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Taking Advantage of the Infrastructure Boom: The Case for Taxable Municipal Bonds

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Taxable municipal bonds infographic

The Case for Taxable Municipal Bonds for Investors

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. MunicipalsGlobal Corporates
Rating SpreadOver 76% rated A+ or betterOnly about 10% are AA rated
Tiny portion below investment gradeNearly half are below investment grade
Default Rate0.81% for those rated BAA by S&P0.84% 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.

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U.S. Debt Interest Payments Reach $1 Trillion

U.S. debt interest payments have surged past the $1 trillion dollar mark, amid high interest rates and an ever-expanding debt burden.

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This line chart shows U.S. debt interest payments over modern history.

U.S. Debt Interest Payments Reach $1 Trillion

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

The cost of paying for America’s national debt crossed the $1 trillion dollar mark in 2023, driven by high interest rates and a record $34 trillion mountain of debt.

Over the last decade, U.S. debt interest payments have more than doubled amid vast government spending during the pandemic crisis. As debt payments continue to soar, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that debt servicing costs surpassed defense spending for the first time ever this year.

This graphic shows the sharp rise in U.S. debt payments, based on data from the Federal Reserve.

A $1 Trillion Interest Bill, and Growing

Below, we show how U.S. debt interest payments have risen at a faster pace than at another time in modern history:

DateInterest PaymentsU.S. National Debt
2023$1.0T$34.0T
2022$830B$31.4T
2021$612B$29.6T
2020$518B$27.7T
2019$564B$23.2T
2018$571B$22.0T
2017$493B$20.5T
2016$460B$20.0T
2015$435B$18.9T
2014$442B$18.1T
2013$425B$17.2T
2012$417B$16.4T
2011$433B$15.2T
2010$400B$14.0T
2009$354B$12.3T
2008$380B$10.7T
2007$414B$9.2T
2006$387B$8.7T
2005$355B$8.2T
2004$318B$7.6T
2003$294B$7.0T
2002$298B$6.4T
2001$318B$5.9T
2000$353B$5.7T
1999$353B$5.8T
1998$360B$5.6T
1997$368B$5.5T
1996$362B$5.3T
1995$357B$5.0T
1994$334B$4.8T
1993$311B$4.5T
1992$306B$4.2T
1991$308B$3.8T
1990$298B$3.4T
1989$275B$3.0T
1988$254B$2.7T
1987$240B$2.4T
1986$225B$2.2T
1985$219B$1.9T
1984$205B$1.7T
1983$176B$1.4T
1982$157B$1.2T
1981$142B$1.0T
1980$113B$930.2B
1979$96B$845.1B
1978$84B$789.2B
1977$69B$718.9B
1976$61B$653.5B
1975$55B$576.6B
1974$50B$492.7B
1973$45B$469.1B
1972$39B$448.5B
1971$36B$424.1B
1970$35B$389.2B
1969$30B$368.2B
1968$25B$358.0B
1967$23B$344.7B
1966$21B$329.3B

Interest payments represent seasonally adjusted annual rate at the end of Q4.

At current rates, the U.S. national debt is growing by a remarkable $1 trillion about every 100 days, equal to roughly $3.6 trillion per year.

As the national debt has ballooned, debt payments even exceeded Medicaid outlays in 2023—one of the government’s largest expenditures. On average, the U.S. spent more than $2 billion per day on interest costs last year. Going further, the U.S. government is projected to spend a historic $12.4 trillion on interest payments over the next decade, averaging about $37,100 per American.

Exacerbating matters is that the U.S. is running a steep deficit, which stood at $1.1 trillion for the first six months of fiscal 2024. This has accelerated due to the 43% increase in debt servicing costs along with a $31 billion dollar increase in defense spending from a year earlier. Additionally, a $30 billion increase in funding for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in light of the regional banking crisis last year was a major contributor to the deficit increase.

Overall, the CBO forecasts that roughly 75% of the federal deficit’s increase will be due to interest costs by 2034.

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