum variance strategy.  More interestingly, both strategies had smaller market-cap stocks than the S&P 500.  They also had high exposure to high-dividend-yielding stocks.  These differences can also be seen through the different sector exposures of the two strategies.

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Additional research by S&P DJI shows that exposures can be different for other strategies (such as dividend strategies, quality, size, etc.), even though they may bear similar names.

For more information on our research, please click here, where you will also find details about:

  • How each of the smart beta strategies performed in different macroeconomic and market environments, and
  • What happens when a number of factors are blended together in multi-factor portfolios.

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

The Rieger Report: Munis Rich or Cheap? It's all relative

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J.R. Rieger

Head of Fixed Income Indices

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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Are U.S. municipal bonds rich or cheap relative to other fixed income asset classes?  It is all relative.  As of January 15th 2016, the yield to worst of investment grade bonds tracked in the S&P National AMT-Free Municipal Bond Index was a 1.8% (tax-free yield).  The Taxable Equivalent Yield (TEY) of those bonds using a 35% tax-rate assumption would be 2.77% (the required yield of a taxable bond to keep the same interest income after taxes).

Historically, the traditional measure of rich or cheap for municipal bonds has been the tax-free yield to U.S. Treasury yield ratio. Prior to quantitative easing that rations had been about 75 – 80%.  By most measures, the yields of municipal bonds remain higher than the historical trend.  For example, the investment grade non-callable municipal bonds maturing in 2024 tracked in the S&P AMT-Free Municipal Series 2024 Index ended at a yield of 1.87% verses the yield of the S&P/BGCantor Current 10 Year U.S. Treasury Bond Index yield of 2.03%…or 92% of the U.S. Treasury yield.

When comparing municipals to corporates we get a different picture:

Municipal bonds are currently rich when comparing tax-free municipal bonds to investment grade corporate bonds.  To make a fair comparison between the two asset classes indices were selected that have comparable weighted average modified durations:  S&P National AMT-Free Municipal Bond Index and the S&P 500 5-7 Year Investment Grade Corporate Bond Index.  The green line in the chart below is the Taxable Equivalent Yield of bonds in the S&P National AMT-Free Municipal Bond Index again using a 35% tax-rate assumption.  Yields of investment grade municipal bonds have now fallen to levels that in relative terms make them ‘rich’ to corporate bonds.  Higher or lower tax assumptions would change the outcome of the graph.

Chart 1: Yields of select indices

Blog chart 1 Jan 15 2016

Weighted modified durations as of January 15, 2016:

S&P National AMT-Free Municipal Bond Index: 4.72

S&P 500 5 -7 Year Investment Grade Corporate Bond Index: 5.25

No tax advice is provided  or intended in this blog. Taxable Equivalent Yields are used as a comparative measure only .

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

U.S. Treasuries: A Higher Chance of Lower Yields

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Kevin Horan

Director, Fixed Income Indices

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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The yield-to-worst of the 10-Year U.S. Treasury has been dancing around 2% and dipped below 2% in intraday trading on Jan. 15, 2016.  The night before, the S&P/BGCantor Current 10 Year U.S. Treasury Bond Index closed at 2.09%.  The average yield of the 10-year for 2015 was 2.13%, while 2016 began at 2.30% for the index.  Since the beginning of the year, yields have headed lower and are now equivalent to levels seen in October 2015.

Post-Fed rate increase and halfway through the first month of 2016, Treasuries prices have increased, as some investors have moved toward safe haven assets in response to concerns over dangers in the U.S. economic recovery, which have been brought on by possible credit problems in energy and commodity companies due to the low price of oil.

Also contributing to the move would be the recent Chinese currency devaluation, a selloff in Chinese stocks, and lower Chinese demand of commodities, possibly leading to downward risk in inflation levels.

News from China added to other global issues, such as continued European economic stimulus, the threat of terrorism, and languishing global inflation, point to yields possibly remaining lower in 2016 before going higher.

Exhibit 1: S&P/BGCantor Current 10 Year U.S. Treasury Bond Index Yield-to-Worst
YTW history of the S&PBGCantor Current 10 Year U.S. Treasury Bond Index

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC.  Data as of Jan. 14, 2016.  Past performance is no guarantee of future results.  Chart is provided for illustrative purposes.

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

Recession Angst

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David Blitzer

Managing Director and Chairman of the Index Committee

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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Stock market turmoil is generating fears and predictions of a 2016 recession.  The S&P 500 and the Dow dropped  more than 10% from recent record highs to correction levels, but none of this guarantees a recession.  In fact, the stock market is notorious for predicting recessions –and many other things – that never happened.  The chart shows the S&P 500 since 1948 with vertical areas marking recessions.  The market does drop before each recession, but it also drops several times where there is no recession.  In fact the biggest drop of all – October 19, 1987 – didn’t point to a recession.

A better place to look for recession warnings is in the broader economy – and the news there is better than in the market. A reliable short term indicator is the weekly unemployment insurance claims report – the number of people recently laid off filing their first claim. Anything under 300 thousand is considered good news, anything over 400,000 spells recession.  The numbers have been under the 300 thousand mark for a some time.

Some analysts are arguing that the Fed erred in raising the Fed funds rate last month and has set the stage for a recession. For politicians, if the market didn’t signal recession than the Fed is causing one. However, the chart shows the Fed funds rate since the mid-1950s and recessions. Interest rates do rise before recessions, but there are a lot of false signals and long lead times.

There will be another recession, and no one knows when it will begin or how nasty it will be. Despite 2016’s poor start on Wall Street, most of the economic indicators are positive.  If everyone expects a recession, stops spending, starts hoarding their money we will get a recession.

Data for the S&P 500 chart from S&P Dow Jones Indices, Recession dates from the National Bureau of Economic Research. Charts marked FRED are from the Federal Reserve Bank fo St. Louis economic data.

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