Central banks took an enormous leap on the street to direct market intervention in 2020. All developed market central banks added direct purchases of company bonds to their quantitative easing (QE) packages. As of 31 December 2020, the European Central Financial institution (ECB) and the US Federal Reserve held €250 billion and €46 billion in company bonds on their respective steadiness sheets.
Though these holdings are usually not as huge as whole authorities debt, the best way the Fed carried out this financial coverage intervention was moderately novel. It purchased shut to six% of the overall property underneath administration (AUM) in US company bond exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and outsourced the execution to BlackRock.
It was simply the newest illustration of how buy-side credit score market individuals have advanced for the reason that international monetary disaster (GFC). Over the past decade or so, the buy-side construction has grown extremely concentrated, a lot in order that at present the world’s high 5 asset administration companies command greater than 27% of worldwide credit score AUM.
On the similar time, efforts by regulators to discourage extreme risk-taking by monetary intermediaries has restricted the latter’s capability to offer market liquidity. Concurrently, low rates of interest and central financial institution bond shopping for have inflated company bond issuance, making the necessity for liquidity services extra necessary than ever.
Because of this, many market individuals have turned to ETFs. Why? As a result of they imagine that — as intra-day traded devices invested in lots of index-tracking securities — ETFs can present an alternate supply of liquidity.
Such considering is flawed. Funding in these securities has considerably elevated ETFs’ prominence out there and established a brand new kind of huge and necessary buy-side investor within the type of the ETF sponsor. However this investor could not have the identical funding targets or incentives as its conventional buy-side counterparts
Company Bond Market Purchase-Facet Construction
For a few years, credit score markets have been notoriously uncovered to issuer focus danger. The Monetary sector in funding grade (IG) and the Power sector in excessive yield (HY) symbolize 15% and greater than 20%, respectively, of the chance of every of those markets globally.
However whereas the issuer perspective is important for assessing danger, buyers also needs to contemplate the buy-side of the market.
The worldwide bond market’s present buy-side construction is tough to explain objectively. Bonds are typically instantly held by non-financial entities or by liability-driven buyers that don’t all the time report all their holdings publicly. For instance, information from the Fed’s Circulation of Funds present that funding funds whole near 30% of the company and overseas fixed-income property held by US entities. Insurance coverage corporations are the biggest house owners of those property with a 37.5% share of the overall as of 31 December 2020.
This helps clarify why the consequences of buy-side focus and the implications for the company bond market construction have thus far been largely ignored.
To evaluate these traits, we used Bloomberg information to construct an aggregated view of all of the funding companies advising or instantly holding securities included within the ICE-BofA World Company and HY indices. This universe of two,847 funding administration corporations covers 33% of the overall international IG and 41% of the worldwide HY indices. Our evaluation confirmed a cloth focus on the investor aspect: 45% of IG and 50% of HY markets are held by the highest 10 funding companies.
What explains this heightened focus? The mutual fund universe affords some perception. Mutual funds are essentially the most actively traded buy-side entities and given their better availability, they permit for extra in-depth evaluation. However company bonds are eligible investments for a lot of different fixed-income methods, so the universe past company bond-focused mutual funds should be taken under consideration. For the sake of completeness, we have now additionally included so-called “Combination” methods in our evaluation, together with company bond-focused ones.
The chart under highlights the extent of buy-side focus: The highest three asset administration corporations symbolize 28% of AUM, whereas 90% of company bond ETF property are managed by solely three corporations.
AUM Focus amongst Administration Firms by Fund Kind
Passive Investing’s Position in Bond Markets
No matter one’s perspective on passive investing or the ETF as an funding car, this market is at the moment working in an oligopolistic construction with potential impacts on value formation, liquidity, and the energetic administration business as an entire.
Whereas the ETF sector’s share of whole mutual fund business AUM began to rise earlier than the GFC, it accelerated considerably within the aftermath of the disaster. Although ETFs quantity to 9% of the general funds in our evaluation (together with the so-called combination methods), greater than 25% of company IG-focused mutual funds are invested by ETFs, as are barely greater than 12% of HY-focused funds.
Share of Passive Funds (ETFs) in Mounted-Revenue Mutual Fund Universes by Technique
The rise of ETF investing within the company bond market is basically pushed by the ETF’s capacity to effectively replicate broad indices in addition to its exchange-traded characteristic. The latter high quality alleviates problems with value transparency and makes the safety accessible to a broad set of buyers.
For the reason that GFC and the next regulatory restrictions positioned on monetary establishments, ETFs have turn into the principle liquid devices obtainable to varied buyers for managing credit score publicity. The ETF’s share of flows into or out of the asset class are much more spectacular: ETFs accounted for nearly 50% of inflows into IG company funds and 30% into HY during the last three to 5 years.
ETF Share of USD Mounted-Revenue Fund Inflows
The Fed’s choice to incorporate these devices in its pandemic-related QE packages acknowledges this actuality: The liquidity of company bonds depends upon ETF buying and selling circumstances.
But evaluation of the US ETF fairness and fixed-income universes exhibits this premise isn’t wholly correct. Except essentially the most liquid decile of Treasuries funds, fixed-income ETFs seem two- to five-times much less liquid than their fairness counterparts. This helps additional clarify the necessity for the Fed’s intervention within the company bond market in 2020.
Most Low cost to NAV for US-Listed ETFs, Common by Deciles, December 2019 to December 2020
Excessive market environments, corresponding to that of the March 2020 disaster, remind us that whereas ETFs are exchange-traded devices, that alone doesn’t assure that the underlying securities are proof against liquidity stress. On the contrary: The excessive focus amongst ETF suppliers — amongst ETF replication algorithms — tends to additionally focus buying and selling stress on particular bonds. These commerce extra usually and incur extra volatility in addition to greater price of liquidity when ETFs come underneath promoting stress.
After all, ETF automobiles are usually not with out prices for buyers. Essentially the most neglected amongst these are these associated to ETF bonds’ common premium together with the issuer danger concentrations inherent in underlying debt-weighted company bond indices. For these causes, company bond ETFs don’t gather the complete market danger premium over the long term.
Given this context, the oligopolistic market construction that has fashioned because of the affect of ETFs needs to be acknowledged.
Within the second a part of our evaluation, we are going to lay out the implications this has for buyers in search of to generate alpha from fixed-income markets and thus for portfolio development itself.
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All posts are the opinion of the writer. As such, they shouldn’t be construed as funding recommendation, nor do the opinions expressed essentially replicate the views of CFA Institute or the writer’s employer.
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