Investment Themes

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Think Rates Will Stay Low? Consider Preferreds Over High Yield Bonds

Passive Investing can be good for your retirement and health

Asian Fixed Income: The Philippines After the Key Overnight Rate Cut

ESG Integration for the Masses

The Walking Dead Return (as Active ETFs)

Think Rates Will Stay Low? Consider Preferreds Over High Yield Bonds

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Graham Day

Head of Product & Research

Elkhorn

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As income seekers are forced to take additional risk to meet income needs in today’s near zero interest rate environment, preferreds may be considered over high yield bonds for the following five reasons:

1. Significantly higher credit quality
2. Comparable yields and lower volatility
3. Tax advantages on income
4. Call risk appears limited in near term for preferreds
5. Lower exposure to energy and oil drawdowns

Higher Credit Quality, Lower Volatility and Comparable Yields
Preferreds have significantly higher credit quality than high yield bonds, have exhibited lower volatility and can offer similar yields with potential tax advantages on income as some preferreds provide QDI.

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Call Risk Appears Limited for Preferreds
Both preferreds and high yield bonds share call risk, though preferreds tend to have more callable issues. The analysis of the S&P U.S. Preferred Stock Index shows that if all preferreds at increased risk of being called are indeed called over the next three years, preferreds would lose approximately 17bps per year versus high yield. For yield-focused investors, the preferreds’ call risk appears insignificant.

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Low Exposure to Energy – High Yield bonds continue to be heavily influenced by energy prices.
High yield has both direct and indirect exposure to energy and has been heavily influenced by oil’s extreme volatility. Preferreds have little to no exposure to energy and may help investors diversify their risk away from energy sensitive assets like high yield bonds.

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Conclusion
Within the preferreds space, high quality, investment grade preferreds offer investors access to preferreds while providing unique exposure outside of banks or the UK as well as a defensive tilt to hedge against down markets. In summary, preferreds appear well positioned against high yield bonds for investors looking for a combination of higher yields and lower risks.

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

Passive Investing can be good for your retirement and health

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Michael Mell

Senior Director, Custom Indices

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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In the print edition of the Wall Street Journal this weekend, there were two unrelated stories side by side, one about a firm’s self-dealing with 401(k) and another about Medicare.  After reading them together it became clear that these seeming unrelated stories unintentionally show that while active funds can be bad for your retirement and health, passive investing can be good for your retirement and health.  Let me explain.

In “Self-Dealing With 401(k),” we find an unhappy plan participant pointing out that one of the active funds offered by the plan had abysmal performance.  For the five years up until June 30, 2016, it posted an annual return of 4.7% versus 12.1% for its benchmark, the S&P 500.  To add insult to injury, the story reports that the expense ratio of this poorly performing active fund (0.8%) is far higher than an institutional index fund that tracks the S&P 500 (0.02%).  In the suit filed by this plan participant, the complaint says “plan participants would have had USD 130 million more had they instead been in an index fund that roughly matched the market.” That’s a decent amount of money that could have helped out with those participants’ retirement.

The next story about Medicare (arguably a topic many retirees care about), Laura Saunders discusses how many high-income Americans will be subject to increases in premium charges and the key number for planning is the modified, adjusted, gross income (AGI), which usually means a person’s adjusted gross income.  The higher it is, the more some will pay for Medicare.  So her piece goes into detail about how to keep one’s AGI down using charitable contributions, Roth IRAs, timing the receipt of income, etc., but it’s under the managing capital gains and losses section where we find this key observation, “passive investments such as broad-based index funds tend to pay out less annually in capital gains” and it’s taxable capital gains that can raise an AGI.

Were these two pieces intentionally published side by side in the print edition?  Probably not because I don’t think the authors thought someone from the indexing industry would see that taken together, both stories created a real and tangible case study for those thinking about retirement and Medicare to embrace passive investing as way to better prepare themselves.  Lest this observation be taken as merely anecdotal evidence, I will conclude by pointing out “that within domestic equity, the majority of managers in nearly every category underperformed their respective benchmarks over the five-year horizon, for both retail funds and institutional accounts.”

