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Rieger Report: The World is Flat

History of the 401(k)

Green Bond Update for May 2017

The Wind Bloweth Where It Listeth…

100 Days Later in Mexico

Rieger Report: The World is Flat

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J.R. Rieger

Head of Fixed Income Indices

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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There have been a myriad of articles with headlines and content about rising rates, the coming evisceration and other zombie apocalypse events in the bond markets.   There can be no doubt that yields for fixed income asset classes are low and there is also no doubt that rates will eventually be higher.  How, when and what that will look like is a total unknown.  Meanwhile, the bond yield world is flat.  Bond yields have been flat in 2017 and have lots of reasons why they could remain in a range for the near term. A Rieger Report on December 30, 2016 outlined a number of those factors, many of which still exist today.

Graph 1) Yields of select asset class indices for the period of January 2 through May 23, 2017:

Source:: S&P Dow Jones Indices, LLC. Data as of May 23, 2017. Chart is provided for illustrative purposes. It is not possible to invest directly in an index. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

What could hold yields down for longer?

  • Uncertainty and the risk-off trade: including Trump, Russia, Syria, China, Brazil, energy, Terrorism/ISIS, Brexit, EU, Inflation/lack of inflation to name a few
  • Low/zero/negative yield environment in Europe and Japan (search for yield)
  • Strong U.S. Dollar
  • New issue supply of investment grade municipal bonds  off the pace set in 2016
  • New issue supply of investment grade U.S. corporate bonds is also off pace for the last three month period vs same period as last year

The value proposition for bonds also remains: predictable income, lower volatility than equities and commodities and continue to be diversifying asset classes.

Eventually rates will rise, the shape of the curve will change and prices will fall and yields will become attractive.  Until then the yield world is flat.

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

History of the 401(k)

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Tim Kohn

Head of DC Services and Vice President

Dimensional Fund Advisors

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Thirty-nine years ago, the Revenue Act of 1978 was signed, adding section 401(k) to the Internal Revenue Code and creating the first US defined contribution plans. While the code itself simply described a provision under which employees would not be taxed on the portion of income they chose to receive as deferred compensation, it ushered in a new era in retirement saving by paving the way for the modern 401(k) plan.

Although initially assailed as a savings plan for the rich, Richard Stanger—the principal author of the legislation—commented, “We were confident that assets would flow into the system in a reasonable way, not just from the highly compensated, but from the entire workforce.”[1] By 1990 the number of plans offering a 401(k) feature grew to over 97 thousand with 20 million active participants and $385 billion in assets.[2] However, as the equity bull market in the 1990s swelled, so did fund options. It was not uncommon for a plan lineup to consist of 30-50 funds, many of which were redundant. This excess eventually gave way to regulatory oversight, increased fund lineup scrutiny, and the implementation of choice architecture in plan design.

Yet, despite the added surveillance, plan lineup growth continued. In an effort to mitigate the challenges of self-directed investing, managers created target-date funds (TDFs). The prevalence of TDFs would increase dramatically with the passage of the Pension Protection Act of 2006. Now, equipped with an approved set of default investment options, plan sponsors could implement auto-enrollment and auto-escalation of savings rates in an effort to help improve participants’ retirement outcomes.[3] These advances transformed the 401(k) market into the one we recognize today.

Far from perfect and far from failure, America’s ERISA[4] voluntary employer-sponsored retirement system passed its 40th anniversary in 2014 with an estimated 55 million active participants and $4.6 trillion dollars saved.[5] According to Stanger, “The Defined Contribution system is a really good example of something done well; the government enabled it and let the private market innovate. This same framework will address future shortcomings and ensure continued success.”[6] As we look to the future I hope that same creativity, innovation, and focus on outcomes will proliferate the next generation of retirement investment strategies. Since the goal of a retirement account, for many plan participants, is to provide a steady stream of income that will sustain their standard of living in retirement, next generation retirement investment strategies should likewise be aligned with this goal. That alignment entails managing risks that are relevant to retirement income by allocating assets over time in a way that balances the tradeoff between asset growth and income risk management, and providing meaningful communication to participants that enables them to monitor performance in income units rather than just an account balance. This framework is well reflected in the S&P Shift to Retirement Income and Decumulation (STRIDE) Index Series which I believe can serve as the appropriate benchmark for next generation retirement strategies.

