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Market View

As rates rise, a multi-sector bond portfolio offers the potential of a more favorable risk–reward trade-off than a core-bond strategy.

 

In Brief

  • Rising rates historically have posed challenges for core-bond strategies, pushing returns on long-duration and interest rate-sensitive bonds lower.
  • Moving lower in credit quality is a strategy that has been successful in past periods of rising rates.
  • A multi-sector bond strategy with a blend of fixed-income and equity-related assets may lead to higher income and total return relative to a core-bond portfolio, but with lower volatility than a pure high-yield strategy.

 

When investors set an asset allocation for their portfolio, they often begin with a “core-bond” strategy, typically one benchmarked to the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Index (“Aggregate Index”) as the foundation of the fixed-income component. The Aggregate Index offers high credit quality, with approximately two-thirds of the index comprised of U.S. government and government-related securities.

However, the characteristics of the Aggregate Index have changed over time. As illustrated in Chart 1, the effective duration of the index has been extending, and now stands at 6 years, approximately 50% longer than it was a decade ago. At the same time, although yields have risen as of late, the index does not offer a high level of income relative to its interest-rate sensitivity. This combination of yield and duration poses an unfavorable risk–reward trade-off for many investors’ core-bond allocations.

 

Chart 1. Duration Exposure Could Pose Risks During Periods of Rising Rates
Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index, duration and yield (as of May 31, 2018)

Source: Bloomberg Barclays. Performance quoted above is historical. Past performance is not a reliable indicator or guarantee of future results. The historical data are for illustrative purposes only, do not represent the performance of any specific portfolio managed by Lord Abbett or any particular investment, and are not intended to predict or depict future results. Investors may experience different results. Due to market volatility, the market may not perform in a similar manner in the future. Indexes are unmanaged, do not reflect the deduction of fees or expenses, and are not available for direct investment.

 

Rising rates historically have posed challenges for core-bond strategies, pushing returns on long-duration and interest rate-sensitive bonds lower. So far, the year 2018 is proving to be no exception. For the year-to-date period as of June 20, the Aggregate Index has generated a loss of a little more than 2.0%. Asset classes with lower rate sensitivity and higher yield generally have done better.

For those concerned about a potential continuation of rising rates, where, then, can investors turn? As we’ve discussed recently, moving lower in credit quality and duration and into such investment vehicles as high-yield and investment-grade corporate bonds, bank loans, and equity-related securities is a strategy that has been successful in past periods of rising rates. These asset classes generally offer higher yield, have low or negative correlation with U.S. Treasuries (see Table 1), and historically have delivered higher total returns than the Aggregate Index over time.  (Of course, that doesn’t mean they will outperform every year.)

 

Table 1. Higher Income and Lower Correlation with U.S. Treasuries
Correlation data for the trailing 10 years (as of May 31, 2018)

Source: Zephyr. 1Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index. 2Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Corporate Bond Index. 3J.P. Morgan Corporate Emerging Markets Bond Index Broad Diversified (CEMBI BD). 4Credit Suisse Leveraged Loan Index. 5ICE BofAML U.S. High Yield Master II Index. 6ICE BofAML Global High Yield Index. 7S&P 500® Index.

Performance quoted above is historical. Past performance is not a reliable indicator or guarantee of future results. The historical data are for illustrative purposes only, do not represent the performance of any specific portfolio managed by Lord Abbett or any particular investment, and are not intended to predict or depict future results. Investors may experience different results. Due to market volatility, the market may not perform in a similar manner in the future. Indexes are unmanaged, do not reflect the deduction of fees or expenses, and are not available for direct investment.

 

Over the long term, high-yield bonds have delivered attractive risk-adjusted returns, with much lower volatility than the S&P 500® Index. Despite this return profile, some investors may be concerned about the potential credit risk and volatility of a pure high-yield allocation, leading many investors to be under-invested in the asset class. For example, according to Morningstar, investors have, over the trailing one- and five-year periods, respectively, withdrawn $27 billion and $43 billion from high-yield bond mutual funds and exchange-traded funds.

A Third Alternative
Rather than take an either/or approach (i.e., either the “safety” of government bonds or the risk of lower-quality credit), there is a third investment alternative that investors may want to consider: a multi-sector strategy. Such an approach will include allocations to Aggregate Index sectors as well as to several credit-related sectors, including high-yield and investment-grade corporate bonds, bank loans, as well as equity and equity-related securities. A diversified portfolio with a blend of these assets may lead to higher income and total return relative to the Aggregate Index, but with lower volatility than a pure high-yield strategy.

