If you’re a homeowner, there are probably a few things you’ve been neglecting to do. Perhaps the kitchen needs upgrading, or the roof needs replacing. We tend to procrastinate on these improvements due to large renovation costs, until it hits a point where we can’t ignore them anymore. This is the state that U.S. infrastructure has reached—on a national scale.
Today’s infographic from New York Life Investments highlights the level of disrepair in U.S. infrastructure. It also explores why taxable municipal bonds, which will finance the required infrastructure upgrades, provide such an interesting investment opportunity.
Falling Apart at the Seams
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ACSE) regularly assesses the nation’s infrastructure—things like bridges, airports, and drinking water—and scores it in a ‘report card’. After decades of neglect, the U.S. only scored a D+ in 2017.
The ASCE estimates that $4 trillion is needed to bring infrastructure up to a B grade, $1.3 trillion of which will be provided by state and local governments.
The urgent needs for increased investment in America’s infrastructure continue to grow and our nation’s economic vitality and quality of life are at stake.
— Ed Mortimer, U.S. Chamber Vice President of Transportation and Infrastructure
U.S. municipal bonds will be the primary funding source for this massive financing need. These bonds are quite popular with individual U.S. investors, as the interest income from most municipal bonds is not subject to federal income tax.
However, the U.S. tax code limits the volume of non-taxable bonds issued, and the purposes for issuing them. As a result, many local and state governments have been turning to taxable municipal bonds to finance their infrastructure projects.
The Muni Opportunity
Taxable municipal bonds are a potentially attractive investment for many reasons.
1. Competitive Historical Yield and Strong Returns
In the last decade, a lagging global economy led to historically low interest rates—many sovereign (national) bonds fell into negative territory. Taxable municipal bonds provided an alternative source of yield potential, outpacing the yields of comparable treasury bonds in some cases.
Not only that, but in the post-crisis era, taxable municipal bonds have averaged a return of 6.9% per year, beating the 4.6% performance on U.S. corporate investment-grade bonds, a staple in most institutional portfolios.
2. High-Quality, Stable Credit Ratings
Most municipal bonds are high quality with low default rates, making them attractive to risk-conscious investors.
|U.S. Municipals||Global Corporates|
|Rating Spread||Over 76% rated A+ or better||Only about 10% are AA rated|
|Tiny portion below investment grade||Nearly half are below investment grade|
|Default Rate||0.81% for those rated BAA by S&P||0.84% for those rated AAA by S&P|
Historically, municipal bond ratings have also been far more stable than that of global corporates.
3. Inefficient pricing
The municipal bond market is highly fragmented, and most issues are too small to be included in a market index.
This market fragmentation, combined with limited sell-side research and many buy-and-hold investors, often leads to inefficient pricing. Active investors have the potential to generate higher returns by applying their credit research and trading skills.
4. Low Correlations
Correlation measures the degree to which two securities move in relation to each other. In general, taxable municipal bonds have a low correlation to other fixed-income sectors. This means they help provide portfolio diversification and reduce volatility.
5. Longer durations
Since taxable municipal bonds fund long-term capital projects, they are usually financed with longer maturing bonds. Institutional investors welcome this source of long-duration assets, as they can match them up with their long-dated obligations.
A Compelling Portfolio Addition
Taxable municipal bonds have many positive qualities that make them a strong contender for investment. When added to a diversified fixed-income portfolio, they may also improve the risk/return profile.
As the U.S. begins to revitalize its infrastructure, taxable municipal bonds present a strong—and often overlooked—opportunity for investors.