Tax-free municipal bonds produced positive returns and significantly outperformed taxable bonds in the fourth quarter. In fact, munis were one of the best-performing fixed income asset classes in 2015, helped by strong demand from investors, diminishing supply in recent months, and insulation from the turmoil in some global financial markets. The continued fiscal deterioration of Puerto Rico, a major muni issuer, and the Federal Reserve's first rate increase in more than nine years had a limited impact on the broad muni market as technical factors remained supportive. Long-term municipal bonds outperformed shorter maturities as the yield curve flattened over the quarter, and lower-quality municipals generally outperformed higher-quality issues.
The Summit Municipal Intermediate Fund returned 1.29% in the quarter compared with 1.12% for the Barclays Intermediate Competitive (1−17 yr maturity) Bond Index and 1.32% for the Lipper Intermediate Municipal Debt Funds Average. For the 12 months ended December 31, 2015, the fund returned 2.83% versus 2.83% for the Barclays Intermediate Competitive (1−17 yr maturity) Bond Index and 2.26% for the Lipper Intermediate Municipal Debt Funds Average. The fund's average annual total returns were 2.83%, 4.53%, and 4.34% for the 1-, 5-, and 10-year periods, respectively, as of December 31, 2015. The fund's expense ratio was 0.50% as of its fiscal year ended October 31, 2014.
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Our security selection within the revenue-backed debt sector contributed to relative results, particularly our holdings in the industrial revenue and transportation subsectors. Security selection in the general obligation (GO) bond sector was also positive, although we prefer revenue bonds in general because they offer the relative security of specific claims on revenues versus the generic pledges of taxing power associated with GOs. The fund's duration, which is a measure of sensitivity to interest rate changes, was slightly longer than the benchmark's duration. This positioning was beneficial as the yields of longer-maturity munis decreased. As always, we focus on finding attractively valued bonds issued by municipalities with good long-term fundamentals.
We believe that the municipal bond market remains a high-quality market that offers good opportunities for long-term investors seeking tax-free income. While fundamentals are sound overall and technical support should persist, investors should expect modest returns in 2016. Muni investors this year may just earn coupon income, possibly offset somewhat by declines in principal values. Muni bond yields are likely to rise this year along with Treasury yields, although probably not to the same extent. While higher yields typically pressure bond prices, we expect rate increases to be gradual and modest. Ultimately, we believe T. Rowe Price's independent credit research is our greatest strength and will remain an asset for our investors as we navigate the current market environment.