My Prediction: This Will Ignite CEFs in 2020

By Michael Foster

ThereaEURtms one word that strikes utter terror into the hearts of many investors: leverage.

But it really shouldnaEURtmtaEUR"and today IaEURtmm going to show you how to make sure youaEURtmre using leverage the right way, while minimizing your risk and reaping the biggest gains you can.

As you probably know, closed-end funds (CEFs) commonly use leverage to amp up their investment returns (and their dividends, which boast an average yield of around 7%). ThataEURtms fed their strong gains this year, as the Federal Reserve rolled out three consecutive rate cuts:

CEFs on a Tear

The CEF Insider index tracker has shown double-digit gains across the board, with equity CEFs slightly outperforming the S&P 500aEURtms 26% year-to-date gains. And leverage is a tailwind set to push CEFs higher still in 2020.

To get at why, and the best way to manage the leverage in your CEF investments, letaEURtms take a quick look at history.

A 90-Year Old Tale

The cloud hanging over leverage stretches back to the crash of 1929 and tales of stock brokers who borrowed too much cash before the collapse, then leaped out their office windows. This piece of investing folklore has had a long shelf life on Wall Street.

But that was 90 years ago: today, blow-ups due to overleverage are rare, thanks to regulation, a smarter market and tons of research.

You can also make leverage safer by combining variable- and fixed-rate loans. And you can add even more safety by hedging through derivatives (even though aEURoederivativesaEUR is yet another word that makes many folks quake).

This is exactly what one the most successful CEFs of our time, the PIMCO Corporate & Income Opportunities Fund (PTY), has pulled off, thanks to the reams of data and exclusive market access enjoyed by its parent company, PIMCO.

PIMCO Turns Leverage Into Massive Profits

This approach doesnaEURtmt always attract investors, however. Consider the Pioneer High Income Trust (PHT), which used a complex credit portfolio to earn market-busting returns until the start of 2015, when the fund crashed. PHT has basically flatlined since:

Demand Falls Off a Cliff

Does this truly reflect how the fundaEURtms portfolio has performed? Nope. PHTaEURtms portfolio return (referred to in CEF-speak as its net asset value, or NAV) has gotten even more impressive since its lowest point in early 2016:

A Stunning Recovery

This comebackaEUR"and the all-time highs PHTaEURtms NAV recently hitaEUR"are even more impressive when you consider the context around these returns.

As youaEURtmre likely aware, the Federal Reserve increased interest rates from the end of 2015 to the start of 2019, culminating in multiple hikes that were a big reason why the market turned in a negative performance in 2018. But thereaEURtms more to the story when it comes to CEFs.

When the Fed increases its interest-rate target, the LIBOR will often respond by rising proportionally. WhataEURtms LIBOR? The acronym stands for the aEURoeLondon interbank offered rate,aEUR and itaEURtms an interest-rate benchmark banks use to see how much they should charge other banks to borrow money. ItaEURtms also an important benchmark for levered CEFs because the rates they pay on their borrowings are tied to LIBOR.

Simply put, this means a higher LIBOR means higher borrowing costs for CEFsaEUR"and thataEURtms been the story for years:

Leverage Gets Pricier

Following the subprime-mortgage crisis and the FedaEURtms rate cuts, LIBOR stayed pegged at around zero until late 2015, when the FedaEURtms hikes started sending the rate higher.

Then it exploded in 2016 and thereafter, as the Fed raised rates faster and faster. The effect for CEFs was simple: borrowing money got a lot more expensive. This caused many investors in 2015 and 2016 to panic and sell off CEFs, due to a simple overreaction.

Why was it an overreaction? Because although borrowing costs rose from 0.3% to nearly 2%, the returns CEFs got from borrowing that money were still positive. Let me explain this in a chart:

Lower, But Still Positive, Returns

Source: CEF Insider

As you can see, as long as a CEFaEURtms return on the capital itaEURtms borrowing exceeds its borrowing costs, itaEURtms earning a profit off of these loans. Here IaEURtmm assuming 7% overall returns, which is average for equity and taxable-bond CEFs over the last decade (and far below what many have achieved).

In other words, even if borrowing money isnaEURtmt as lucrative as it used to be, itaEURtms still lucrative.

But things have just started to get better.

In 2019, the Fed started cutting interest rates, which lowered CEFsaEURtm borrowing costs. ThataEURtms helped CEFs soar in 2019, but all of the gains arenaEURtmt fully priced in, because the Fed has no plans to raise interest rates in 2020aEUR"and another cut (or multiple cuts) is more likely. This would mean an even larger profit margin for CEFs whose borrowing costs are falling. And that means CEF buyers are looking at a terrific opportunity.

Yours Now: 5 CEF Buys for 8% Dividends and 20%+ GAINS in 2020

My FREE Special Report, aEURoe5 Hidden Income Plays the ETF Companies DonaEURtmt Want You to Know About,aEUR reveals 5 of my top CEF picks for 2020. Each one uses leverage safely and effectively, helping fuel dividends that dwarf the payout on the average CEF: IaEURtmm talking an 8% dividend yield, on average here.

And some pay even more than that, like Pick No. 1, which yields a hefty 9.1% as I write this!

These CEFs truly are the best of the best: your aEURoego-toaEURtmsaEUR for reliable income and blockbuster upside:A IaEURtmm forecasting 20%+ price gains in 2020 alone,A thanks to the ridiculous discounts theyaEURtmre trading at right now.

And with just a couple more clicks, the name of all 5 of these perfect CEF buys for 2020 can be yours. DonaEURtmt miss out.A Click here to get your Special Report and full detailsaEUR"names, ticker symbols and my complete researchaEUR"on this basket of 5 potent 8%+ income plays now!

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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