Municipal Bonds: Strong Demand

The rally in credit, retail demand, and subdued supply have driven municipal bond spreads to historical tights.

June 17, 2019


This Municipal Bonds sector report is excerpted from the Second Quarter 2019 Fixed-Income Outlook.

At the end of the first quarter, 10-year and 30-year municipal-to-Treasury ratios were lower only 1 percent and 16 percent of trading days since 2000, respectively. Households, which represent 67 percent of the total market, according to SIFMA, prefer shorter maturities, which exacerbated the bull steepening of the tax-exempt AAA-rated benchmark curve. Further supporting performance, supply remained subdued as the municipal market contracted for the fourth straight quarter. Potential supply catalysts, such as federal infrastructure programs or the return of advanced refundings, have been met by cynicism and/or extended timelines.

Much of the municipal bond market frothiness was attributed to the inaugural year of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act’s limit on state and local tax (SALT) deductions for individuals. In fiscal year 2017, nearly 11 million taxpayers deducted a total of $323 billion of SALT payments, deductions they would not have been able to take under the new rules that came into effect in fiscal year 2018. According to Bank of America Merrill Lynch, effective tax rates for top earners in California are expected to be 5.8 percentage points higher, on average, which considerably enhances the value proposition of tax exemption. Instead of typical seasonal outflows, the municipal market produced the highest volume of first quarter net inflows since Lipper began compiling the data series in 1992, reflecting heightened appetite for tax-exempt income. The surge in fund flows helped to drive dealer inventories to the lowest level since March 2015.

Dealer Inventories Declined Sharply in Q1

The surge in fund flows helped to drive dealer inventories to the lowest level since March 2015.

Dealer Inventories Declined Sharply in Q1

Source: Guggenheim Investments, Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Data as of 4.23.2019.

Undeterred by a broad range of hiccups and headwinds to credit fundamentals, tax-exempt muni spreads have compressed to historically tight levels with the lowest volatility since 2015.

Tax-Exempt Muni Spreads Have Contracted to Historically Tight Levels

Undeterred by a broad range of hiccups and headwinds to credit fundamentals, municipal bond spreads have compressed to historically tight levels with the lowest volatility since 2015.

Taxable Muni Spreads Have Contracted to Historically Tight Levels

Source: Guggenheim Investments, Thomson Reuters. Data as of 4.23.2019.

Spreads for 10-year A-rated and BBB-rated tax-exempt bonds reached 36 basis points and 70 basis points, respectively, the tightest levels in over a decade. Unrelenting spread compression in recent years suggests the municipal market has become increasingly reactive to moves in the Treasury market than to the credit profile of individual issuers. In a more adverse credit environment, we expect the market to return to reflecting individual credit fundamentals in valuations.

—James Pass, Senior Managing Director; Allen Li, CFA, Managing Director; Michael Park, Vice President

 
Important Notices and Disclosures

This article is distributed for informational purposes only and should not be considered as investing advice or a recommendation of any particular security, strategy or investment product. It contains opinions of the authors but not necessarily those of Guggenheim Partners or its subsidiaries. The authors’ opinions are subject to change without notice. Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but are not assured as to accuracy. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

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. Guggenheim Investments represents the following affiliated investment management businesses of Guggenheim Partners, LLC: Guggenheim Partners Investment Management, LLC, Security Investors, LLC, Guggenheim Funds Investment Advisors, LLC, Guggenheim Funds Distributors, LLC, GS GAMMA Advisors, LLC, Guggenheim Partners Europe Limited, and Guggenheim Partners India Management.

©2019, Guggenheim Partners, LLC. No part of this article may be reproduced in any form, or referred to in any other publication, without express written permission of Guggenheim Partners, LLC.


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