Moving Beyond Municipals

Taxable US investors usually invest the fixed-income part of their portfolios in municipal bonds. But a tax-aware strategy with the flexibility to look for the highest after-tax return across sectors is likely to be more rewarding over time, as my colleague Terry Hults explains below.

What's Best After Taxes?

Municipal bonds have an after-tax yield edge over Treasuries, corporates and other taxable bonds most of the time—but not always, as the display below shows.  Opportunities are driven by sector supply and demand, credit-quality trends, volatility, and changes in tax law. Treasuries did best in 2007 and 2008, corporates did best in 2009, and mortgages did best in 2010. Adding a judicious allocation to these taxable sectors during those years would have meaningfully added to the returns of a tax-aware portfolio.

Sector Leadership Changes from Year to Year Today, low interest rates and the fear of future rate increases have driven some bond investors into shorter bonds and cash. But an investment strategy that considers municipal and taxable bonds across the full credit spectrum provides greater ability to pursue return without taking undue risk.

It’s true that as the economy improves in the months and years ahead, the impact of rising interest rates will be felt on bond portfolios. But higher-yielding corporate and municipal bonds are much less sensitive to interest rates and typically perform better than lower-yielding municipals (and treasuries) in a rising-rate environment. That’s because their higher yields provide more of a cushion, and the fundamentals of the borrowers tend to improve with the economy.

As the economic cycle shifts and rates rise, investing across sectors should help safeguard portfolios.

The views expressed herein do not constitute research, investment advice or trade recommendations and do not necessarily represent the views of all AllianceBernstein portfolio-management teams.

Douglas J. Peebles

Chief Investment Officer and Head—AllianceBernstein Fixed Income
Douglas J. Peebles joined the firm in 1987 and is the Chief Investment Officer and Head of AllianceBernstein Fixed Income. In this role, he supervises all of the Fixed Income portfolio management and research teams globally. In addition, Peebles is Chairman of the Interest Rates and Currencies Research Review team, which is responsible for setting interest-rate and currency policy for all fixed-income portfolios. He has held several leadership positions within Fixed Income, including director of Global Fixed Income from 1997 to 2004 and co-head of AllianceBernstein Fixed Income from 2004 until 2008. He holds a BA from Muhlenberg College and an MBA from Rutgers University. Location: New York

Terrance T. Hults

Portfolio Manager
Terrance T. Hults is a member of the Tax-Exempt Fixed-Income Investment Policy Group. Prior to joining the firm, he was an associate in the Municipal Derivative Products department at Merrill Lynch Capital Markets, where he specialized in securities arbitrage. These transactions involved issuers and investors, as well as proprietary trading and utilized futures, options, interest-rate swaps, and other over-the-counter derivative structures. Hults received a BA in economics from Williams College and an MBA in finance from Columbia University. Location: New York

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