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Market View

Investment-grade munis have held up well when 10-year Treasury yields have risen.

Investors have responded to the prospect of rising interest rates in two ways: by lowering the duration of their holdings and by opting for credit-sensitive securities over those that are more responsive to changes in interest rates.

But there is a third option: investment-grade municipal bonds. Since September 1993, there have been seven periods in which the yield on the 10-year Treasury has risen more than 100 basis points. And during these periods, returns on these bonds have averaged a loss of -8.12%. Investment-grade munis, on the other hand, have averaged -0.14%, or +7.99% relative to Treasuries. 

For those still concerned about potential losses, munis with shorter maturities have performed better. Over the seven periods, they have returned an average 2.17%. (See Table 1.)

 

Table 1. Investment-Grade Munis Have Outperformed 10-Year Treasuries When Yields Have Risen
Performance during periods in which 10-year Treasury yields have risen more than 100 basis points

Source: Citi, Barclays, and Morningstar. 
Barclays Aggregate represented by the Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index.  10-year Treasury represented by the Citi Treasury Benchmark 10-Year Index.  10-year municipals and 1-3 Year municipals represented by subsets by the 8-12 year and 1-3 year subsets of the Barclays Municipal Bond Index, respectively; only investment-grade municipal bonds are included in this index.
Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Performance during other time periods may have been different or negative. Other indexes may not have performed in the same manner under similar conditions. For illustrative purposes only and does not represent any specific Lord Abbett mutual fund or any particular investment.  Indexes are unmanaged, do not reflect the deduction of fees or expenses, and are not available for direct investment.
Municipal bonds are debt securities issued by states, cities, counties and other governmental entities to fund day-to-day obligations and to finance capital projects such as building schools, highways or sewer systems. The income derived from municipal securities may be subject to the alternative minimum tax. Federal, state, and local taxes may apply. As with any investment, investing in municipal bonds entails risk such as call, credit, liquidity, interest-rate, and general market risks. Treasuries are debt securities issued by the U.S. government and secured by its full faith and credit. Income from Treasury securities is exempt from state and local taxes.

 

Over the long run, 10-year munis match up well with Treasuries on a risk/return basis. While 10-year Treasuries have averaged an annual return of 6.16% over the past 20 years, investment-grade 10-year munis have averaged 5.93%. But while 10-year Treasuries have posted a standard deviation of 7.36%, munis of the same maturity have been much less volatile, averaging a standard deviation of just 4.51%. (See Chart 1.)

 

Chart 1. The Performance of Munis Has Nearly Matched Treasury Bonds, but with Less Volatility
Risk/return of indicated asset classes, October 1, 1994–September 30, 2014

Source: Citi, Barclays, and Morningstar.
10-year Treasury represented by the Citi Treasury Benchmark 10-Year Index.  10-year municipals represented by the 8-12 year subset of the Barclays Municipal Bond Index; only investment-grade municipal bonds are included in this index.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Indexes are unmanaged, do not reflect the deduction of fees or expenses, and are not available for direct investment. Municipal bonds are debt securities issued by states, cities, counties and other governmental entities to fund day-to-day obligations and to finance capital projects such as building schools, highways or sewer systems. The income derived from municipal securities may be subject to the alternative minimum tax. Federal, state, and local taxes may apply. As with any investment, investing in municipal bonds entails risk such as call, credit, liquidity, interest-rate, and general market risks. Treasuries are debt securities issued by the U.S. government and secured by its full faith and credit. Income from Treasury securities is exempt from state and local taxes.

 

Performance aside, investors may still have questions about munis, including the fiscal condition of states and local governments. The collapse of the housing market in 2007 did cause property tax revenues to drop, and the weak economic recovery has hurt sales tax revenues, but little serious damage was done to muni finances. Pension obligations also remain a challenge, but there are still many years to work through these issues, and, except in some isolated situations, these burdens are not causing financial stress. The bankruptcy of Detroit and the fiscal difficulties of Puerto Rico remain isolated instances, and aside from these, muni market credit fundamentals have remained strong.  

According to Moody’s Investors Service, between 1970 and 2012, the average 10-year cumulative default rate for investment-grade munis was just 0.07%. That is, during the 32 10-year periods between 1970 and 2012, less than 0.1% of investment-grade munis defaulted, on average.

“We regularly assess how economic forces will affect the market’s term structure and the relative value in the different sectors of the municipal market,” said Dan Solender, Lord Abbett Partner & Director of Municipal Bonds. “Using this analysis, we will make small adjustments to consistently target what we believe are the most attractive maturities along the yield curve. Bottom-up selection is pivotal to our process because we perform intensive credit analysis to focus on selecting securities with attractive credit fundamentals and security structures at reasonable prices.” 

 

MARKET VIEW PDFs


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INTERESTED IN MUNIS?
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