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Earlier this year, PIMCO cited expectations that the Fed would start a series of rate cuts as one of its reasons to be bullish on fixed income. The asset manager is revising this view given the lack of progress on inflation and now sees rate cuts being delayed until the end of the year or even into 2025.

Following the latest FOMC meeting, PIMCO sees the Fed pursuing a policy similar to the 1990s, when the Fed held rates and allowed inflation to trend lower over time. Fed officials seem wary of the downside risks of further tightening and are willing to concede higher inflation in the near term. 

Despite a recent uptick in inflation, the Fed seems content to hold rates at steady levels. During his press conference, Chair Powell remarked that monetary policy was restrictive and that rates could be lowered if the labor market weakened. He added that a rate hike was ‘very unlikely’ and that the inflation in resurgence could be temporary due to seasonality and noise. 

While fixed income rallied following the FOMC meeting, PIMCO expects FOMC members to raise their inflation forecasts from 2.6% to 3% for core PCE at the upcoming meeting. The firm also sees an increased risk of no rate cuts this year if inflation data comes in closer to 3% than 2%.

Finsum: Following the latest FOMC meeting and hot inflation data, PIMCO is lowering the odds of a Fed rate cut in 2024. 

Tuesday, 07 May 2024 04:53

Annuity Sales Continue Torrid Pace

US annuity sales reached $113.5 billion in Q1, 21% higher than last year. It was also the second-highest quarterly figure on record after the fourth quarter of 2023, according to LIMRA. There was solid and impressive growth across nearly every category, and the organization anticipates that sales will remain strong for the rest of the year. 

Bryan Hodgens, the head of LIMRA research, noted, “The remarkable sales trends over the past two years continued into 2024. Favorable economic conditions and rising investor interest in securing guaranteed retirement income have resulted in double-digit sales growth in every product line.” 

Fixed-rate deferred annuities accounted for the biggest share of sales at 42%. This segment generated $48 billion in revenue, a 16% increase from last year. 85% of fixed-rate deferred annuities had durations of less than 5 years. 

Fixed-indexed annuities set a new record in terms of quarterly sales at $29.3 billion, 27% higher than last year. The next highest contributor were income annuities. Among this category, single-premium immediate annuity sales were $4 billion, a 19% increase from last year, and deferred-income annuities were at $1.1 billion, 35% higher than last year. Registered index-linked annuities saw $14.5 billion in sales and continue to be the fastest-growing segment with a 40% growth rate.

Finsum: Annuity sales maintained their hot streak with a new record for Q1 sales and the second-highest quarterly figure. LIMRA attributes this to high interest rates and unease about the economic situation. 

Prudential conducted a survey of 198 financial advisors to gain insight on how they are investing and constructing portfolios for retirees. 80% use separate portfolios that are specifically designed for retirees. Additionally, the use of targeted portfolios was higher among advisors who were more knowledgeable about planning for retirement. 

Another takeaway from the survey is that 50% of retirees prefer to live off of income from their portfolios. Thus, advisors need to ensure that their portfolios generate income for clients while balancing other factors like total return and diversification.

In terms of asset classes for retirement portfolios, advisors favored long-term fixed income, US large-cap stocks, and TIPS. Advisors who were more knowledgeable about retirement planning favored long-term bonds and TIPS to a greater degree than less knowledgeable advisors. 

The survey also showed that most advisors are constructing retirement portfolios themselves or with the assistance of third-party recommendations or allocators. Advisors with less knowledge about the subject were more likely to outsource portfolio construction. 

Most advisors are helping clients plan for retirement by optimizing for goals such as flexibility in spending or timeframe. This is in contrast to other approaches, which include using a bucket strategy or segmenting the portfolio into different strategies for different purposes.

Finsum: Prudential conducted a survey of financial advisors. Those with more knowledge about retirement planning favored long-term bonds and tend to use differentiated strategies.

State Street is bullish on fixed income. It believes that institutions should take advantage of attractive yields and that macro conditions are improving, albeit in an uneven fashion. Investors can achieve their diversification, return, and income goals without compromising on credit quality.

Many pensions have been able to close or shrink their funding gaps due to higher yields from Treasuries and investment-grade corporate debt. At current valuations, bonds are able to more effectively function as a hedge against weaker economic growth and serve as an effective hedge against equities. 

State Street sees the economy in a sideways period for rates and inflation. Therefore, it recommends that investors get long duration and see a more favorable environment eventually emerging for borrowers. It forecasts that inflation and Fed rates will end the year lower, providing a tailwind for fixed income.

In terms of active vs. passive strategies for fixed income, State Street takes a nuanced approach. It believes that in certain sectors, capable active managers have proven to add value. But this alpha has been shown to erode over time.

State Street has built a systematic approach towards fixed income which uses a rules-based approach. It weighs factors like value, sentiment, and momentum. It sees considerable benefits to increased electronic trading for fixed income, which has resulted in more data and liquidity. 

Finsum: State Street is bullish on fixed income due to attractive yields and an improving macro environment. In terms of active vs. passive fixed income, it takes a nuanced view.  

Sunday, 05 May 2024 07:06

Yield Seekers Should Look at Munis

Bonds are generally lagging behind this year, with the Bloomberg U.S. Aggregate Bond Index down by 3% year-to-date as of April 2022. Municipal bonds are similarly affected, with the ICE AMT-Free US National Municipal Index showing a 1% decline since the year's start. However, pockets of strength exist within the municipal bond space, particularly in high-yield offerings like the VanEck High Yield Muni ETF (HYD), which has seen nearly a 1% increase year-to-date. 


Despite the higher risk associated with high-yield bonds, HYD maintains a balanced risk profile, with a significant portion of its portfolio allocated to investment-grade bonds. Offering a 30-day SEC yield of 4.49%, HYD presents an attractive option for investors seeking enhanced yield opportunities, particularly those comfortable with added risk and in higher tax brackets. 


Overall, high-yield munis could serve as a credible alternative to junk corporate bonds, especially considering their relative resilience amid rising interest rates and the potential for enhanced returns compared to traditional municipal bond funds.

Finsum: Munis market is capitalizing on the current environment and investors don’t want to miss out. 

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