Rising Rate Funds: Who Remembers ARM Funds in the Early ’90s?

On Rising Rate Funds, or, Who Remembers ARM Funds in the Early ’90s? By David Merkel, CFA of Aleph Blog

In the early 90s, there were not many investment actuaries.  One of the Holy Grail ideas of the early-to-mid ’90s was creating floating rate funds with yield so that floating rate Guaranteed Investment Contracts could be profitably written.  I chronicled my efforts there in this article.

One avenue that I went down and rejected was ARM [Adjustable Rate Mortgage] funds.  There was a minor craze for them in the early-to-mid ’90s, and there were not enough ARMs issued to meet the demand for high floating rates.  As such, the prices for blocks of ARMs rose above par, sometimes significantly.

One truism of buying mortgages at a premium in the ’90s was that the ability to refinance got sharper and sharper.  Those willing to buy mortgage securities above par usually took losses as rates fell.

Thus when I read articles about rising rate ETFs, which either invest short-term, or short the bond market synthetically or actually, I think “we’ve been here before.”  It is difficult to gain incremental yield on short duration instruments without taking on risks like:

  • Credit, including weak covenants
  • Structure (another form of credit & illiquidity)
  • Negative optionality

So be wary here.  Pay more attention to the return of your principal than the return on the principal.



About the Author

David Merkel
David J. Merkel, CFA, FSA — 2010-present, I am working on setting up my own equity asset management shop, tentatively called Aleph Investments. It is possible that I might do a joint venture with someone else if we can do more together than separately. From 2008-2010, I was the Chief Economist and Director of Research of Finacorp Securities. I did a many things for Finacorp, mainly research and analysis on a wide variety of fixed income and equity securities, and trading strategies. Until 2007, I was a senior investment analyst at Hovde Capital, responsible for analysis and valuation of investment opportunities for the FIP funds, particularly of companies in the insurance industry. I also managed the internal profit sharing and charitable endowment monies of the firm. From 2003-2007, I was a leading commentator at the investment website RealMoney.com. Back in 2003, after several years of correspondence, James Cramer invited me to write for the site, and I wrote for RealMoney on equity and bond portfolio management, macroeconomics, derivatives, quantitative strategies, insurance issues, corporate governance, etc. My specialty is looking at the interlinkages in the markets in order to understand individual markets better. I no longer contribute to RealMoney; I scaled it back because my work duties have gotten larger, and I began this blog to develop a distinct voice with a wider distribution. After three-plus year of operation, I believe I have achieved that. Prior to joining Hovde in 2003, I managed corporate bonds for Dwight Asset Management. In 1998, I joined the Mount Washington Investment Group as the Mortgage Bond and Asset Liability manager after working with Provident Mutual, AIG and Pacific Standard Life. My background as a life actuary has given me a different perspective on investing. How do you earn money without taking undue risk? How do you convey ideas about investing while showing a proper level of uncertainty on the likelihood of success? How do the various markets fit together, telling us us a broader story than any single piece? These are the themes that I will deal with in this blog. I hold bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Johns Hopkins University. In my spare time, I take care of our eight children with my wonderful wife Ruth.