EC Floating Rate ETFs In Flux

Nearly a year ago, as part of our survey of alternative income funds (“Alternative Alternative Income”), we picked through a number of floating-rate note (FRN) portfolios to find the potential best-of-class performance should interest rates rise.

Well, since then rates have risen by 34 basis points in the three-month Libor and 26 basis points in the three-month T-bill yield. Curiosity compels us to revisit the floater funds to see how the asset class has fared.

Not all these portfolios are alike, so one shouldn’t expect uniform results. The vast majority of the $9.8 billion held by exchange traded fund (ETF) versions are invested in corporate securities. And, among these, there’s further differentiation by credit ratings.

Most investors are attracted to funds holding high-yield securities, though significant assets are committed to investment-grade paper. The junk/quality split is 54/40 with the remaining 6 percent in municipal and Treasury notes as well as a fund devoted to variable-rate preferred stock and hybrid securities.

Money Flows

Overall money has flowed out of the 12 ETFs plying the floater trade over the last 12 months. Net redemptions of $417 million reduced the category’s asset base by 4 percent. This wasn’t a wholesale dumping; it was more tactical. Some segments lost assets, some gained. And that’s a story in itself.

Junk note funds lost nearly 16 percent, or $986 million, while ETFs invested in higher-grade corporate notes saw inflows of nearly 5 percent, or $183 million. At the same time, there was a $5 million, or 45 percent, boost in the newer (and smaller) Treasury segment. 

The single fund devoted to municipal notes bled assets, losing $27 million, or 28 percent, of its base while the other singleton, the variable preferred stock ETF, tripled in size with $408 million in net creations.

Two trends are at work here. Some of the high-yield assets migrated to safer havens, namely bank-grade and Treasury paper. Mainly, that’s been an escape from duration risk. Money’s also being drawn to the equity side in response to more encouraging economic data.

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Disclosure: None.

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