Municipal bonds found firmer footing in the fourth quarter of 2022 compared to earlier in the year. During the fourth quarter, the Bloomberg Municipal Bond Index Total Return Index returned 4.1 percent, trimming full calendar year losses to -8.5 percent, while the Bloomberg Municipal Index Taxable Bonds Total Return Index returned 1.5 percent for the quarter, reducing calendar 2022 losses to -18.1 percent. Taxable municipals underperformed tax exempts in total return during 2022 due to taxables’ longer duration.
Tax exempt mutual funds faced outflows for most of the quarter, but exchange-traded funds saw inflows as buyers took tax losses in mutual funds and reinvested into more liquid index products. Odd lot purchase activity also picked up as retail investors took advantage of all-in yields that were materially higher versus 12 months ago. While demand rose throughout the quarter, supply experienced a significant step down versus the prior year, with fourth quarter new issue volumes down 29 percent (including an astounding 50 percent drop in December—a month that traditionally experiences a year-end rush of underwritten deals). The imbalanced supply and demand relationship led to outperformance in tax exempt municipals despite higher Treasury rates during the quarter.
Municipal credit quality remains strong: 49 states had a budget surplus for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2022, while 33 states are on track for surpluses in fiscal 2023. However, municipalities with revenues more sensitive to markets and the economy, such as capital gains taxes—California, for example—have started missing top-line forecasts, portending a challenging 2023–24 budget season.
We believe tax exempt investors should focus on avoiding bonds with negative convexity, such as 5 percent coupon bonds with very short par call dates. Such structures give issuers the option to call their outstanding bonds if market rates fall, while sticking investors with rate volatility if rates rise—a poor bargain. On the taxable side, while index-eligible bonds are trading through corporates, non-index municipal bonds look attractive relative to corporate bonds while providing an increase in credit quality. Investors appear to be stepping down in liquidity when buying non-index bonds, but the liquidity difference between index- and non-index securities has narrowed in the current low issuance environment.
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This material contains opinions of the authors, but not necessarily those of Guggenheim Partners, LLC or its subsidiaries. The opinions contained herein are subject to change without notice. Forward-looking statements, estimates, and certain information contained herein are based upon proprietary and non-proprietary research and other sources. Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable but are not assured as to accuracy. Past performance is not indicative of future results. There is neither representation nor warranty as to the current accuracy of, nor liability for, decisions based on such information.
Investing involves risk. In general, the value of fixed-income securities fall when interest rates rise. High-yield securities present more liquidity and credit risk than investment grade bonds and may be subject to greater volatility. Asset-backed securities, including mortgage-backed securities, may have structures that make their reaction to interest rates and other factors difficult to predict, making their prices volatile and they are subject to liquidity risk. Investments in floating rate senior secured syndicated bank loans and other floating rate securities involve special types of risks, including credit risk, interest rate risk, liquidity risk and prepayment risk. Municipal bonds may be subject to credit, interest, prepayment, liquidity, and valuation risks. In addition, municipal securities can be affected by unfavorable legislative or political developments and adverse changes in the economic and fiscal conditions of state and municipal issuers or the federal government in case it provides financial support to these issuers.
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