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Bond ETF Flows Favoring Safer Havens


What a difference a day (or an election) makes.

Headed into the presidential election, we saw bond ETF investors flock to riskier, higher income sectors of the market such as high yield and emerging markets. But investor sentiment and flows quickly shifted after the election.

We are seeing investors position their portfolios for the possibility of higher taxes, as well as the potential for a fiscal drag stemming from either a delay in a resolution to the fiscal cliff, or from the cliff remedies themselves. [Muni Bond ETFs Solid on Tax Fears]

Take a look at the flows we saw in the following iShares funds from November 7 – November 13. [Bond ETFs: Investors Favoring Investment-Grade Over High-Yield]

We’ve seen money flow into perceived safer segments of the ETF market such as long dated Treasuries (TLT), high quality municipal bond funds (MUB) (CMF) and short duration credit (CSJ).

This is in many ways a classic flight to quality move. Faced with financial decline or uncertainty, investors invariably pull back from riskier asset classes and move into safer segments of the market—those investments that historically have been shown to hold their value—until the storm passes. This recent movement we’ve seen out of high yield has been mirrored in other risky markets such as US equities, which also saw outflows and declining values. (To learn more about the connection between high yield and equities, check out this blog.)

The current shift in market sentiment is understandable, especially for investors who are worried that the fiscal cliff and its impact could tip the United States back into a recession next year. Some may view this as an unlikely event, but it remains the course that we are on unless new legislation is passed. I believe yields on Treasuries are likely to stay low and investors are likely to approach risk assets guardedly until there are signs of a compromise on the cliff.

We would caution that investors remember to take a holistic, longer-term view of their portfolios. We would advocate favoring diversification; being overly exposed to riskier segments of the market has the potential to open a portfolio up to volatility over the next few months. While Treasuries remain a safe haven, we are not bullish on them long term due to the low level of yields. Instead, think of them as a balancer of risk in a portfolio, an investment that may not offer significant upside but that can help to provide shelter against adverse market movements.

Matt Tucker, CFA, is the iShares Head of Fixed Income Strategy.