Entering 2023, the consensus was that fixed income would outperform. This turned out to be incorrect as the economy and inflation proved to be more resilient than expected. For the year, the Bloomberg US Aggregate Index returned 5.5% which is in-line with the average return although the bulk of gains came in the final months of the year.
As the calendar turns, the consensus is once again that the Fed is going to be embarking on rate cuts. Currently, the market expects 6 cuts before year-end which means there is room for downside in the event that the Fed doesn’t cut as aggressively. According to Bernstein, this may be premature as the firm sees many reasons for upward pressure on yields including inflation re-igniting, heavy amounts of Treasury debt issuance, and an acceleration of economic growth.
Bernstein recommends that investors eschew more expensive parts of fixed income like high-grade corporate debt. Many are unprepared for a scenario where spreads tighten or rates fall less than expected. Instead, it favors segments that would benefit from stronger growth like preferred securities and AAA collateralized loan obligations (CLOs). The firm also likes TIPS and the 2Y Treasury as these offer attractive yields and inflation protection.
Finsum: While most of Wall Street is bullish on fixed income in 2024, Bernstein is more cautious due to its expectations that rates will fall less than expected, while valuations are not as attractive.