Municipal bond exchange-traded funds (ETFs) provide investors with diversified access to the municipal bond market. Municipal bonds, or munis, are debt instruments issued by states, municipalities, or counties for the purpose of financing public capital expenditures, such as the construction of highways, bridges, and schools.
For investors, munis generally offer tax-free interest income. While many of these bonds are rated investment grade by ratings agencies, indicating a relatively low degree of credit risk, they are not risk free. A municipal bond ETF can help to reduce risk through holding debt issued by a broad range of states, municipal governments, or agencies.
In the last week of August, municipal bond funds saw $3.4 billion in outflows amid fears about inflation and rising interest rates. Five of the top 10 weeks of muni bond fund outflows since 1992 have occurred in 2022.
- Municipal bonds outperformed the broader market over the past year.
- The municipal bond exchange-traded funds (ETFs) with the best one-year trailing total returns are PVI, IBMK, and BSMM.
- The top holdings of these ETFs are municipal bonds issued by the Geneva, N.Y. Industrial Development Agency, Montgomery County, Md., and Cook County ILL., respectively.
There are 65 distinct municipal bond ETFs that trade in the United States, excluding inverse and leveraged ETFs as well as funds with less than $50 million in assets under management (AUM). Municipal bonds, as measured by the Bloomberg Municipal Bond Index, have outperformed the broader market over the past 12 months, with a total return of -9.1% compared with the S&P 500’s total return of -11.0%, as of Sept. 1, 2022.
The best-performing municipal bond ETF, based on performance over the past year, is the Invesco VRDO Tax-Free ETF (PVI). We examine the three best municipal bond ETFs below. All numbers below are as of Sept. 2, 2022. In order to focus on the funds' investment strategy, the top holdings listed for each ETF generally exclude cash holdings and holdings purchased with securities lending proceeds except under unusual cases, such as when the cash portion is exceptionally large. That's the case with IBMK below.
- Performance Over One-Year: 0.2%
- Expense Ratio: 0.25%
- Annual Dividend Yield: N/A
- Three-Month Average Daily Volume: 6,995
- Assets Under Management: $63.5 million
- Inception Date: Nov. 15, 2007
- Issuer: Invesco
PVI seeks to track the ICE US Municipal AMT-Free VRDO Constrained Index. The index targets the performance of U.S. dollar tax-exempt variable rate demand obligations (VRDOs) that are publicly issued by U.S. states, territories, and their political subdivisions. They have interest rates that reset daily, weekly or monthly. The ETF does not buy every security in the Index and, instead, uses a sampling approach. Because of its focus on the shortest part of the maturity curve, PVI carries little to no interest rate risk. While this makes it a safer investment in periods of high volatility, it also limits yields. The fund's top three holdings are bonds issued by the Geneva, N.Y. Industrial Development Agency; the Emmaus, Pa. General Authority; and the Illinois Finance Authority.
- Performance Over One-Year: -0.1%
- Expense Ratio: 0.18%
- Annual Dividend Yield: 1.33%
- Three-Month Average Daily Volume: 66,532
- Assets Under Management: $434.5 million
- Inception Date: Sept. 1, 2015
- Issuer: BlackRock Financial Management
IBMK tracks the S&P AMT-Free Municipal Series Dec 2022 Index, an index composed of investment-grade U.S. muni bonds maturing between Dec. 31, 2021 and Dec. 2, 2022. The ETF's goal is tax-exempt income and to manage interest rate risk. Cash and/or derivatives comprise the largest share of holdings at 47.5%, followed by local tax-backed bonds and prerefund/escrow bonds. The fund holds bonds issued by nearly every U.S. state, with California and Maryland getting the largest allocations. The top individual municipal holdings of IBMK include bonds issued by Montgomery County, Md.; the University of Michigan; and Battery Park City Authority, N.Y.
- Performance Over One-Year: -0.2%
- Expense Ratio: 0.18%
- Annual Dividend Yield: 0.38%
- Three-Month Average Daily Volume: 24,082
- Assets Under Management: $80.8 million
- Inception Date: Sept. 25, 2019
- Issuer: Invesco
BSMM tracks the Invesco BulletShares USD Municipal Bond 2022 Index. The index aims to measure the performance of a portfolio of U.S. dollar-denominated municipal bonds with effective maturities in 2022. The bonds are issued by US state, state agencies, or local governments. As BSMM focuses on bonds with maturities in 2022, the fund will terminate by approximately Dec. 15, 2022. BulletShares funds are unique in that they distribute the principal back to investors when the scheduled maturity date is reached. This helps investors looking to lock in a fixed coupon while also enjoying the diversification possible through an ETF. The top holdings of BSMM include bonds issued by Cook County, ILL.; the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority; and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, N.Y.
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