The U.S. debt market's most violent month in years spurred a steep decline in the amount of zero-coupon bonds, Treasury Department data show.
Treasuries held as STRIPS — a product that dealers create by divorcing a bond's principal payment from its coupons and re-selling it as a zero-coupon security — slumped $15.1 billion in March, the largest-ever slide, the data show.
These bonds had risen to a record $339.6 billion in February.
The drop accompanied a huge rally in Treasuries. Pension funds — a big customer for STRIPS — likely sold bonds and bought stocks to rebalance their portfolios for month-end after bonds outperformed massively. And the Federal Reserve's resumption of quantitative easing also created a market for whole bonds reconstituted from their component parts. Those purchases began on March 13 and totaled $1 trillion by the end of last week.
"Clearly there was a seller of seasoned zeroes as clients lightened up on fixed income," said BTG Pactual Asset Management's John Fath, who was a STRIPS trader for most of the 1993-2008 period when he worked for primary dealers. "Reconstitution of these zeroes became doable with the Fed instituting QE."
Yield curve volatility, a main driver of the economics of STRIPS reconstitution, also played a role, Fath said.