ETF Of The Week: Long Term Treasuries Hot

September 14, 2018

Ahead of this month's Fed meeting, it seems investors are betting on low rates.

After a fairly anemic summer of inflows, the iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond ETF (TLT) has suddenly begun raking in cash. The flows began the day after Labor Day:

 

Sources: ETF.com, FactSet; data as of Sept. 12, 2018

 

Since Sept. 4, TLT has pulled in $1.8 billion in new net investment assets—or 19% of the fund's total current assets under management of $9.16 billion (read: "ETF Weekly Flows Show Home Bias").

Meanwhile, TLT's nearest competitors, the SPDR Portfolio Long Term Treasury ETF (SPTL) and the Vanguard Long-Term Treasury Index ETF (VGLT), have only seen inflows over the same period of $10 million and $2 million, respectively.

TLT: Trading Vehicle

Why has TLT in particular drawn the flows?

For starters, TLT is by far the largest and most liquid long-term bond ETF on the market, and as such, traders have long turned to the fund as a convenient trading vehicle to express their short-term views.

TLT boasts a pennywide spread and an average daily share volume of roughly 6.5 million shares, worth $777 million. That's an order of magnitude greater than the trading volumes of either SPTL or VGLT, worth $12 million and $8 million per day, respectively.

High Duration Not A Barrier

But TLT has also the third-highest duration of the 47 Treasury ETFs on the market. Duration is a measure of a fixed income investment's sensitivity to changes in interest rates—a key metric in understanding how a bond ETF will perform if and when the Fed raises rates.

TLT's duration of 17.47 means that its value should decrease 17.47% for every 1% rise in interest rates. For every 1% drop, meanwhile, TLT's value should rise by the same amount (read: "Fixed Income ETFs: Understanding Duration").

In other words, rising interest rates would erode TLT's value faster than almost any other Treasury ETF on the market.

So the fact that investors are plowing their cash into this fund implies that they believe TLT's sensitivity to rising rates won't be a problem; meaning, they believe the Fed plans to keep rates low when it meets again on Sept. 26.

Curiously, that conservative outlook runs counter to what the Fed itself said at its July 31-Aug. 1 meeting, where the Federal Open Markets Committee reaffirmed its commitment to raising rates at a pace of 0.25% per quarter. Speculation has swirled that the ongoing trade war may eventually change the Fed's mind about raising rates, but so far, there has been little evidence in support.

About TLT

TLT tracks an index of U.S. Treasury debt with remaining maturities of 20 years or greater. It's the longest maturity product in iShares' Treasury ETF suite.

TLT charges an expense ratio of 0.15%, making it more than twice as expensive as both SPTL (which charges 0.06%) and VGLT (which charges 0.07%).

Year-to-date, TLT is down 4.81%.

Contact Lara Crigger at [email protected]

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