In the current financial environment, the often misunderstood municipal bond market is not considered to be a “core” asset class by many investors, nor is it labeled as such by institutions offering financial products to investors. However, it could be argued that investment-grade municipal bonds meet some qualifications to be “core.”
In this paper, we have examined some of the reasons U.S. investment-grade municipal bonds could be considered a “core” asset class.
LARGE AND DIVERSE MARKET
According to the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA), the municipal bond market had over USD 3.7 trillion outstanding as of June 2019. There are approximately 1.6 million different municipal bonds outstanding, from tens of thousands of different issuers.
The average rating (from Moody's, S&P Global Ratings, or Fitch) of investment-grade bonds in the S&P National AMT-Free Municipal Bond Index is higher than the average rating of bonds in the S&P U.S. Investment Grade Corporate Bond Index. The low interest rate environment following the global financial crisis spurred many corporations to take on more leverage. As a result, the composition of the U.S. investment-grade corporate bond market changed dramatically—as of July 31, 2019, over 55% of the U.S. investment-grade corporate bond market was BBB-rated. Exhibit 1 compares the credit profile of the investment-grade municipal bond market to the U.S. investment-grade corporate market.