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Market View

If you’re looking for more income in a low-yield environment, consider the potential benefits of an agile, multi-asset-class approach.

 

Table 1: Government Debt in Many Nations Have Featured Below-Zero Yields
Yields (in percent) on various maturities of developed nation government bonds, as of June 30, 2016

Source: Bloomberg and U.S. Treasury Department. Data as of June 30, 2016.
Past performance is not a reliable indicator or a guarantee of future results. The historical data shown in the chart are for illustrative purposes only. 

 

If country and western legend Hank Williams Sr. were still alive and singing, he could easily adapt his classic “Lowdown Blues” to investors’ exasperating search for higher yields. As Table 1 illustrates, the world is rife with negative rates. According to Bank of America Merrill Lynch, approximately $13 trillion in global debt currently trades at yields below zero. In some countries, one has to go beyond a 10-year maturity to find a government bond with a positive yield. In fact, yields on the benchmark 10-year government bonds in Germany, the United Kingdom, and Japan hit record lows on Tuesday, July 5, as investors flocked toward safety and away from economic uncertainty in the post-Brexit environment. While government bond yields in the United States are positive, they still have been extremely low. Even the yield on the 10-year Treasury note hit a record low on July 5, suggesting that, across the globe, investors think that low yield is much better than no yield at all. With little inflation and a lower probability of an aggressive Federal Reserve (Fed) rate hike, it doesn’t seem as though yields will be significantly higher anytime soon.

Faced with this conundrum, many investors are exploring alternative sources of attractive relative yields in the fixed-income markets, as illustrated in Chart 1. Some may be attracted to the yield on high-yield bonds, and thus choose to allocate there. After all, it’s not only the yield that should draw investor attention to below investment-grade corporates: over the past 20 years, high-yield bonds have delivered a return comparable to the equity market, but with roughly half the risk. While today’s valuations aren’t as compelling as they were earlier in the year, spreads are right around their 20-year average. Should the slow-growth environment continue, as many experts expect, rigorous credit research capable of spotting bargains in hard-hit sectors (e.g., energy) may be the optimal route to capturing high income as we wait for fundamentals to improve. 

 

Chart 1: Know How to Plow the Field of Yields
Active managers are finding a wide variety of interest rates around the world. (Yield data as of 6-30-16.)

Source: Bloomberg, Barclays, Credit Suisse, and JP Morgan.
German data refers to the government's 10-year bond yield. U.S. Treasury data based on The Barclays U.S. Treasury Long-Term Bond Index. ABS = Barclays ABS Index.  MBS = Barclays MBS Index.  AAA-rated CMBS = the AAA-rated commercial mortgage backed securities of The Barclays U.S. CMBS Investment Grade Index.  A-Rated Corporates = the A-rated component of the The Barclays U.S. Corporate Bond Index.  BBB-rated Corporates = The Barclays US Corporate BBB 1-5 Year Index.  EM Corporates based on J.P. Morgan Corporate Emerging Markets Bond Index Broad Diversified (CEMBI BD).  Leveraged Loans = Credit Suisse Leveraged Loan Index. High-Yield Corporates = Credit Suisse High Yield Index. 
Indexes are unmanaged, do not reflect the deduction of fees or expenses, and are not available for direct investment.
Past performance is no guarantee of future results.  The value of an investment in fixed-income securities will change as interest rates fluctuate and in response to market movements. As interest rates fall, the prices of debt securities tend to rise. As rates rise, prices tend to fall. For illustrative purposes only and does not represent any specific portfolio managed by Lord Abbett or any particular investment. 

 

For those who aren’t comfortable with a pure high-yield allocation, it might make sense then to pursue a multi-sector approach involving opportunistic sector rotation based on relative valuations across multiple segments of fixed income. With the understanding that many parts of the fixed-income market respond differently to economic and market developments, a more flexible approach can take advantage of the diversification benefits that emerge from a portfolio of various, low correlated parts of the market and adapt to changing market conditions.

Therefore, by investing in a combination of U.S. high-yield bonds, U.S. investment-grade bonds, emerging-market corporate bonds, bank loans, mortgage-backed securities, and stocks, active managers potentially can reduce volatility relative to a portfolio of only high-yield corporate bonds. What is more (as Chart 2 indicates), over the past three years, not only has a multi-sector approach combining U.S. high-yield corporate bonds, U.S. investment-grade bonds, emerging market corporate bonds, and equities demonstrated lower volatility than an allocation solely to high-yield bonds but it also has delivered higher returns and, as a by-product, higher risk-adjusted returns. It should be noted, however, that over the five- and 10-year period ended June 30, 2016, the blend shown had lower standard deviation, but not a higher return than the high-yield index cited in Chart 2. So investors should factor that into their risk assessment and time horizon.

