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

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taxable municipal bonds

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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Infographics

How Carbon Offsetting Works, and What Investors Should Know

Eliminating all harmful GHG emissions is not yet possible, but carbon offsetting offers a route for businesses and funds to become more sustainable.

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Carbon Offsetting: What Investors Should Know

In 2016, an international treaty known as the Paris Agreement was negotiated by member nations of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The long-term goal of this agreement is to limit the increase in global temperature to below 3.6°F (2°C) over the next century. Achieving this target will require the world to develop cleaner solutions across all areas of the economy, from energy to transportation.

In this infographic from New York Life Investments, we introduce carbon offsetting, an activity used by both businesses and investment funds that has the potential to accelerate the development of a more climate-friendly economy.

What are GHG Emissions, and Where do They Come From?

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) are a family of gases known to trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. The most prevalent among them is carbon dioxide (CO₂), which accounts for 80% of America’s GHG emissions. Common sources of CO₂ include fossil fuel consumption and deforestation.

Businesses are often significant emitters of CO₂, but due to the complexity of their production chains, emissions can be difficult to track. To combat this, a company’s carbon footprint is measured across three scopes:

  • Scope 1: These are direct emissions from a company’s operations. An example would be the CO₂ emitted by company-owned factories.
  • Scope 2: These are indirect emissions from a company’s operations, such as the pollution generated from purchased electricity.
  • Scope 3: These are indirect emissions from the company’s supply chains. Common sources include the extraction of raw materials and business travel.

Although we understand that GHGs are harmful to the planet, our ability to eliminate them is limited by technology and costs. Fortunately, this is where offsetting can help.

How Does Carbon Offsetting Work?

Carbon offsetting is a method of neutralizing one’s emissions by investing in GHG-reducing projects. The benefits of these projects are measured by the amount of CO₂ equivalent (CO₂e) that they avoid or absorb. Then, the company or fund that is engaging in the carbon offsetting project will then receive one carbon credit for every tonne of CO₂e negated.

Below are the three common types of GHG reduction programs.

1. Energy efficiency projects

These projects reduce energy consumption. One example is the distribution of energy-efficient cookstoves in Rwanda, a country where many people rely on firewood and charcoal. By distributing 10,800 cookstoves throughout the country, nearly 60,000 tonnes of CO₂e can be avoided each year.

2. Forestry projects

These projects nurture and protect our CO₂-absorbing forests. One notable example is the Garcia River forest protection program, which ensures the longevity of California’s redwood forests. The program oversees over 9,600 hectares which has been estimated to store almost 80,000 tonnes of CO₂e annually.

3. Renewable energy projects

These projects reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. They are especially effective in economies such as Taiwan, where 75% of electricity capacity relies on fossil fuels. Thanks to its strong coastal winds, Taiwan is able to remove 328,000 tonnes of CO₂e per year with just 62 wind turbines.

How is Offsetting Regulated?

Carbon offsetting in America is primarily a voluntary activity, but some state governments have made it mandatory for significant polluters. Here’s how both markets are regulated.

The Voluntary Market

The voluntary market is regulated by a variety of third-party organizations such as Verra, Gold Standard, and American Carbon.

They conduct audits on GHG reduction projects to ensure each one meets four broad criteria:

  • Measurability: The GHG savings of the project must be measurable
  • Verifiability: The results of the project must be verified on an annual basis
  • Sustainability: Each project should have a minimum lifespan of seven years
  • Additionality: GHG reductions of project must be considered in reference to a baseline scenario

Carbon credits are only issued after a project has passed this verification process.

The Mandatory Market

Some U.S. states have introduced carbon offsetting schemes to meet their climate goals. One of the largest is California’s Cap and Trade program which was introduced in 2013.

The program is targeted at businesses that emit over 25,000 tonnes of CO₂e annually, and works by setting a “cap” on total annual emissions. This cap is reduced each year, and overpolluting businesses must acquire carbon credits to offset their excess pollution. These can be purchased from state-administered auctions or from other firms.

Revenues generated from California’s carbon credit auctions are used to fund various GHG reduction projects, including:

  • 690,000 acres of land preserved or restored
  • 287,000 rebates issued for zero-emission and plug-in hybrid cars
  • 108,000 urban tree plantings
  • 150,000 energy efficiency projects installed in homes

By 2030, California’s emissions cap is intended to reach 200.5 million tonnes of CO₂e, marking a near 50% reduction from its 2015 level.

What Role can Investors Play?

A majority of U.S. investors consider themselves to be values-based, meaning they care about the societal and environmental impacts of their investments. This mentality is increasing the demand for ESG investing and placing pressure on corporations to become more sustainable.

