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  • Municipal Bonds

    MAAX Seeks Shelter in High Quality

    David Schassler, Portfolio Manager and Head of Portfolio and Quantitative Investment Solutions, VanEck
    May 15, 2020

    The VanEck Vectors® Municipal Allocation ETF (MAAX) tactically allocates among VanEck municipal bond ETFs based on interest rate and credit opportunities to seek capital appreciation plus tax-exempt income. It uses a data-driven, rules-based process that leverages technical and macroeconomic indicators to guide credit and duration exposure, seeking to avoid market risks when appropriate. The expanded PDF version of this commentary can be downloaded here.


    The VanEck Vectors Municipal Allocation ETF (MAAX) returned -0.30% vs. -1.26% for its benchmark for the month.

    A significant allure of municipal bond investing, besides the tax preferences, is that default rates have historically been low relative to other fixed income investments. However, the forced shutdown of the economy has led to a severe decline in revenues for state and local governments. The longer the shutdown continues, the more pressure will be applied to municipalities to meet their obligations. Default rates have been rising and, without help from the federal government or a quick resolution to COVID-19, the situation is expected to worsen.

    In the beginning of April, MAAX gradually exited its positions in high yield, long and intermediate duration and moved into short duration investment grade. The muni market got off to a bumpy start in April. There was a rapid price decline on the first trading day, followed by a short rally that lasted until April 9, and then prices continued to fall for the rest of the month. Within MAAX’s universe of ETFs, high yield bonds and short-term investment grade were the top performers in April. The VanEck Vectors High Yield Municipal Index ETF (HYD) had a market price return of 5.23% and the VanEck Vectors AMT-Free Short Municipal Index ETF (SMB) had a market price return of 1.35%. The bottom performing ETFs within its investment universe for April were the VanEck Vectors AMT-Free Long Municipal ETF (MLN), with a market price return of -2.85%, and the Vectors AMT-Free Intermediate Municipal ETF (ITM), with a market price return of -2.11%.

    The markets have stabilized significantly in the past two months. MAAX is adapting to the lower risk regime by re-investing in investment grade bonds with intermediate and longer-term durations. However, the model remains defensively positioned by avoiding investments in high yield bonds. The following section of the commentary explains why.

    Average Annual Total Returns (%) as of April 30, 2020
      1 Mo YTD 1 Year Life
    MAAX (NAV) -0.30 -9.30 - -6.13
    MAAX (Share Price) -1.92 -9.92 - -6.70
    Bloomberg Barclays
    Municipal Bond Index*
    -1.26 -1.88 2.16 1.21

    Average Annual Total Returns (%) as of March 31, 2020
      1 Mo YTD 1 Year Life
    MAAX (NAV) -12.09 -9.03 - -5.85
    MAAX (Share Price) -11.18 -8.15 - -4.87
    Bloomberg Barclays
    Municipal Bond Index*
    -3.63 -0.63 3.85 2.50

    † Returns less than a year are not annualized.

    Expenses: Gross 0.38%; Net 0.38%. Van Eck Associates Corporation (the “Adviser”) will pay all expenses of the Fund, except for the fee payment under the investment management agreement, acquired fund fees and expenses, interest expense, offering costs, trading expenses, taxes and extraordinary expenses. Expenses are based on estimated amounts for the current fiscal year. Cap excludes acquired fund fees and expenses, interest expense, trading expenses, taxes and extraordinary expenses.

    The table presents past performance which is no guarantee of future results and which may be lower or higher than current performance. Returns reflect temporary contractual fee waivers and/or expense reimbursements. Had the ETF incurred all expenses and fees, investment returns would have been reduced. Investment returns and ETF share values will fluctuate so that investors’ shares, when redeemed, may be worth more or less than their original cost. ETF returns assume that distributions have been reinvested in the Fund at “Net Asset Value” (NAV). NAV is determined at the close of each business day, and represents the dollar value of one share of the fund; it is calculated by taking the total assets of the fund, subtracting total liabilities, and dividing by the total number of shares outstanding. The NAV is not necessarily the same as the ETF’s intraday trading value. VanEck Vectors ETF investors should not expect to buy or sell shares at NAV.

