Fixed-income trading volumes have skyrocketed since the Nov. 8 U.S. election, particularly on electronic venues, providing opportunities for active bond investors that have recently struggled with low returns to find alpha.
“We're finally getting volatility back into the market,” said Richard Schiffman, open trading product manager, MarketAxess Holdings Inc., New York. “It's tougher to generate alpha with low volatility and tighter spreads. Now that there's some movement, people can take action.”
Added Constantinos Antoniades, global head of fixed income, Liquidnet Inc., New York: “Overall, post-election has been positive for the corporate bond market. The higher volume makes it easier to pick bonds. Changes we've seen in the last few weeks in terms of volume have created added opportunities for alpha. Macro changes like the election create an appetite for more trading.”
One electronic fixed-income trading venue, Tradeweb Markets, had record volume of $7.9 trillion in November, the most active month of trading across its platforms since the 2008-2009 financial crisis. While the majority of securities that traded that month were mortgage-backed securities, government bonds and interest-rate derivatives, U.S. investment-grade fixed income saw volume highs for 2016, according to Tradeweb.
Such rising volumes have been a boon to electronic trading venues, which still have a smaller share of overall fixed-income execution volume — some say as little as 20%. Said Mark Monahan, CEO of MTS Markets International Inc., New York, “The corporate bond market can be so illiquid, when things get busy, even people that don't (normally) trade electronically will call and ask for their password.”
“Overall, higher volumes and volatility generally mean more opportunity,” said Colm Murtagh, managing director, head of U.S. institutional rates, Tradeweb, New York. “And we're seeing that across our platform with dramatic increases in volume since the election.”
Mr. Murtagh said the heightened volume points not only to a short-term rise in bond trading, but possibly a more long-term trend spurred by fundamental changes in the market, such as an expected increase in interest rates by the Federal Reserve.
“There may be a fundamental shift in many markets, including interest rates,” Mr. Murtagh said. “Usually, volume growth following a jump in volatility would come mostly from delta hedging by market participants with large options strategies. This recent increase in volume was much broader. The initial market reaction to the Trump victory felt like it might be temporary. But stepping back and looking collectively at the move in interest rates, the change in inflation expectations and the potential for more uncertainty surrounding the Fed, it all suggests a fundamentally different investment outlook.”
“We have seen every type of buy-side institution increase their volumes, both for volatility and fundamental reasons,” Mr. Murtagh added.