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Passive Muni ETFs Shed Puerto Rico Exposure

Passively managed exchange traded funds usually do not make wholesale changes to their portfolios. Most of the underlying indices for passive ETFs rebalance quarterly and even then, holding and sector changes often boil down to just a few basis points.

However, there are circumstances where issuers of passive ETFs opt to take a more active approach. The meltdown in Puerto Rico’s municipal bond market is proving to be a prime example.

“Fears about Puerto Rico’s escalating fiscal woes underscore how passively run ETFs use a sampling approach to mimic the performance of an index. They’re not obligated to own each of the thousands of constituents there are sometimes in an index, but instead can select the ones they want to track it, according to fund disclosures to investors about their management approach,” report Tim McLaughlin and Ashley Lau for Reuters.

The $1.1 billion Market Vectors High Yield Municipal Index ETF (HYD) is an example of a passively managed ETF that has noticeably trimmed its exposure to Puerto Rican debt. HYD applies a sampling strategy in tracking the Barclays Municipal Custom High Yield Composite Index (LMEHTR). Following ratings downgrades of the U.S. territory’s debt, that index has seen its exposure to Puerto Rico surge to 30% from 5% at the start of this year, according to Reuters.

However, HYD allocated just 4.3% of its weight to Puerto Rico at the end of June, according to Market Vectors data. That makes Puerto Rico the ETF’s eighth-largest geographic weighting and barely more than the half the weight allocated to California munis.

“I see Puerto Rico’s debt restructuring legislation signed into law two weeks ago, combined with another wave of downgrades by Moody’s, as reference points for the current market. I believe it is an inescapable truth that taxable buyers of Puerto Rico debt seem to be providing some important liquidity for this market,” said Market Vectors Portfolio Manager James Colby in a note out earlier this month. [All Eyes on Puerto Rico]

The $268.1 million SPDR Nuveen S&P High Yield Municipal Bond ETF (HYMB) is another muni ETF that has pared its Puerto Rico exposure. HYMB’s underlying index, the S&P Municipal Yield Index, had a 13% weight to Puerto Rico at the end of June, according to Reuters.

However, HYMB’s weight to the territory was just 7.2% as of July 24, according to State Street data. That is less than half the 16% weight the ETF allocates to California munis. Puerto Rico is HYMB’s seventh-largest geographic exposure.

The Market Vectors Short High-Yield Municipal Index ETF (SHYD) , which debuted in January, also tracks a Barclays index that features a 7.1% weight to Puerto Rico. SHYD, however, has a 5.5% weight to Puerto Rico, or just over half the ETF’s weight to Ohio munis. [New Short-Term Muni ETF Debuts]

Market Vectors High Yield Municipal Index ETF


ETF Trends editorial team contributed to this post. Tom Lydon’s clients own shares of HYD.

The opinions and forecasts expressed herein are solely those of Tom Lydon, 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.