Who says municipal bonds aren’t sexy?
They were the top fixed-income asset class of 2015, compared to U.S. Treasuries and corporate bonds, and they even outperformed the S&P 500 Index.
Still not convinced? Check out the following ways short-term munis can make you scream “Oh yes!”
1. Tax. Free. Income.
One of munis’ most titillating qualities is that they’re tax-free at the federal level.
But they can also be tax-free at the state level depending on where you live. There are only seven states without an income tax, meaning you’re on the hook if you live in those other 43 states. Municipal bonds can minimize the burden.
2. Capital preservation
Because munis are tax-free, you get to keep more of your wealth in your own pocket.
NEARX seeks preservation of capital and has had a net asset value (NAV) that’s floated in the $2 range. It’s demonstrated minimal fluctuation in its share price, even during the 2008-2009 financial crisis.
3. Low default rate
True or false? The odds are greater that you will be struck by lightning than a high-quality muni will default on a payment.
True! Between 1970 and 2014, not a single Aaa-rated muni defaulted, while Aa and A-rated bonds—the kinds NEARX heavily invests in—were highly unlikely to default. Corporate bonds, on the other hand, had an increasing rate of defaults the lower their credit rating and further out from their issuance, according to Moody’s.
The chart below illustrates Moody’s findings of default rates between 1970 and 2014. It shows the rise in such rates between year one of a bond’s issuance, which could be at any time within the chart’s range, and year 10. You can see that munis’ default rate is near-zero and that Aaa-rated bonds don’t even register.
4. Calm in times of market turmoil
Speaking of “moody,” even when the S&P 500 was acting sporadically, munis were steady growers. Check out the following chart, which shows a hypothetical investment of $100,000 in the Near-Term Tax Free Fund and S&P 500 stocks at the end of 1999. (You cannot directly invest in an index.) The equity market had two massive declines during this period, while NEARX rose steadily. In fact, it took 14 years for the equity market to catch up. (Figures include reinvestment of capital gains and dividends, but the performance does not include the effect of any direct fees described in the fund’s prospectus which, if applicable, would lower your total returns.)
Granted, the two major drops in value during this period—first when the tech bubble burst, then during the financial crisis—were among the worst the market has ever witnessed. Investors shouldn’t expect NEARX to outperform at all times.
5. …AND in times of rising and falling interest rates
You might think longer is always better, but in the case of munis, it pays to be short. Short-term munis—such as the ones that mostly make up NEARX—are less sensitive to interest rate stimulation than longer-term instruments. (Bond prices fall when rates go up, and vice versa.) Below, we use Treasury yields to illustrate how munis could be similarly affected:
6. CD rates are abysmal right now
Speaking of which: Interest rates are at near-zero lows right now, which has tarnished the attractiveness of CDs. Plus, early withdrawals come with a penalty, unlike munis.
NEARX yields are as of 3/31/2016. CD rates from FDIC.gov national average as of 3/18/2016. NEARX SEC yield without waiver and reimbursement 0.08 percent.
7. And savings accounts are even worse
Remember when your savings account returned 6 percent? Yeah, that hasn’t been the case since the mid-1980s. Today, the savings rate (as of April 18, 2016) is a hardly-there 0.06 percent, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). You can do better than that.
Municipal bond funds, including NEARX, aren’t bank accounts; nor are they FDIC-insured, as bank accounts are. But it’s worth making the comparison.
8. Make America strong
Want to “make America great again”? Well, if you invest in short-term munis, you’re already doing it! This $3.7 trillion market funds everything from schools to roads to hospitals to utilities—and more.
9. 21 straight years of positive returns
Since 1995, NEARX has delivered positive annual returns—no matter what interest rates were doing, no matter the condition of the market. This is not to say that NEARX will continue to perform like this indefinitely, only that the fund has a well-tested history of “no drama.”