This is my last big story for the Financial Times, as I’m heading off to a brand new gig at Bloomberg. The piece seeks to bring together a lot of what I’ve written about bond market liquidity, the rampant search for yield and the growing power of big buyside investors into a single narrative. Do read the full thing if you can.
Dan McCrum at FT Alphaville also has an excellent summary.
I’ve left some key excerpts below:
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Their importance in financial markets cannot be overstated. So here’s a look at how the makeup of one particular benchmark bond index is making life difficult for big investors and in some cases encouraging them to use derivatives to introduce artificial duration to their portfolios.
(Writing about duration is always a huge hassle, but it too is very important in financial markets, so I try)
Here’s an excerpt:
If there were a recipe for creating the Barclays US Aggregate Index — one of the most important benchmark bond indices in the world — it might go something like this: take some US Treasuries, add a smattering of corporate bonds and securitised debt, then fold in a large chunk of mortgage-backed securities. Mix it all together et voilà — you are ready to serve a heaping portion of fixed income exposure to hungry investors around the world.
Fund managers are like chefs, trying to follow this basic recipe and improve on the outcome where possible — baking the basic bond fund cake, but adding their own twist to beat the benchmark. (After all, if you are simply replicating the benchmark’s returns, you had better be chargingvery low fees.)
However, fund managers seeking to outperform the Barclays “Agg” face a unique problem in the market in the shape of a severe lack of ingredients, and there are lurking concerns as to just what exactly fund manager cooks are reaching for in the kitchen.
Bond index mix creates ingredient shortage
Tight spreads, low volatility and a plethora of under-employed structured credit traders mean it’s time for investors to do just one thing – buy some synthetic structured products of course!
Citigroup analysts are recommending the trades over here.
Here’s the most important bit:
Synthetic tranches anyone?