For example, the percentage of S&P 500 firms that publish sustainability reports has risen from just 20% in 2011 to 90% in 2019. More importantly, a growing number of U.S. firms are cooperating with the CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project) to report their emissions and set formal reduction targets.

YearCompanies with active emissions reduction targetsAll other companies reporting to the CDPTotal
2013322166488
2014335164499
2015365143508
2016378124502
2017385123508
2018389117506
2019419138557

Source: CDP 2020

Some of the world’s largest oil producers are also taking action—a testament to the significance of these shareholder concerns. Royal Dutch Shell announced earlier in 2020 that it intends to fully offset its Scope 1 and 2 emissions.

Does Offsetting Really Help?

Carbon offsetting programs such as the one implemented by California have the potential to generate revenues and encourage innovation. Critics, however, have suggested it has a number of design issues.

One such issue is the fact that California’s carbon credits do not expire. This could allow companies to stockpile credits and ignore future cuts to the emissions cap. Another concern is that the companies covered by California’s cap and trade will simply pass their higher costs to the consumer, although this claim didn’t seem to hold up in a 2016 study conducted by UCLA.

Other inefficiencies within the program may exist, but its benefits are hard to ignore. By the end of 2019, the revenue generated from California’s carbon credit auctions totaled $12.5 billion. Of this amount, over $5 billion has been invested in GHG reduction projects to date.

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Infographics

Tech Investing: Exploring the Sector’s Promising Potential

In the first 9 months of 2020, tech’s return was almost 5x greater than the general market’s return. Here’s what you need to know about tech investing.

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This infographic is available as a poster.

Exploring the Potential of Tech Investing

Technology stocks have had impressive momentum. In the first 9 months of 2020, the S&P 500 Information Technology sector had a total return of 28.69%—far exceeding the S&P 500’s total return of 5.57%.

What should investors know about participating in this trending sector? This graphic from New York Life Investments covers tech’s long-term performance, the broad tech universe, and what investors should consider when analyzing tech investments.

Tech’s Performance

Since most tech companies are internet-based, COVID-19 has caused minimal disruptions to their business operations. In a number of cases, tech companies even saw sales growth as they benefited from consumers going online during lockdown.

Over a longer timeframe, however, tech’s performance is quite varied.

 S&P 500 Information TechnologyS&P 500 
201010.19%15.06%
20112.41%2.11%
201214.82%16.00%
201328.43%32.39%
201420.12%13.69%
20155.92%1.38%
201613.85%11.96%
201738.83%21.83%
2018-0.29%-4.38%
201950.29%31.49%

Data based on total returns.

Tech underperformed the general market in 2010, 2012, and 2013. However, the sector has outperformed every year thereafter.

In total, investors who held tech stocks over the last decade would have been rewarded. The 10-year annualized return for the S&P 500 Information Technology index was 20.50%, compared to 13.74% for the S&P 500.

The Tech Universe

While the information technology sector is commonly used to represent tech stocks, the broader tech universe can be broken down into 4 business types:

  • Software – such as application software, fintech, and cybersecurity.
  • Hardware – such as electronic equipment, semiconductors, and self-driving cars.
  • Internet Information – such as social networks, e-commerce, and digital advertising.
  • Telecommunication – such as internet services, telephone operators, and cable companies.

In addition, there are other companies that don’t fit neatly into these categories. This includes businesses involved in biotechnology, blockchain, or even retailers with modern technology such as mobile payment systems.

What Investors Should Consider

There are many factors to consider with tech investing.

  1. Diversification
    To lower potential risk, investors can diversify across industries, geographies, and individual companies. Tech investing should also be part of a broader portfolio strategy.
  2. Risks and opportunities
    Tech stocks have unique risk factors, such as regulatory risk arising from data privacy and antitrust concerns. However, they also present specific opportunities: new applications of technology are always being discovered. For example, GPS was originally used by the U.S. Navy to track submarines, but is now used for things like ridesharing.
  3. Personal objectives
    Investors can consider whether they are seeking growth or income. Growth investors can look for newer companies with high growth potential. Income investors may seek mature companies, some of which offer dividends.
  4. Company financials
    It can be tempting to get swept up in the news hype of a particular company. Instead, investors can pay close attention to company financials and reporting to ground their interest in reality.

With all this in mind, how do the sector’s risks measure up against its returns?

Potential Risk/Reward Payoff

Tech stocks have historically been more volatile than defensive sectors, such as utilities and consumer staples. However, they have also generated higher returns relative to their risk level.

Annualized risk-adjusted returns

 3-yr5-yr10-yr
S&P 500 Information Technology1.371.491.28
S&P 500 Consumer Staples0.650.781.06
S&P 500 Utilities0.520.760.84

Risk is defined as standard deviation, calculated based on total returns using monthly values.

By understanding the landscape and what to look for, investors will be poised to take advantage of tech’s potential.

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