    Bloomberg Barclays Municipal Bond Index is considered representative of the broad market for investment grade, tax-exempt municipal bonds with a maturity of at least one year.

    Muni Risk Factors

    The model indicates a period of continued high risk in the municipal fixed income market. This results from measuring credit and duration risk using stability in price levels, volatility and historical relationships.

    Risk is scored from 0 to 100. A score of 50 or lower implies that risk is low and a score of 50 or higher implies that risk is high. The current credit risk score remains at 100. This extreme score reflects falling prices, high volatility and various fixed income spread measures that indicate a period of near-term instability in assets with credit risk.

    Credit Total Risk Score

    Credit Total Risk Score

    The duration risk score fell from 66 to 41 as the markets continue to stabilize.

    Duration Total Risk Score

    Duration Total Risk Score

    The volatility of key global interest rate benchmarks has fallen as central banks around the world aggressively combat the economic turmoil caused by the virus. This was the catalyst for MAAX re-investing in both intermediate and longer-term duration investment grade bonds. While the duration risk score is below the critical level of 50, it remains elevated due to continued downward pricing pressure on municipal bonds with longer durations.

    This is a period of great uncertainty for the markets. Risk may continue to abate and offer investors a great buying opportunity in high yield, or it may worsen and high yield prices may fall further from here. We believe that the fund is positioned to perform well in either scenario.


    This content is published in the United States for residents of specified countries. Investors are subject to securities and tax regulations within their applicable jurisdictions that are not addressed on this content. Nothing in this content should be considered a solicitation to buy or an offer to sell shares of any investment in any jurisdiction where the offer or solicitation would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction, nor is it intended as investment, tax, financial, or legal advice. Investors should seek such professional advice for their particular situation and jurisdiction.

    An investment in the Funds may be subject to risks which include, fund of funds risk, high portfolio turnover, model and data risks, management, operational, authorized participant concentration and absence of prior active market risks, trading issues, market, fund shares trading, premium/discount and liquidity of fund shares and non-diversified risks. The funds may be subject to following risks as a result of investing in Exchange Traded Products including municipal securities, credit, high yield securities, tax, interest rate, call, state concentration and sector concentration risks. Municipal bonds may be less liquid than taxable bonds. There is no guarantee that a Funds’ income will be exempt from federal, state or local income taxes, and changes in those tax rates or in alternative minimum tax (AMT) rates or in the tax treatment of municipal bonds may make them less attractive as investments and cause them to lose value. Capital gains, if any, are subject to capital gains tax. A portion of the dividends you receive may be subject to AMT. For a more complete description of these and other risks, please refer to each Fund’s prospectus.

    Bloomberg Barclays Municipal Bond Index is considered representative of the broad market for investment grade, tax-exempt municipal bonds with a maturity of at least one year.

    The VanEck Vectors ETFs are not sponsored by, endorsed, sold or promoted by Bloomberg or Barclays and neither Bloomberg nor Barclays makes any representation regarding the advisability of investing in them. The only relationship to the Adviser with respect to the VanEck Vectors ETFs is the licensing of certain trademarks and trade names of Bloomberg and Barclays and the BLOOMBERG BARCLAYS INDICES that are determined, composed and calculated by Bloomberg without regard to the Adviser or any investor in the VanEck Vectors ETFs.

    Fund shares are not individually redeemable and will be issued and redeemed at their NAV only through certain authorized broker-dealers in large, specified blocks of shares called "creation units" and otherwise can be bought and sold only through exchange trading. Shares may trade at a premium or discount to their NAV in the secondary market. You will incur brokerage expenses when trading Fund shares in the secondary market. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Returns for actual Fund investments may differ from what is shown because of differences in timing, the amount invested, and fees and expenses.

    Investing involves substantial risk and high volatility, including possible loss of principal. Bonds and bond funds will decrease in value as interest rates rise. An investor should consider the investment objective, risks, charges and expenses of the Fund carefully before investing. To obtain a prospectus and summary prospectus, which contains this and other information, call 800.826.2333 or visit Please read the prospectus and summary prospectus carefully before investing.

  • Authored by

    David Schassler
    Portfolio Manager and Head of Portfolio and Quantitative Investment Solutions, VanEck