The S&P STRIDE INDEX is a product of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC or its affiliates (“SPDJI”), and has been licensed for use by Dimensional Fund Advisors LP (“Dimensional”). Standard & Poor’s® and S&P® are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC (“S&P”); Dow Jones® is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC (“Dow Jones”); these trademarks have been licensed for use by SPDJI and sublicensed for certain purposes by Dimensional. Dimensional’s Products, as defined by Dimensional from time to time, are not sponsored, endorsed, sold, or promoted by SPDJI, S&P, Dow Jones, or their respective affiliates, and none of such parties make any representation regarding the advisability of investing in such products nor do they have any liability for any errors, omissions, or interruptions of the S&P STRIDE Index.

Dimensional Fund Advisors LP receives compensation from S&P Dow Jones Indices in connection with licensing rights to S&P STRIDE Indices.

Dimensional Fund Advisors LP is an investment advisor registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

[1] Jim Miller, “In 401(k) We Trust”, DC Dimensions, page 2 (Summer 2014)

[2] “History of 401(k) Plans: An Update”, Employee Benefits Research Institute (February 2005)

[3] Shlomo Benartzi and  Richard Thaler, “Behavioral Economics and the Retirement Savings Crisis”, Science, Vol. 339, Issue 6124, pp. 1152-1153 (March 2013)

[4] Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974

[5] Jack VanDerhei,  Sarah Holden,  Luis Alonso, and Steven Bass, “401(k) Plan Asset Allocation, Account Balances, and Loan Activity in 2014”, Employee Benefits Research Institute (August 2016)

[6] Jim Miller, “In 401(k) We Trust”, DC Dimensions, page 7 (Summer 2014)

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

Green Bond Update for May 2017

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Dennis Badlyans

Associate Director, Global Research & Design

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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Green bond Issuance picked up in the first two weeks in May compared with the previous two-week period.  Twenty new green labeled bond offerings were announced, including 11 U.S. municipal offerings with maturity structure (215 unique instruments).  Issuance totaled USD 7.56 billion, of which USD 2.4 billion was in U.S. municipal bonds.  Of note, German development bank KFW issued a medium term note (MTN) for EUR 2 billion (USD 2.2 billion) and Brazilian development bank (BNDS) issued a dual registered (144a and Reg-S) bond in the euro-dollar market worth USD 1 billion.

With the exception of January 2017, when France issued its first green treasury bond—which set a new record for size (USD 7.5 billion) in the green bond market—May 2017 is poised to set a new record for issuance.

Total issuance of bonds labeled as green in 2017 is nearing USD 38 billion and is positioned to surpass 2016 issuance, but the pace will need to accelerate for issuance to reach analyst expectations of USD 150 billion.

Related Indices:

S&P Green Bond Index

S&P Green Bond Select Index

Note that not all bonds listed above may be eligible for index inclusion.  Please see the methodology documents for further details.

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

The Wind Bloweth Where It Listeth…

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Fei Mei Chan

Director, Index Investment Strategy

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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In the latest quarterly rebalance (effective at market close on May 19, 2017), the S&P 500 Low Volatility Index added more weight from the technology sector. The jump from 7% to 12% is the largest increase for any sector. Meanwhile, the index continued to shed weight in Consumer Staples and Utilities, historically the stalwarts of Low Volatility.

Notably, this composition also marks the highest weighting in Technology in the history of the S&P 500 Low Volatility Index. Since the index measures the performance of the 100 least volatile stocks in the S&P 500, it has typically had very little, if any, technology exposure.

