Biggest Credit ETF Sees Shorts Soar

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ETF traders are increasingly wary of the corporate bond market as inflation anxiety boils over.

Source: Bloomberg

Short interest in the $41 billion iShares iBoxx $ Investment Grade Corporate Bond exchange-traded fund (ticker LQD) is now 21.5% of shares outstanding, the highest on record, according to data from IHS Markit Ltd.

The onslaught of bearish sentiment comes as price pressures threaten to send U.S. long-dated yields higher — a worry that only intensified after April’s surprise jump in consumer prices. Already LQD investors have been yanking cash out by the billions: the fund has seen $11.3 billion in outflows so far this year, after absorbing nearly $15 billion in 2020.

Higher yields puts LQD and funds like it in a particularly vulnerable position, given its duration — or sensitivity to interest-rate changes — clocks in at a relatively hefty 10 years. With Treasury yield curves poised to steepen, that should spell trouble for LQD, Academy Securities said.

“We could see some pressure on bonds, especially LQD as people are afraid of the rate risk. LQD has a very long duration,” said Peter Tchir, the firm’s head of macro strategy. “The yield risk is greater than the spread risk for me.”

LQD has sank nearly 6% so far in 2021, after rallying 8% last year as the Federal Reserve’s credit market backstop to blunt the pandemic’s impact spurred a rush of issuance and inflows. However, with central bank policy makers insistent that post-lockdown price pressures are transitory, LQD has been selling off alongside Treasury bonds.

Bond market expectations for the pace of consumer price inflation over the coming half decade surged on Monday to the highest level since 2006.

The five-year breakeven rate, a measure based on the yield gap between inflation-linked debt and non-inflation securities, climbed as much as 3.4 basis points to 2.7327%, eclipsing a high from 2008. Meanwhile, nominal rates were kept relatively in check, with the five-year yield around one basis point lower at 0.76%.

Monday’s jump in breakeven rates comes amid a surge in prices for oil products after a cyber attack shut down a key U.S. pipeline. It adds to a longer-term uptick in inflation expectations that’s been fueled by improving prospects for growth, plans for infrastructure spending and pandemic-related stimulus measures.