Junk-Bond ETFs Are Faring Better Than Treasuries
In a sign of how topsy-turvy financial assets are right now, risky high-yield bond ETFs have become relative havens and investors are fleeing government debt funds as fast as they can.
The $16.9 billion iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond ETF, ticker TLT, has slumped more than 15% since March 9. That’s sent it to a 1.7% discount to its net asset value on Wednesday -- a chunky gap for a fund that historically has barely budged from the price of its underlying debt.
Meanwhile, the world’s biggest junk-bond product -- BlackRock Inc.’s iBoxx High Yield Corporate Bond ETF, ticker HYG -- is down 10% over the same period. While the fund traded with a 1% discount last week, it now actually holds a modest premium to the value of its assets.
The divergence highlights how safe assets are starting to become unmoored from their traditional roles in portfolios, roiling exchange-traded funds in their wake. While havens initially staged a historic rally amid deepening fears about the coronavirus’s economic impact, that quickly reversed as a funding squeeze gripped global markets.
Treasuries sold off, with investors shedding even their highest-quality holdings in an effort to raise cash. TLT was swept up in the rout, losing a record $1.8 billion on Wednesday. Assets that aren’t as easy to unload -- such as high-yield bonds -- haven’t suffered the same fate.
“You get into illiquidity, where it’s almost impossible to sell it, to find a buyer,” said Charles Schwab Corp. Chief Fixed Income Strategist Kathy Jones. “People start selling what they can sell, what they can find a bid for, and they can always find a bid for Treasuries.”
Longer-dated U.S. government debt has been particularly hard-hit in this latest market rout. Yields on 10- and 30-year bonds surged by the most since 1982 on Tuesday following Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s proposal for a $1.2 trillion stimulus package.