The March issue of Crane Data's Bond Fund Intelligence, which was sent out to subscribers Tuesday, features the lead story, "Bond Fund Inflows Back w/a Vengeance in 2017 After Dip," which tells readers that, "Inflows into bond funds ... are running at one of their strongest paces ever." It also includes the interview, "Northern Trust's Morten Olsen Talks Ultra-Shorts." In addition, we recap the latest Bond Fund News, including briefs such as, "Bond Fund Returns Up Again in Feb.; Yields Flat, Down." BFI also includes our Crane BFI Indexes, averages and summaries of major bond fund categories. We excerpt from the latest issue below. (Contact us if you'd like to see a copy of our latest Bond Fund Intelligence and BFI XLS data spreadsheet.) Finally, we look forward to seeing those of you attending the inaugural Crane's Bond Fund Symposium next week (March 23-24) in Boston!

Our lead Bond Fund Intelligence story says, "Inflows into bond funds in the first 2 months of 2017 are running at one of their strongest paces ever. Based on the Investment Company Institute's numbers, bond funds have attracted over $72 billion YTD. This represents a stark contrast to the end of 2016, where we experienced a rare 2-month stretch of outflows. We take a more detailed look at the most recent flow data, as well as historical flows and asset trends, below.

It continues, "ICI's monthly "Trends" shows bond fund assets rising by $43.6 billion to $3.693 trillion in January. During 2016, bond fund assets rose by $235.9 billion, or 6.9%. The monthly ICI release says, "Bond funds had an inflow of $21.55 billion in January, compared with an outflow of $10.19 billion in December. Taxable bond funds had an inflow of $17.43 billion in January, versus an inflow of $7.46 billion in December. Municipal bond funds had an inflow of $4.13 billion in January, compared with an outflow of $17.64 billion in December."

Our latest fund "Profile" says, "This month, Bond Fund Intelligence speaks with Morten Olsen, Director of Ultra-Short Fixed Income at Northern Trust Asset Management. Olsen oversees Northern's ultra-short bond fund lineup, including the $2.1 billion Northern Ultra Short Fixed-Income (NUSFX) and the $3.5 billion Northern Tax-Advantaged Ultra-Short Fixed-Income (NTAUX). We discuss fund strategies, rates, risks and the future of ultra-short bond funds below. Olsen expects a very busy 2017 for the sector."

BFI asks, "How long have you been running ultra-shorts?" Olsen answers, "Northern Trust has been running ultra-short strategies since the late 1980's. Ultra-short is part of our broader liquidity management capabilities at Northern Trust Asset Management, which currently total approximately $225 billion in AUM. Our liquidity management capabilities include government and prime money market funds, as well as ultra-short strategies. Common across all these strategies is our conservative investment approach, which focuses on credit research and risk management. I have 13 years of experience in the fixed income industry. I joined Northern Trust back in 2009 in the London office, and in May of 2016 I took over as director of ultra-short based here in Chicago."

The piece also says, "Tell us about the funds. Olsen explains, "We have two mutual funds. They were started back in 2009 and have a combined AUM of $5.5 billion. The two funds differ in their strategies, and therefore attract a different client base. The taxable mutual fund focuses on corporate bonds and on Treasury securities, and the tax-advantaged fund focuses mainly on municipal securities but will also add corporate bonds. The tax-advantaged strategies will only add corporate bonds when the after-tax yields of these are favorable compared to a tax-free municipal bond."

He adds, "Ultra-short falls under our cash segmentation strategy, which is a way for our clients to bucket their cash. The three buckets are: operational cash, which is for day-to-day needs -- a client should typically be investing into a government fund for this portion; reserve cash, which is for intermediate needs -- this portion should be invested into a prime money market fund; then the last bucket, strategic cash. That's where ultra-short really becomes interesting. Strategic cash has a horizon of up to 6 to 18 months, and using an ultra-short strategy is a way for our clients to earn a bit higher yield while only taking limited additional risk. I think the important point here is we don't view ultra-short as a substitute for a money fund. We look at it as a complementary product."

Our Bond Fund News brief on "Bond Fund Returns" explains, "Returns rose across all of the Crane BFI Indexes. Our BFI Total Index averaged a 1-month return of 0.61% and gained 4.29% over 12 months. The BFI 100 had a return of 0.73% in Feb. and rose 5.15% over 1 year. The BFI Conservative Ultra-Short Index returned 0.02% and was up 1.17% over 1-year; the BFI Ultra-Short Index had a 1-month return of 0.13% and 1.81% for 12 mos. Our BFI Short-Term Index returned 0.24% and 2.99% for the month and past year. The BFI High Yield Index increased 1.06% in Feb. and is up 15.86% over 1 year."

Another brief, "ICI Says 46% Own Bond Funds," says, "The Investment Company Institute published, "Profile of Mutual Fund Shareholders, 2016," which shows that 43.6% of the 125.8 million U.S. households own mutual funds (54.8 million). Of these, 86% own equity funds, 35% own balanced funds, 46% own bond funds (up from 42% the previous year), and 55% own money funds. This means 25.2 million households own bond funds."

Finally, a sidebar entitled, "MStar on Low Risk Funds," explains, "Morningstar keeps the bond fund commentary coming with "8 Incredibly Low-Risk Bond Funds." This piece explains, "Low-risk bond funds are a handy thing. If you are putting away money for a near-term expenditure like tuition in a couple of years or a house in three years, low-risk bond funds, along with money markets and certificates of deposit, can serve a valuable purpose.... But you don't want to make them a big part of a long-term portfolio, as they might not even keep up with inflation."

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