Institutions Think Fixed-Income Investments Look Good

Study finds institutional investors are increasing use of fixed-income ETFs in anticipation of rising interest rates.

As investors prepare for interest rates to rise in the wake of the tapering of the Federal Reserve’s bond buying, Greenwich Associates surveyed 110 institutional investors on their use of fixed-income exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

The Investment Company Institute estimated the value of assets in U.S.-based bond ETFs to be $246 billion as of December. Among the majority of respondents (54 percent) to the Greenwich Associates survey who currently use these vehicles, most do so because they’re easy to use (cited by 81 percent) and provide quick access to funds (78 percent). The majority currently have less than 30 percent of their fixed-income portfolios in ETFs—for two in five of those who use them, ETFs account for less than 10 percent of the fixed-income portfolio.

When asked how their portfolios have changed over the past two years, only a quarter of respondents said they have either increased or decreased their fixed-income holdings by more than 10 percent. However, 65 percent have made significant changes to allocations within their fixed-income portfolios. Many have been moving funds out of U.S. Treasuries and into corporate bonds, international or emerging-market bonds, and high-yield or short-duration assets. They expect these trends to continue. (See Figure 1, below.)

Looking forward, a third of organizations that currently use fixed-income ETFs expect to increase the proportion of their fixed-income assets in ETFs over the next year. And among the 46 percent of respondents that are currently not using fixed-income ETFs, nearly 20 percent expect to start using them in the next year.

Greenwich sees “both strategic and tactical shifts” in institutional investors’ fixed-income portfolios as being driven by Fed tapering and projected interest rate increases. “As institutions move to shorten duration and find new sources of yield, current users of fixed-income ETFs expect to increase their use of the product and some non-users will elect to employ ETFs in implementing their portfolio strategies,” says Greenwich Associates consultant Andrew McCollum.

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