 

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

Asian Fixed Income: The Philippines After the Key Overnight Rate Cut

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Michele Leung

Director, Fixed Income Indices

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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The Central Bank of the Philippines unexpectedly lowered the key overnight rate to 3% from 4% on June 3, 2016, as it shifted to an interest rate corridor system to “improve the transmission of monetary policy.”[1]  Sovereign bonds have had a strong rally since then; the total return rose 10.82% YTD, while the yield-to-maturity tightened 103 bps to 3.21%, according to the S&P Philippines Sovereign Bond Index as of Aug. 4, 2016.

The S&P Philippines Government Bond Index, which seeks to track the performance of sovereign bonds, government bills, and agency bonds, rose 10.58% in the same period.  Government bonds represent 89% of the overall fixed income market in the Philippines, with a total market value of PHP 4.3 trillion.

Additionally, the corporate bond market grew steadily over the 10-year period ending Aug. 4, 2016.  The three biggest corporate issuers are Ayala Land, Ayala Corp, and SM Prime Holdings.  Though the yield-to-maturity of the S&P Philippines Corporate Bond Index tightened 79 bps to 4.08% YTD, the yields remained attractive for the modified duration, at 4.06%.

The S&P Philippines Bond Index was the second outperformer YTD among the 10 Pan-Asian countries, delivering a 10.08% YTD total return as of Aug. 4, 2016.  The S&P Indonesia Bond Index was the best performer and gained 16.19% during the same period.

The Central Bank of the Philippines kept its benchmark interest rate unchanged on June 23, 2016, while indicating that average inflation is likely to settle near the lower edge of the inflation target of 2%-4% this year.  The next scheduled interest rate decision will be on Aug. 11, 2016.

Exhibit 1: The S&P Philippines Bond Index, S&P Philippines Government Bond Index, and S&P Philippines Corporate Bond Index 2016 YTD Total Return

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[1] Source: Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP). Data as of May 16, 2016. http://www.bsp.gov.ph/publications/media.asp?id=4063

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

ESG Integration for the Masses

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Guido Giese

PhD, Executive Director, Head of Indices

RobecoSAM

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Historically, ESG indices have not attracted asset volumes comparable to smart beta index strategies.  This could be attributed to the fact that market participants and academics alike have struggled to link ESG-based strategies with financial performance.

As researchers shift their focus from how to study ESG to how to integrate ESG data into products and indices, two key issues related with integrating ESG data have come to light that may be the reason some market participants investors have held back from taking the plunge.

  • Aggregate ESG scores are highly correlated to existing allocation factors such as country, sector, or size and are even correlated to performance factors such as dividend yield and volatility. Therefore, the performance of any strategy or index that uses these ESG ratings as input will be dominated by these factor exposures, which has prevented these ESG ratings from being used as stand-alone performance factors.
  • ESG ratings are broad in the sense that they aggregate hundreds of ESG indicators into one single rating. This is in contrast to common factors such as value or momentum, which are based on just a few data points.  Integrating so many different indicators into an aggregate score creates the possibility of “diluting” a potential performance signal in the data, as some ESG indicators that do have performance potential will be aggregated with other indicators that are not necessarily linked to stock performance.

A new scoring approach called “Smart ESG” developed by RobecoSAM not only proves that ESG indicators can in fact be applied as stand-alone performance factors, but that they can also positively affect financial performance.

Smart ESG uses traditional ESG indicators as input, but it ensures that the aggregate score is uncorrelated to known factors and attributes the highest weight in the scoring process to those ESG indicators that have been found to predict stock performance, based on an in-depth and systematic factor testing of each individual ESG indicator per GICS® industry.

The outcome of this new scoring process is a set of so-called “ESG factor scores” that, when uploaded into a traditional factor model, show a positive information ratio of about 0.8 and are uncorrelated to all known factors.

This new ESG factor score is the basis of the new S&P ESG Index Series, a set of ESG indices launched in February 2016.  The S&P ESG Index Series includes the S&P 1200 Global ESG Index, S&P 500® ESG Index, S&P Europe 350 ESG Index, and the S&P/TOPIX 150 ESG Index.  This series is unique in the sense that it is the first global ESG index group that uses ESG as a smart beta factor.  These indices are weighted only by their ESG factor scores and show strong performance figures when compared to their market-cap-weighted counterparts (see Exhibit 1).

