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Muni Bond ETFs on the Mend Despite Renewed Tax Worries


The iShares National AMT-Free Muni Bond ETF (MUB) is on track for a gain of nearly 3% this week to recoup at least some of the losses it suffered during the June sell-off.

Also, the discounts to NAV seen in muni bond ETFs last week have pretty much gone away as the market stabilizes.

MUB and other ETFs in the category have been volatile this month on rising interest rates and negative headlines on the fiscal woes faced by some U.S. cities and states.

Also, worries that muni bonds could lose their tax exemptions are back in play. [Muni Bond ETF Discounts Fade as Market Rebounds]

“The municipal bond market is circling the wagons once again following the latest suggestion that the Obama administration wants to reduce the 100-year-old tax exemption on muni bond income,” reports Jeff Benjamin for Investment News.

Earlier this week, Reuters reported the White House is still pursuing a proposal to limit the tax exemption for interest paid by municipal bonds.

The fiscal cliff compromise answered the question as to whether interest on municipal bonds would be taxed in 2013, says Morningstar analyst Timothy Strauts. But it’s not the end of the story.

“Municipal bonds avoided all the various proposals that had been put forth to eliminate or reduce the level of their tax exemption. In fact, the increase in the top marginal income tax rate to 39.6% from 35.0% may make municipal bonds even more attractive to some high income investors,” Strauts wrote in a profile of MUB, the largest muni bond ETF. “After a sell-off in December the municipal-bond market has rallied as investors have shaken off concerns about potential changes to muni bonds’ tax treatment in the near term. But the long-term tax status of municipal bonds is far from resolved in Congress.”

A study released by the U.S. Conference of Mayors on Monday said limiting the tax exemption for the interest paid by U.S. municipal bonds would not only make borrowing more expensive for cities, counties and states, but would also drag on economic growth while driving up unemployment, according to a separate Reuters report.

“Not since the Reagan administration has the municipal market been faced with a significant rewrite of the tax code,” reports Jeff Westergaard, Morningstar’s director of municipal analytics. [Muni Bond ETF Discounts May Signal Buying Opportunity]

“Recently proposals have been put forth that would drastically affect the tax treatment of municipal-bond income, with the most significant being a limitation on the tax benefit at 28% of gross income. The primary drivers for municipal-related proposals have been revenue considerations and deficit reduction,” he added. “In our opinion, this issue has lost some of the dominance it held from late 2011 through the election, though that may prove temporary. Whether there is consensus to move forward with these new radical approaches remains to be seen, given the partisan dysfunction in Washington, but investors would be well served to keep an eye on developments.”

iShares National AMT-Free Muni Bond ETF

The opinions and forecasts expressed herein are solely those of John Spence, and may not actually come to pass. Information on this site should not be used or construed as an offer to sell, a solicitation of an offer to buy, or a recommendation for any product.