Chart 2 illustrates a hypothetical multi-sector portfolio that blends 50% high-yield bonds and 30% the Aggregate Index, along with 10% emerging-market corporate bonds and 10% U.S. equities. During the historical period depicted in Chart 2 (January 1, 2002–May 31, 2018), this blended index delivered 87% of the return of the high-yield index (i.e., ICE BofAML High Yield Master II Index), but with 30% lower volatility. In fact, this blend delivered more than 90% of the return of the S&P 500, but with less than half the volatility of the equity market.

 

Chart 2. A Multi-Sector Portfolio Historically Has Provided Attractive Income with Less Risk Than High-Yield or Equities
Total return and volatility (standard deviation), January 1, 2002–May 31, 2018

Source: Zephyr. U.S. aggregate is represented by the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index. Global aggregate is represented by the Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Bond Index. U.S. corporate is represented by the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Corporate Bond Index. Bank loans are represented by the Credit Suisse Leveraged Loan Index. U.S. high yield is represented by the ICE BofAML U.S. High Yield Master II Index. Global high yield is represented by the ICE BofAML Global High Yield Index. Multi-Sector Blend Portfolio=50% ICE BofAML U.S. High Yield Master I Index; 30% Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index; 10% J.P. Morgan Corporate Emerging Markets Bond Index Broad Diversified; 10% S&P 500 Index.
Performance quoted above is historical. Past performance is not a reliable indicator or guarantee of future results. The historical data are for illustrative purposes only, do not represent the performance of any specific portfolio managed by Lord Abbett or any particular investment, and are not intended to predict or depict future results. Investors may experience different results. Due to market volatility, the market may not perform in a similar manner in the future. Asset allocation does not guarantee a profit or protect against loss in declining markets. Indexes are unmanaged, do not reflect the deduction of fees or expenses, and are not available for direct investment.

 

Summing Up
Correctly forecasting the direction of interest rates is notoriously difficult with any certainty, so we are not suggesting that rates are destined to shoot higher from here. But as investors review their allocations, it is important to recognize potential risk exposures in their portfolios. Those with large core-bond allocations may be subject to greater interest-rate risk than they had been in the past. 

By investing in credit-sensitive areas of the bond market, thereby reducing the interest-rate sensitivity of a core bond portfolio, we believe a multi-sector approach may offer higher yield and return potential, while, at the same time, lowering portfolio volatility and adding potentially valuable diversification benefits. [Remember, though, that no investing strategy, including diversification, can overcome all market volatility or guarantee future results.]

 

A Note about Risk: The value of investments in fixed-income securities will change as interest rates fluctuate and in response to market movements. Generally, when interest rates rise, the prices of debt securities fall, and when interest rates fall, prices generally rise. High-yield securities, sometimes called junk bonds, carry increased risks of price volatility, illiquidity, and the possibility of default in the timely payment of interest and principal. Bonds may also be subject to other types of risk, such as call, credit, liquidity, interest-rate, and general market risks. Longer-term debt securities are usually more sensitive to interest-rate changes; the longer the maturity of a security, the greater the effect a change in interest rates is likely to have on its price. Lower-rated bonds may be subject to greater risk than higher-rated bonds. There is no assurance that the investment process will consistently lead to successful investing. Asset allocation and diversification do not eliminate the risk of experiencing investment losses. Neither diversification nor asset allocation can guarantee a profit or protect against loss in declining markets.

Forecasts and projections are based on current market conditions and are subject to change without notice. Projections should not be considered a guarantee.

Glossary

The credit quality of the securities in a portfolio is assigned by a nationally recognized statistical rating organization (NRSRO) such as Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s, or Fitch, as an indication of an issuer’s creditworthiness. Ratings range from ‘AAA’ (highest) to ‘D’ (lowest). Bonds rated ‘BBB’ or above are considered investment grade. Credit ratings ‘BB’ and below are lower-rated securities. High yielding, non-investment-grade bonds involve higher risks than investment-grade bonds. Adverse conditions may affect the issuer’s ability to pay interest and principal on these securities.

Duration is the change in the value of a fixed-income security that will result from a 1% change in market interest rates. Generally, the larger a portfolio’s duration, the greater the interest-rate risk or reward for underlying bond prices.

High-yield bond spread is the percentage difference in current yields of various classes of high-yield bonds (often junk bonds) compared against investment-grade corporate bonds, Treasury bonds or another benchmark bond measure. Spreads are often expressed as a difference in percentage points or basis points (which equal one-one hundredth of a percentage point).

Standard deviation is a measure of the dispersion of a set of data from its mean; more spread-apart data has a higher deviation. Standard deviation is calculated as the square root of variance. In finance, standard deviation is applied to the annual rate of return of an investment to measure the investment's volatility.

