Shunned in 2013 as equities rallied, fixed-income assets and bond exchange traded funds have made a comeback so far this year, posting some of the best returns since the 2008 financial crisis.
Investors dumped fixed-income in favor of equities over the past year as Fed tapering and an improving economy fueled a risk-on environment. However, the risk-on sentiment quickly soured in January as problems in the emerging markets and softening U.S. economic data sent investors into the safety of bonds.
“There’s no question that it has taken people by surprise,” Neil Azous, a founder of research firm Rareview Macro LLC,, said in a Bloomberg article. “It’s painful.”
Over the past week, the most popular ETFs included bond funds Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF (NYSEArca: BND), which attracted $1.2 billion in assets, and iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond ETF (NYSEArca: TLT), which saw $289 million in inflows, according to ETF.com. Meanwhile, the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (NYSEArca: SPY) lost $9.1 billion in assets and the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (NYSEArca: EEM) trimmed $3.3 billion in assets. [ETF Chart of the Day: Bond Bash]
Year-to-date, BND has gained 1.4% while TLT rose 5.6%. In comparison, SPY has lost 3.0%, and EEM lost 8.9%.
“This is an unusual January,” Joseph Quinlan, chief market strategist at U.S. Trust Bank of America Private Wealth Management, which invests more than $300 billion, said. “We’re right on the knife’s edge where we’re coming off Fed tapering — a huge shift in monetary policy. Emerging markets have been suspect all along and there’s weakness in those markets. It’s all coming to a head.”
The Fed’s shift into a tighter monetary policy should have pushed up benchmark Treasury yields and put pressure on bond prices. However, 10-year Treasury yields are down to 2.67%, a 2-month low, as emerging market turmoil shocked the equities market.
In the corporate space, the iShares iBoxx $ Investment Grade Corporate Bond ETF (NYSEArca: LQD) is up 1.6% year-to-date, while speculative grade debt ETFs, the iShares iBoxx $ High Yield Corporate Bond ETF (NYSEArca: HYG) and the SPDR Barclays High Yield Bond ETF (NYSEArca: JNK), are up 0.4% and 0.6%, respectively. [Time to Jump for Junk]
Surprisingly, emerging market debt is holding up, with iShares J.P. Morgan USD Emerging Markets Bond ETF (NYSEArca: EMB) up 0.6% so far this year, despite the decline in emerging equities. [Appetite for Emerging Markets Corporates Still Robust]
For more information on bonds, visit our bond ETFs category.
Max Chen contributed to this article.
For full disclosure, Tom Lydon’s clients own shares of TLT, HYG, JNK and LQD.