That Low Volatility had no weight in Technology just a year ago is also noteworthy. The index’s methodology seeks out low volatility at the stock level, but we often look to the S&P 500 sectors as a loose proxy to gather insight.

Continuing their recent trend, all 11 sectors of the S&P 500 declined in volatility as compared to three months ago. The biggest decliners were Energy, Materials, Technology and Consumer Discretionary. And since most things are relative, stocks in Consumer Staples and Utilities had to move aside to make room.

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

100 Days Later in Mexico

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Jaime Merino

Director, Asset Owners Channel

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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100 days…is it a milestone?  Is it a key number?  I’m not sure, but everybody looks like they love to write about it, so I will too.  What I know is in Mexico we have a saying that goes, “If the U.S. sneezes, Mexico gets a cold.”  Following Dennis Badlyans’s post “Does the Outperformance of UDIbonos to MBonos Have Legs?” from January, let’s see how Mexico’s fixed income indices have performed after 100 days with Donald Trump as President of the U.S., as well as how they had performed 100 days before the election when the polls were in the other direction.  Furthermore, how had they performed in the days from the election until he began his presidency?  Eight years ago we were living in different times but, how did the indices perform when Barack Obama began his administration?

First, let’s start by taking a look at Exhibit 1, which shows the overnight reference rate, published by Mexico’s Central Bank (Banxico) and year-over-year inflation over the past 10 years.

We can see for the overnight reference rate that recent rates are at the same levels as eight years ago, but the trend is the other way around from December 2015 until now, as interest rates have risen 350 bps, following or anticipating U.S. Fed movements.  As for inflation, Mexico is hitting the same numbers as it was eight or nine years ago, after closing December 2015 with a historical minimum of 2.13% and closing April 2017 with 5.82%, far from Banxico’s objective of 3%.  One key component to this movement has been the country’s currency—from December 2015 until now, the Mexican peso has depreciated more than 20% (see Exhibit 2).

Exhibit 3 shows that 100 days before the election day in 2016, the Mexican peso gained 3% against the U.S. dollar, which could be attributed to the polls at the time.  On the other hand, 100 days after Trump started his administration, the currency appreciated more than 14%.  However, if we look at the period between Nov. 8, 2016 and Jan., 18, 2017, we can see a depreciation of 10.5%, with a historical EOD close for the Mexican peso on Jan. 10, 2017 of MXN 21.95 per dollar.  For Obama’s administration, in the same three windows, we can see a depreciation of 24% 100 days prior election, almost 9% between election day and the start of his administration, and only a 2% appreciation in his first 100 days.  The most relevant part of inflation for both is in the term of 100 days after, where during the Obama period, inflation came down 7.5% and during Trump’s period, it went up 73%.

With all these movements, Exhibit 4 shows the annualized returns of five of Mexico’s fixed income indices.[1]  It is interesting that for Obama almost every index, in every window, had positive returns except for the S&P/BMV Government International UMS 1+ Year Bond Index 100 days after, where it was down almost 1%, due to an appreciation of the currency.  For Trump, most of the indices have been outperforming except for the 100 days after period, even with the hikes in the interest rates from Banxico.  Exhibit 3 shows the yield for 5- and 10-year nominal bonds went down 30 bps and 54 bps, respectively, but we can see positive returns in the local indices.  Also with Obama, due to the appreciation of the Mexican peso, the UMS index delivered negative returns.

See you at the next milestone.

[1] More information about these indices can be found here: S&P/BMV Government CETES Bond Index, S&P/BMV Government MBONOS 1-5 Year Bond Index, S&P/BMV Government MBONOS 5-10 Year Bond Index, S&P/BMV Government Inflation-Linked UDIBONOS 1+ Year Bond Index, S&P/BMV Government International UMS 1+ Year Bond Index.

 

 

 

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