What has been arguably the most popular strategy within the non-investment grade market over the last year and a half is investing in floating rate loans.  Because these are floating rate securities, there has been a massive interest in this space by those concerned about higher rates.  The demand for and expansion in the loan market can’t be described in any way other than astounding.

We saw $62.4 billion flow into bank loan exchange traded and mutual funds in 2013.  This compares to the previous annual record of $17.9 billion in 2010.1  We saw a record $669 billion in bank loans issued in 2013.  This handily beats the prior record high of $388 billion seen in 2007.2  And just to verify it has been a one-way trade over the last year and a half, we’ve seen 84 consecutive weeks of inflows into bank loan mutual funds and ETFs.

At face value this seems like a “no brainer” trade, and many have embraced it as such, but the actual numbers tell a bit of a different story.  In 2013, floating rate loans returned 5.3% versus 8.2% for high yield bonds.3

This has been in a year when the 10-year Treasury yield had increased over 130bps.  It would seem that if floating rate loans are really the answer to rising rates, we would have seen a better return, especially given the massive inflows into the asset class.  And even with the 10-year Treasury yield increasing by over 1.3% (or over 50% from the beginning of year yield), the high yield market, helped by higher initial starting yields, still well outperformed the loan market over 2013.

The first consideration when investing in the loan market must be understanding to what the “floating” rate is tied.  Bank loans are generally based on short-term LIBOR rates, which have moved very little this past year despite the big moves we have seen in various Treasury rates.4