(Bloomberg) — The new fixed-income haven is, of all things, the market for junk bonds.
With government securities in Germany to Japan and Ireland yielding less than nothing, money is pouring into exchange-traded funds that buy speculative-grade debt, traditionally the riskiest of fixed-income assets.
The pace is staggering. So far this year, about $9 billion has flowed into the funds globally, a significant chunk for the $44.4 billion market in junk-debt ETFs.
In the land of negative yields, even the most conservative firms such as Zurich Insurance Group AG and Assicurazioni Generali SpA, the biggest Swiss and Italian insurers, are planning to invest in sub-investment grade debt for the first time. One of the bond market’s brightest luminaries, Jeffrey Gundlach, says you’re better off in junk because the only money to be made on German bunds is from betting against them.
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While last week’s sudden selloff in euro sovereign debt gives investors all the more reason to crowd into high-yield assets, the lingering concern is that buyers are exposing themselves to even greater losses. And with the European Central Bank’s bond purchases still keeping government yields close to historic lows, many bond investors have few other options.
“Investors are being forced by the central bank to assume more risk,” Jens Vanbrabant, a money manager at ECM Asset Management, which oversees $6.5 billion, said from London. “They’re trying to adapt their investment parameters to the new situation of zero or negative yields.”
Bond markets around the world are being distorted as central banks step up cheap-money policies to bolster growth and prevent deflation. About $2.36 trillion of government bonds globally havenegative yields, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
That means investors effectively pay a dozen governments when they borrow. The situation is particularly acute for the nations that share the euro. In Germany, Europe’s largest economy, quantitative easing has left about 40 percent of the nation’s securities tracked by Bloomberg with sub-zero yields.
That’s prompted investors to take more chances on debt of the least-creditworthy borrowers. Flows into junk-bond ETFs in the first four months of the year exceeded any comparable period since EPFR Global began compiling the data in 2007.
The iShares Euro High-Yield Corporate Bond UCITS ETF, the largest of its kind in Europe with 4.2 billion euros ($4.7 billion) in assets, amassed more than 1.5 billion euros alone over that span, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
“I’m long high yields right now,” Gundlach, the founder of Los Angeles-based DoubleLine Capital, which oversees $73 billion, said in an April 28 interview on Bloomberg Television. “They’ve done quite well lately.”
Gundlach went on to say he’s looking to short two-year German notes, which yielded minus 0.22 percent at 10 a.m. New York time. The yield on five-year securities was 0.04 percent.
Investors got a wake-up call last week, when 142 billion euros was wiped off of euro-area government debt in the worst selloff since at least 1993.