Munis: High Drama On The High Wire

by: VanEck

For months, if not for years, the municipal market has been walking the "high wire" of confidence and performance, all while certain high profile issuers (Stockton, Detroit, and Puerto Rico) and external events filled the headlines with decidedly unflattering commentary and predictions. It seems that friends and fans of the muni asset class need to be reminded that their tax-free investment class continued, predominantly, to perform well in 2016. I believe that this, substantially, remains the case.

Positive Muni Performance in the First Half of 2016

As shown below, munis continued to offer attractive returns relative to other assets: The performance of the broad Barclays Municipal Bond Index was a positive 4.33%, and muni high yields were also strong with a 7.98% return, as measured by the Barclays High-Yield Municipal Bond Index. Munis outperformed Treasuries, investment grade corporates, and U.S. equities, all while providing the added benefit of federally tax-free yields. During this period, issuers, perhaps emboldened by the near historically low rate environment, came to market with over $200 billion in new bonds - a higher volume than a year ago.

Munis Offered Attractive Returns in the First Half of 2016
January 1, 2016 - June 30, 2016

Munis Continue to Thrive Amid Headline Drama

The backdrop drama narrative, which provided a springboard for the market to improve in the first half of 2016, centered on the uneven economic performance of our economy, which resulted in a hesitant Federal Reserve initiating no rate increases. Further, worldwide instability brought on by acts of terrorism and a most surprising Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, led to sharp rallies in U.S. Treasuries, with municipals following this lead.

At the same time, the drama that played out in the hallways of San Juan and Washington, which resulted in the signing of the PROMESA legislation (the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act) effectively creating a "stay" in politico-economic activities on the island, set the stage for a default of significant proportions of the Commonwealth's 15 issuers of tax-exempt securities.

Yet the muni market continues (as I have suggested in prior posts) to avert its eyes from these recent negative events to generally deliver both reliable income streams and returns that compare favorably to many other asset classes. This might be the most underappreciated feature of municipals that investors seem to rediscover over and over again.

Munis Retain Their Popular Profile

The high wire walk that the muni market seems to have expertly navigated is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, in my opinion. With some sovereign yields in Europe in negative territory and foreign interest in munis stimulating demand, the asset class overall has retained its popular profile and is focused on the other end of the wire without concern for the roiling waters below.

HYD High-Yield Municipal Index ETF
ITM Intermediate Municipal Index ETF
MLN Long Municipal Index ETF
PRB Pre-Refunded Municipal Index ETF
SHYD Short High-Yield Municipal Index ETF
SMB Short Municipal Index ETF
XMPT CEF Municipal Income ETF

Post Specific Disclosures

The Barclays High Yield Municipal Index covers the high yield portion of the USD-denominated long-term tax-exempt bond market. The index has four main sectors: state and local general obligation bonds, revenue bonds, insured bonds, and pre-refunded bonds. The Barclays Municipal Bond Index is considered representative of the broad market for investment grade, tax-exempt bonds with a maturity of at least one year. The Barclays US 1-5 Year Corporate Index includes US dollar-denominated, investment-grade, fixed-rate, taxable securities issued by industrial, utility, and financial companies, with maturities between 1 and 5 years. The Barclays US Corporate High Yield Index represents the universe of fixed rate, non-investment grade debt. Eurobonds and debt issues from countries designated as emerging markets (e.g., Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, etc.) are excluded but, Canadian and global bonds (SEC registered) of issuers in non-EMG countries are included. Original issue zeroes, step-up coupon structures, 144-As and pay-in-kind bonds (PIKs, as of October 1, 2009) are also included. The index includes corporate sectors. The corporate sectors are Industrial, Utility, and Finance, encompassing both US and non-US Corporations. The Barclays US Treasury Index represents the US Treasury component of the US Government index. The S&P 500® Index consists of 500 widely held common stocks covering industrial, utility, financial, and transportation sector; as an Index, it is unmanaged and is not a security in which investments can be made.


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