Volatility Returns in Muni Market’s Worst Quarter Since 1994

Volatility has come roaring back in the municipal-bond market.

The $4 trillion state and local-debt market just logged its most volatile 10-day period since the early 2020 selloff, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Benchmark yields rose as much as 11 basis points on Tuesday, driving the market to its worst day of performance since April 2020. AAA yields rose as much as 2 basis points as of 4 p.m. on Wednesday.

The rout came after Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell’s hawkish comments triggered a tumble in Treasuries as the central bank head seeks to tame the worst inflation in 40 years. Tuesday’s move pushed the muni market to a 5.47% loss this year, poised for its worst quarter since 1994, according to Bloomberg indexes.

“I don’t necessarily expect a quick snap back,” said Mikhail Foux, head of municipal strategy at Barclays Plc, who described the selloff as driven by the Fed’s commentary. He said the market could start to recoup some of its losses in the second half of the year.

Outflows from municipal-bond mutual funds, typically a major buying force, have weighed on the market. The selling pressure accelerated on Tuesday, with the amount of bonds out for bid climbing to $1.6 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The average amount money managers are seeking bids on this month is nearly double the level in 2021.