Long-end munis showed significant losses again Thursday with 30-year yields rising to a two-year high, as the overall municipal market weakened in a fourth straight session.
Tax-exempt yields were weaker by three to five basis points inside 20 years and about 10 basis points out longer, according to traders.
“The long end got crushed again,” a trader in Los Angeles said. “It’s another 10 basis points or so weaker 20 years on out. There is just very poor liquidity right now.”
The Municipal Market Data triple-A 10-year scale increased five basis points Thursday to 3.36%, the 20-year scale rose 12 basis points to 4.80%, and the scale for 30-year bonds climbed nine basis points to a one-year high of 5.01%.
Randy Smolik wrote in the daily MMD commentary that forced selling caused distressed sales in intermediates and long bonds. “The Street was mostly bidding at pothunter levels,” he said, in a reference to those who hunt game for food instead of sport.
“Many dealers are holding back purchases until retreating levels start shutting off the selling,” he wrote. “Their caution caused the muni market to fall into the same illiquidity trap we saw in the irrational market backups for mid-November and mid-December. Some buyers are picking up their heads but obviously the selling pressure has not eased off yet.”
Bank of America Merrill Lynch priced $967.7 million of school construction bonds for the New Jersey Economic Development Authority amid the rising rates and market uncertainty. The deal was downsized from an originally scheduled $1.9 billion after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said at a town hall meeting that health care costs “could bankrupt” the state. Yields had to be raised about 18 basis points from retail levels to get it done.
Bonds from the $777.5 million series of tax-exempt refunding debt maturing from 2014 through 2025 were offered with yields ranging from 2.40% with a 3% coupon in 2014 to 5.52% with a 5.25% coupon in 2025. The bonds are callable at par in 2021.
It includes a $67 million series of SIFMA index refunding notes maturing in 2018, yielding 180 basis points over the index. They are callable at par in 2017.
Another piece was comprised of a $123.2 million series of taxable refunding notes, which mature from 2012 through 2015, with yields ranging from 2.14% in 2012 to 3.72% in 2015, all priced at par. The bonds were priced to yield between 125 and 180 basis points over the comparable Treasury yields.
The credit is rated Aa3 by Moody’s Investors Service and AA-minus by Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings.
The evaporation of retail demand in the market is being reflected in withdrawals of cash from municipal bond mutual funds. Investors have redeemed $14.6 billion from municipal bond funds the past five weeks, according to the Investment Company Institute.
These flows have also been emulated by exchange-traded funds. The rapid growth of this $7.6 billion sector of the municipal market began to slow late in 2010.
On Wednesday, Vanguard announced that it was shelving plans to launch three municipal ETFs: a short-term fund, an intermediate-term fund, and a long-term fund.
The Valley Forge, Pa.-based firm unveiled plans in June to be the lowest-cost ETF manager in the business, charging annual fees of just 12 cents for every $100 of assets. Most other passively managed muni ETFs charge 20 to 30 cents.
The fourth quarter was a rough period for municipal ETFs, with most funds’ shares underperforming their target indexes and suffering from “tracking error” — a phrase ETF managers use to describe failing to replicate returns on an index.
Thursday’s triple-A muni scale in 10 years was at 101.5% of comparable Treasuries and 30-year munis were at 111.6%, according to MMD. Thirty-year tax-exempt triple-A general obligation bonds were at 119.6% of the comparable London Interbank Offered Rate.
Treasuries showed some gains Thursday. The benchmark 10-year note finished at 3.32% after opening at 3.37%. The 30-year bond finished at 4.50% after opening at 4.52%. The two-year note finished at 0.59% after opening at 0.60%.
Elsewhere in the new-issue market Thursday, the New York City Educational Construction Fund competitively sold $137.5 million of revenue bonds to Barclays Capital.
The bonds mature from 2017 through 2028, with term bonds in 2041. Yields range from 3.25% priced at par in 2017 to 6.00% with a 5.75% coupon in 2041.
The bonds are callable at par in 2021.
The credit is rated Aa3 by Moody’s and AA-minus by Fitch.
In economic data released Thursday, producer prices rose 1.1% in December, led by a 3.7% increase in energy goods prices.
Core prices rose 0.2%, partly due to higher cigarette prices. Economists expected December producer prices to rise 0.8% and core prices, which exclude food and energy, to gain 0.3%, according to Thomson Reuters.
Initial jobless claims surged 35,000 to 445,000 in the week ending Jan. 8 as a backlog of holiday-delayed filings were processed. The four-week moving average for new unemployment claims, a less volatile figure, rose 5,500 to 416,500.
Economists expected 404,000 initial claims and 4.1 million continuing claims. Continuing claims fell 248,000 to 3.879 million for the week ending Jan. 1.