A floating rate loan is a bank loan with interest that’s tied to some benchmark rate, often the London Interbank Offer Rate (LIBOR). When the LIBOR changes, so does the loan’s coupon. The rate is adjusted every 30 - 90 days. Floating rate funds are pools of capital that invest in these loans, earn variable-rate interest, and pay dividends that are themselves flexible.
Variable Dividends Boost Immunity
A note of caution is in order here: Even though floating rate bonds don’t have the same inverse price-yield relationship as fixed rate debt instruments, their prices can still go down. Although the automatic coupon adjustments mostly eliminate the first major risk of any debt instrument—interest-rate risk—floating-rate funds still hold the other major risk: credit risk. As a reminder, credit risk is the risk that the borrower won’t make payments on time or will default on the debt entirely.
The credit risk of floating rate loans is high because the companies that borrow under these conditions are usually rated below investment grade. They can’t go to capital markets for money because fixed rate loans would be too expensive, so they turn to banks that provide funds on floating rate terms.
Since the companies borrowing these funds are below investment grade, their default rates are close to those of speculative grade bonds. Vanguard Research reports that the average annual default rate from 1996 to 2012 for speculative grade bonds was 4.5%; for senior floating rate loans, it was 3.4%. Better, but still much higher than investment-grade bonds at 0.1%.
High Post - Default Recovery Rates
Second, floating rate loans outperform both high yield loans and the aggregate U.S. bond market. According to Vanguard, during the last three rising rate periods (January 1994-February 1995, June 1999-May 2000, and June 2004-June 2006) floating rate bonds outperformed high yield instruments by 2.5 percentage points (pp) and the aggregate bond market by 4.3 pp.
After the rising rate periods end, however, floating rate funds tend to underperform both high yield instruments and the overall bond market. This is why we’re buying them now, when rates have nowhere to go but up. We don’t know when that will happen, but when it does, we want to be positioned to profit.
In addition to their excellent performance in rising interest rate periods, floating rate funds are good for diversification. Their correlation with the overall US bond market is close to zero, which makes them especially good for a portfolio focused on fixed-rate US bonds. However, they also belong in our retirement portfolio—the Money Forever portfolio—where we use them to diversify our allocation across various debt instruments and to make sure we are well positioned to profit from rising interest rates.
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At Miller’s Money we closely monitor the bond market, constantly scouting out the best options for seniors and savers. Learn more need to know information about bonds and the role they play in today’s low-interest rate environment by downloading our free special report, Bond Basics today.
The article Floating-Rate Funds Poised to Profit as Interest Rates Rise was originally published at Millers Money
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