Why My Firm Sold Short-Term Bond ETFs and Bought U.S. Treasury Bills

Recently my firm replaced all of our short-term bond exchange-traded funds with U.S. Treasury bills. The core motive for this decision was not to pick up a few points of extra yield, though that’s a nice bonus. We sold these ETFs because we were concerned about the low-probability but still possible risk mismatch in liquidity between the ETF and the securities it holds, in the event of a (not-low-probability) panic sell-off in the market.

Our problem with the ETFs concerned liquidity. Liquidity is measured on two dimensions, time and price — it is the degree to which an asset can be bought or sold without impacting its price. For instance, a house is not really a liquid asset. If you want to sell it fast you might have to lower the price significantly to find buyers. On the other hand, stocks of large companies and U.S. Treasury bills are incredibly liquid.

Yet this definition of liquidity is not complete. Liquidity of an asset may or may not be constant — it can change from one environment to another. Today, in a benign economic and market environment, many assets provide a false sense of liquidity. But this may change on a dime when this artificially created calm gets roiled.

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Vitaliy Katsenelson

I am the CEO at IMA, which is anything but your average investment firm. (Why? Get our company brochure here, or simply visit our website).

In a brief moment of senility, Forbes magazine called me “the new Benjamin Graham.”

I’ve written two books on investing, which were published by John Wiley & Sons and have been translated into eight languages. (I’m working on a third - you can read a chapter from it, titled “The 6 Commandments of Value Investing” here).

And if you prefer listening, audio versions of my articles are published weekly at investor.fm.

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