 

Chart 2: Why a Fixed-Income Blend Can Be Your Friend
A multi-asset-class approach has delivered higher returns than an allocation solely to high-yield bonds.


Source: Morningstar
The blend cited above is 50% in The BofA Merrill Lynch U.S. High Yield Constrained Index, 30% in The Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index, and 10% in the J.P. Morgan Corporate Emerging Markets Bond Index Broad Diversified (CEMBI BD), and 10% in the The S&P 500® Index.
Indexes are unmanaged, do not reflect the deduction of fees or expenses, and are not available for direct investment. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.  The value of an investment in fixed-income securities will change as interest rates fluctuate and in response to market movements. As interest rates fall, the prices of debt securities tend to rise. As rates rise, prices tend to fall. For illustrative purposes only and does not represent any specific portfolio managed by Lord Abbett or any particular investment. 

 

The bottom line here is that the potential appeal of a flexible bond strategy cuts two ways: first, by judicious selection of investment-grade and high-yield bonds, bank loans, and more—that is, identifying the securities with the best relative valuation by sector—and second, by rapid shifts among those categories using sophisticated investment techniques. This agility has the potential to provide higher return than a passive allocation.

 

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. No investing strategy can overcome all market volatility or guarantee future results.

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

High-yield securities carry increased risks of price volatility, illiquidity, and the possibility of loss in the timely payment of interest and principal.

basis point is one one-hundredth of a percentage point.

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).

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.

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.

The Barclays U.S. Treasury Long-Term Bond Index (U.S. dollars) is an index composed of all bonds covered by the Barclays Treasury Bond Index with maturities of 10 years or greater. The index calculates total returns for one-month, three-month, 12-month, and 10-year periods and year to date. Total return comprises price appreciation/depreciation and income as a percentage of the original investment.  Indexes are rebalanced monthly by market capitalization.

The Barclays U.S. Mortgage-Backed Securities Index is the U.S. MBS component of the U.S. Aggregate index. The MBS Index covers the mortgage-backed pass-through securities of Ginnie Mae (GNMA), Fannie Mae (FNMA), and Freddie Mac (FHLMC).

The Barclays U.S. CMBS Investment Grade Index:  The U.S. CMBS Investment Grade Index measures the market of conduit and fusion CMBS deals with a minimum current deal size of $300mn. The index is divided into two subcomponents: the U.S. Aggregate-eligible component, which contains bonds that are ERISA eligible under the underwriter's exemption, and the non-U.S. Aggregate-eligible component, which consists of bonds that are not ERISA eligible. The U.S. CMBS Investment Grade Index was launched on January 1, 1997.

The 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 Barclays US Corporate BBB 1-5 Year Index measures the investment grade, fixed-rate, taxable corporate bond market. It includes BBB rated USD-denominated securities publicly issued by US and non-US industrial, utility and financial issuers with a maturity between 1 and 5 years. The US Corporate BBB 1-5 Year Index is a subset of the Barclays US Corporate Index. The index was launched in May 2016, with index history backfilled to November 1, 2006.

The Credit Suisse High Yield Index is an unmanaged, trader-priced index constructed to mirror the characteristics of the high-yield market. The index includes issues rated ‘BB’ and below by Standard & Poor’s or Moody’s, with par amounts greater than $75 million.

The Credit Suisse Leveraged Loan Index is designed to mirror the investable universe of the U.S. dollar-denominated leveraged loan market. The CS Leveraged Loan Index is an unmanaged, trader-priced index that tracks leveraged loans. The CS Leveraged Loan Index, which includes reinvested dividends, has been taken from published sources.

The BofA Merrill Lynch U.S. High Yield Constrained Index is a capitalization-weighted index of all U.S. dollar-denominated below investment-grade corporate debt publicly issued in the U.S. domestic market. Qualifying securities must have a below investment grade rating (based on an average of Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s, 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 index caps individual issuer at 2%. Index constituents are capitalization-weighted, based on their current amount outstanding, provided the total allocation to an individual issuer does not exceed 2%. Issuers that exceed the limit are reduced to 2% and the face value of each of their bonds is adjusted on a pro-rata basis. The face values of bonds of all other issuers that fall below the 2% cap are increased on a pro-rata basis. In the event there are fewer than 50 issuers in the Index, each is equally weighted and the face values of their respective bonds are increased or decreased on a pro-rata basis.

The 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. Total return comprises price appreciation/depreciation and income as a percentage of the original investment.

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 BofA Merrill Lynch U.S. High Yield Master II Index tracks the performance of U.S. 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, Standard & Poor’s 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.Indexes are unmanaged, do not reflect the deduction of fees or expenses, and are not available for direct investment.

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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