Since the central bank’s unexpected pledge to shore up the wobbly market in March, it has purchased barely $3 billion of corporate debt-tracking funds as of May 26, according to the data released Thursday. That’s just 1.2% of the $252.7 billion market for credit ETFs.
It’s not much of a surprise to investors that the Fed has made only nominal ETF buys, since its announcement alone spurred enough demand to restore order. When credit markets seized up in mid-March, the Fed unleashed a torrent of support. Now its demand for ETFs appears unnecessary: assets in the largest credit ETF has climbed to a record, and investment-grade corporate-debt sales topped $1 trillion just 149 days into the year.
“There’s no need for the Fed to be using all of their firepower now when the market is functioning smoothly,” said Collin Martin, a fixed-income strategist at the Schwab Center for Financial Research. “The small purchases seem to be another signal, with the Fed saying ‘we’re up and running’ but keeping plenty of powder dry until it needs to really help the market.”
The delay between the announcement and the first purchases had left some speculating that the Fed might not actually use the facility, given the magnitude of the market reaction. The $49 billion iShares iBoxx $ Investment Grade Corporate Bond ETF has rallied over 14% since March 23, and is leading 2020 fixed-income inflows with an $11.7 billion haul.
Total assets held in the so-called Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility, is shown at $34.8 billion in the latest release. However, a note with the release explained that this reflected the U.S. Treasury Department’s equity contribution to the facility to shield the Fed from losses, of which 85% must be invested in non-marketable Treasury securities and reported in the net holdings of the program.
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