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Market participants may be attracted to these indices due to the possibility of receiving an attractive financial return while also receiving a “social” return by tilting their allocations toward more sustainable companies.  This is a major step toward making ESG integration even more accessible to a broader range of market participants.

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

The Walking Dead Return (as Active ETFs)

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Michael Mell

Senior Director, Custom Indices

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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In AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” we meet Rick Grimes after he awakens from a coma to find himself in post-apocalyptic world filled with legions of zombies.  Rick calls these zombies “walkers,” but as each season goes by (season seven starts this October) different groups name them other things, like biters, roamers, lurkers, etc.  The names don’t matter because there are more of them each day, all walking around aimlessly until they meet survivors in Rick’s group, who generally dispatch them efficiently.

In much the same way, active management is still losing out to passive index management, despite the numerous active funds that appear year after year.  According to the 2015 year end SPIVA® Europe Scorecard, which measures the performance of actively managed funds against their benchmarks, 84% of U.S. active funds underperformed the S&P 500 and an astounding 98% of U.S. active funds trailed their benchmark over the past 10 years.[1]  Interestingly, Moody’s recently found that the proliferation of funds is one cause for lackluster returns, as “there are more than 9,250 mutual funds and 10,000 hedge funds, compared with 3,691 stocks in the Wilshire 5000 and 505 stocks in the S&P 500®,”[2] and that this “overcapacity leads to investment mediocrity, since true talent is limited and size works against the investor in the form of increased transaction costs and difficulty in identifying scalable investment opportunities.”[3]

So what are all these active managers going to do?  Admit defeat and begin considering index-based solutions?  No—instead, the industry has decided to turn ETFs, arguably the most efficient vehicle for making low-cost, index-based solutions available, into a mechanism for spreading active management.  The walking dead are returning and there is no stopping them.

The SEC recently approved generic listing standards for actively managed ETFs, which currently “represent a small portion of the more-than $2 trillion invested in U.S. ETFs, with about $26 billion in assets, according to Morningstar Inc.  Still, the number of such funds sold has mushroomed to 154 this year from 40 five years ago and just 14 in 2008.  Actively managed funds have largely underperformed their passive rivals.”[4]  It’s important to understand that “the main distinction between active and passive, or index-based, ETFs is that the underlying holdings in the active ETFs are dynamic and managed similar to the way a mutual fund portfolio is managed.”[5]  To be fair, “sponsors of active ETFs say they are more attractive than actively managed mutual funds because they typically have lower management fees and feature a tax structure that makes them less costly than mutual funds.”[6]  Perhaps performance will improve only because the costs are lower?  However, even “after subtracting fees, returns from active management tend to be less than those from passive management.”[7]  Also, when thinking about active management in general, it’s key to note that “even when fund managers succeed in outperforming their peers in one year, they cannot easily repeat the feat in successive years, as many studies have shown.”[8]

So don’t expect these zombie active ETFs to come to life all of a sudden just because the wrapper for their active management approach is different.  Instead, you can expect to wake up one day like Rick Grimes and find that the more than 9,250 mutual funds and 10,000 hedge funds have been reanimated as active ETFs, most of whose strategies will likely continue to underperform passive investment management.

[1]  Year- End 2015 SPIVA® Europe Scorecard

[2]   Bloomberg News, http://www.fa-mag.com/news/more-pain-for-stock-pickers-as-moody-s-sees-big-shift-to-passive-28188.html?utm_source=FA+Subscribers&utm_campaign=19c5b45ee2-FAN_Mutual_Fund_News_072716&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_6bebc79291-19c5b45ee2-222305257.

[3]   Ibid.

[4]   Ackerman and Sarah Krouse, http://www.wsj.com/articles/sec-set-to-fast-track-certain-etfs-1469209240.

[5]   Jeff Benjamin, http://www.investmentnews.com/article/20160728/FREE/160729936/active-etfs-produce-few-stars-and-even-fewer-fans.

[6]   Ibid.

[7]   SPIVA Institutional Scorecard–How Much Do Fees Affect the Active Versus Passive Debate?

[8]   Jeff Sommer, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/24/your-money/the-high-fees-you-dont-see-can-hurt-you.html?_r=1

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