Investors are pulling money out of exchange-traded funds that buy bonds in the U.S., with the biggest outflows from government securities, as they shift into stock funds, signaling a willingness to delve into riskier assets.
ETF participants yanked $1.5 billion from fixed income yesterday, pushing withdrawals over the past five days to $7.3 billion, according to ETF data compiled by Bloomberg. That compares with $9 billion that flowed into stock funds over the the same five-day period.
With economic fundamentals improving in Europe and the U.S. and after being under-invested in risk assets during the last two years, ETF investors are willing to take on corporate credit and equity risk, according to Scott Carmack, a money manager at Portland, Oregon-based Leader Capital Corp., which oversees $1.1 billion in fixed income.
“It’s a risk-on environment,” Carmack said. “Anything that trades at a spread over Treasuries looks attractive right here.”
Total assets in the 10-biggest junk-bond ETFs rose to $35.3 billion yesterday, the most since at least 2012, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Speculative-grade or junk bonds are rated below Baa3 by Moody’s Investors Service and less than BBB- at Standard & Poor’s.
Investors have been “very resilient” in their response to geopolitical tension, Carmack said. Equities have risen this week after concern eased that Russia’s intervention in the Crimean peninsula would lead to a broader conflict and disrupt markets.
The Markit CDX North American Investment Grade Index, a credit-default swaps benchmark used to hedge against losses or to speculate on creditworthiness, declined 0.5 basis point to 62.1 basis points as of 1:16 p.m. in New York, according to prices compiled by Bloomberg. The gauge was poised to close at the lowest level since Dec. 26.
The swaps gauge typically falls as investor confidence improves and rises as it deteriorates. The contracts pay the buyer face value if a borrower fails to meet its obligations, less the value of the defaulted debt. A basis point equals $1,000 annually on a contract protecting $10 million of debt.