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Muni Bond ETFs Somewhat Sturdy Despite Puerto Rico Default

With Greece captivating investors’ attention today, the reaction to Puerto Rico’s debt troubles might just be “Oh yeah, Puerto Rico is about to default.” That does not change the fact the U.S. territory cannot pay $72 billion in debts.

So dire is the situation in Puerto Rico, Gov. Alejandro García Padilla told the New York Times over the weekend that government finances there are “in a death spiral.” And $72 billion is not chump change. To put $72 billion into context with a catchy anecdote, that is more than twice the market capitalization of General Mills (GIS).

Puerto Rico’s debt woes are important to fund investors because an “estimated in 2013 that as much of 80% of Puerto Rico’s debt has found its way into muni-bond funds, and 180 mutual funds in the United States and elsewhere have at least 5% of their portfolios in Puerto Rican bonds,” Alan Gomez reports for USA Today, citing Morningstar data.

Some municipal bond exchange traded funds have notable allocations to Puerto Rican debt, though those ETFs are proving relatively sturdy. For example, the $396.8 million SPDR Nuveen S&P High Yield Municipal Bond ETF (HYMB) is off just 0.8% at this writing despite heading into Monday with a 13.3% weight to Puerto Rico, making the territory the ETF’s largest geographic weight just ahead of California. [Puerto Rico Pressures Muni ETFs]

HYMB, which has a modified adjusted duration of 8.57 years, hold 454 bonds and three of the ETF’s top 10 holdings are Puerto Rican issues.

The $1.6 billion Market Vectors High Yield Municipal Index ETF (HYD) is lower by 1.3% today. That ETF has a Puerto Rico weight of just 3.2%, making the territory the fund’s tenth-largest geographic weight. That is about a third of the weight HYD assigns to New York munis and less than half the ETF’s weight to Ohio municipal debt. [Diversify With Cheap Muni ETFs]

HYD has a 30-day SEC yield of 4.53% and a modified duration of 9.55 years. The ETF’s lower duration stablemate, the Market Vectors Short High-Yield Municipal Index ETF (SHYD) , is little changed today even with a 4.5% weight to Puerto Rico. That is half the ETF’s weight to Texas, its largest geographic exposure. Eleven states command larger weights in SHYD than Puerto Rico.

The $105.8 million SHYD has a 30-day SEC yield of 3.34% and a modified duration of 3.92 years.

The Puerto Rico-induced ETF fallout could be worse if not for changes made by some ETF issuers last year to move to underweight Puerto Rico positions relative to the indexes the ETFs track. In July 2014, HYD had just a 4.3% weight to Puerto Rico despite the Barclays Municipal Custom High Yield Composite Index’s Puerto Rico exposure being significantly higher. At the same time, SHYD pared its Puerto Rico weight to 5.5% though its underlying index had a 7.1% weight to the territory. [Passive Muni ETFs Dump Puerto Rico Bonds]

HYMB’s Puerto Rico weight has been flat over the past year.

Market Vectors High Yield Municipal Index ETF


Tom Lydon’s clients own shares of HYD.