Desperately seeking yield

January 19, 2009

Equities may be having a stop-start kind of month, but investors do seem to be more willing to take on risk than before. The latest numbers from EPFR Global, a tracker of investment flows, show high-yield bond funds raking in the money in the second week of January. A net $766 million flowed into the HY funds tracked by the firm. At the same time, a net $578 million flowed into U.S. municipal bond funds.

The drive behind these flows is a mix of a desperate search for yield and a belief that the risk might well be worth taking. Investment grade corporate debt is considered to be priced at Armageddon levels. That is, the price assumes too much trouble ahead than is likely. This has led, for example, to a monthly record in new bond issuance in January in Europe.

High yield is not pricing in quite as extreme a default rate from a historial perspective. But it is still evidently attractive, hence $3.38 billion in global net inflows over the past seven weeks.

Municipal bonds, meanwhile, may be getting a boost from expectations for the incoming Obama administration. EPFR says U.S. investors are anticipating higher taxes, which would help municipal finances.

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