ETF Investors Spurn Bonds With $7.3 Billion Leaving Fixed Income

Investors are pulling money out of exchange-traded funds that buy bonds in the U.S., with the biggest outflows from government securities as they shift into stocks, signaling a willingness to delve into riskier assets.

ETF participants yanked $1.5 billion from fixed income yesterday, pushing withdrawals over the past five days to $7.3 billion, according to ETF data compiled by Bloomberg. That compares with $9 billion that flowed into stock funds over the the same five-day period.

With economic data improving in Europe and the U.S. and after being under-invested in risk assets during the last two years, ETF investors are willing to take on corporate credit and equity risk, according to Scott Carmack, a money manager at Portland, Oregon-based Leader Capital Corp., which oversees $1.1 billion in fixed income.

“It’s a risk-on environment,” Carmack said. “Anything that trades at a spread over Treasuries looks attractive right here.”

Investors removed $9.1 billion from U.S. government-bond ETFs over the past five days as $941.5 million flowed into corporate-bond ETFs, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Total assets in the 10-biggest junk-bond ETFs rose to $35.3 billion yesterday, the most since at least 2012, Bloomberg data show. Speculative-grade or junk bonds are rated below Baa3 by Moody’s Investors Service and less than BBB- at Standard & Poor’s.

Investors have been “very resilient” in their response to geopolitical tension, Carmack said. Crimean lawmakers called a referendum to return Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula to Russia as the European Union halted trade and visa talks.

Jobless Claims

The Markit CDX North American Investment Grade Index, a credit-default swaps benchmark used to hedge against losses or to speculate on creditworthiness, was little changed at 62.6 basis points as of 5:18 p.m. in New York, according to prices compiled by Bloomberg. The measure closed at 62.5 basis points March 4, the lowest level since Jan. 1.

The swaps gauge typically falls as investor confidence improves and rises as it deteriorates. The contracts pay the buyer face value if a borrower fails to meet its obligations, less the value of the defaulted debt. A basis point equals $1,000 annually on a contract protecting $10 million of debt.

U.S. jobless claims declined by 26,000 to 323,000 in the week ended March 1, fewer than any economist forecast in a Bloomberg survey and the least since the end of November, a Labor Department report showed today in Washington.

The Federal Reserve said yesterday in its Beige Book business survey that the economy in most regions grew last month even as harsh winter weather impeded hiring.

Commercial Paper

The market for corporate borrowing through short-term IOUs increased as issuance by financial institutions rose. The seasonally adjusted amount of U.S. commercial paper increased $16.3 billion to $1.028 trillion outstanding in the week ended yesterday, the Federal Reserve said today on its website. That’s the highest level since the market touched $1.036 trillion in the period ended Jan. 15.

Commercial paper sold by overseas financial institutions added $11 billion to $262.9 billion, the highest level in seven weeks. The amount issued by U.S.-based banks rose $8.1 billion to $287.3 billion outstanding, the highest level since the period ended Dec. 25.

Corporations sell commercial paper, typically maturing in 270 days or less, to fund everyday activities such as rent and salaries.

GE Bonds

General Electric Co., the largest maker of jet engines, sold $2.25 billion of 4.5 percent, 30-year debt that yields 87.5 basis points more than similar-maturity Treasuries and $750 million of 3.375 percent, 10-year notes with a relative yield of 75 basis points, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The notes may be rated Aa3 by Moody’s, the data show.

This is the first time the parent company sold bonds since October 2012. Before that, it sold debt in 2007.

GE plans to look at using its industrial balance sheet “more efficiently,” Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt said at an investor presentation in December. In January, Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey Bornstein said the parent would be “opportunistic” in increasing borrowing.

The risk premium on the Markit CDX North American High Yield Index, tied to the debt of 100 speculative-grade companies, widened 1.8 basis points to 311.1, Bloomberg prices show. A basis point is 0.01 percentage point.

The extra yield investors demand to hold investment-grade corporate bonds rather than government debt rose 0.7 basis point to 97.3, Bloomberg data show.

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