U.S. Treasuries are debt securities issued by the U.S. government and secured by its full faith and credit. Income from Treasury securities is exempt from state and local taxes. Although U.S. government securities are guaranteed as to payments of interest and principal, their market prices are not guaranteed and will fluctuate in response to market movements.

Yield is the annual interest received from a bond and is typically expressed as a percentage of the bond's market price. A credit spread is the difference in yield between a U.S. Treasury bond and a debt security with the same maturity but of lesser quality.

The Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index represents securities that are SEC-registered, taxable, and dollar denominated. The index covers the U.S. investment grade fixed rate bond market, with index components for government and corporate securities, mortgage pass-through securities, and asset-backed securities.

The Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Bond Index is a broad-based measure of the global investment-grade, fixed-income markets. The three major components of this index are the U.S. Aggregate, the Pan-European Aggregate, and the Asian-Pacific Aggregate indexes. The index also includes euro dollar and euro/yen corporate bonds, Canadian government securities, and U.S. dollar investment-grade 144A securities.

The Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Corporate Bond Index includes all publicly held issued, fixed-rate, nonconvertible investment-grade corporate debt. The index is composed of both U.S. and Brady bonds.

The Credit Suisse Leveraged Loan Index is designed to mirror the investable universe of the U.S. dollar-denominated leveraged loan market.

The ICE BofAML U.S. High Yield Master II Index tracks the performance of US dollar denominated below investment grade corporate debt publicly issued in the US domestic market. Qualifying securities must have a below investment grade rating (based on an average of Moody’s, S&P and Fitch), at least 18 months to final maturity at the time of issuance, at least one year remaining term to final maturity as of the rebalancing date, a fixed coupon schedule and a minimum amount outstanding of $100 million.

The ICE BofAML Global High Yield Index tracks the performance of USD, CAD, GBP and EUR denominated below investment grade corporate debt publicly issued in the major domestic or Eurobond markets. Qualifying securities must have a below investment grade rating (based on an average of Moody’s, S&P and Fitch), at least 18 months to final maturity at the time of issuance, at least one year remaining term to final maturity as of the rebalancing date, a fixed coupon schedule and a minimum amount outstanding of USD 100 million, EUR 100 million, GBP 50 million, or CAD100 million.

Source ICE Data Indices, LLC (“ICE”), used with permission. ICE PERMITS USE OF THE ICE BofAML INDICES AND RELATED DATA ON AN "AS IS" BASIS, MAKES NO WARRANTIES REGARDING SAME, DOES NOT GUARANTEE THE SUITABILITY, QUALITY, ACCURACY, TIMELINESS, AND/OR COMPLETENESS OF THE ICE BofAML INDICES OR ANY DATA INCLUDED IN, RELATED TO, OR DERIVED THEREFROM, ASSUMES NO LIABILITY IN CONNECTION WITH THE USE OF THE FOREGOING, AND DOES NOT SPONSOR, ENDORSE, OR RECOMMEND LORD ABBETT, OR ANY OF ITS PRODUCTS OR SERVICES.

The J.P. Morgan Corporate Emerging Markets Bond Index Broad Diversified (CEMBI BD): The CEMBI is a market capitalization weighted index that tracks total returns of US dollar-denominated debt instruments issued by corporate entities in Emerging Markets countries. The index limits the current face amount allocations of the bonds in the CEMBI Broad by constraining the total face amount outstanding for countries with larger debt stocks.

The S&P 500® Index is widely regarded as the standard for measuring large cap U.S. stock market performance and includes a representative sample of leading companies in leading industries.

The investment benchmarks described herein are unmanaged, do not reflect the deduction of fees or expenses, and are not available for direct investment.

The information provided is not directed at any investor or category of investors and is provided solely as general information about Lord Abbett’s products and services and to otherwise provide general investment education. None of the information provided should be regarded as a suggestion to engage in or refrain from any investment-related course of action as neither Lord Abbett nor its affiliates are undertaking to provide impartial investment advice, act as an impartial adviser, or give advice in a fiduciary capacity. If you are an individual retirement investor, contact your financial advisor or other fiduciary about whether any given investment idea, strategy, product or service may be appropriate for your circumstances.

The opinions in Market View are as of the date of publication, are subject to change based on subsequent developments, and may not reflect the views of the firm as a whole. The material is not intended to be relied upon as a forecast, research, or investment advice, is not a recommendation or offer to buy or sell any securities or to adopt any investment strategy, and is not intended to predict or depict the performance of any investment. Readers should not assume that investments in companies, securities, sectors, and/or markets described were or will be profitable. Investing involves risk, including possible loss of principal. This document is prepared based on the information Lord Abbett deems reliable; however, Lord Abbett does not warrant the accuracy and completeness of the information. Investors should consult with a financial advisor prior to making an investment decision.

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