Bonds: Total Market

With a strong recovery in fixed income over the past couple of months, fixed income fund managers are looking to generate inflows from the nearly $6 trillion that is sitting in money market funds. Some portions will certainly move into fixed income especially if interest rates start to move lower, and investors look to move further out on the curve to take advantage of still attractive yields.


Due to this, active fixed income funds delivered their biggest monthly returns in decades, leading to a surge of inflows. Recent economic data and chatter from FOMC officials have also been supportive of the asset class.


The challenge for managers is the explosion in active fixed income funds over the last few years, leading to price wars for market share and consolidation. Many are from the largest asset managers like Vanguard, State Street, and Blackrock, which have very low costs. Funds that aren’t able to sufficiently attract inflows over this period will only face more difficulties in the future in remaining viable. 


According to Rich Kushel, the head of Blackrock’s portfolio management group, “We are in a winner-takes-a-lot moment. If you’re truly adding real alpha, there will always be a place for you in this industry. For the folks who haven’t, you might as well buy [the benchmark].”

Finsum: There is nearly $6 trillion on the sidelines. Some of this will move into fixed income especially if rates start dropping. There will be intense competition among active funds to be a recipient of these inflows. 


PIMCO sees a changed environment in 2024 as the Fed will pivot to rate cuts. However, it sees the impact of prior rate hikes still impacting economies and leading to stagnation or a mild contraction. 


Financial markets will be focusing on the timing and pace of rate cuts. Based on history, central banks don’t ease in anticipation of economic weakness. Instead, they tend to cut only after recessionary conditions materialize and tend to cut more than expected by the market. 


PIMCO agrees with Chair Powell that inflation and growth risks are now more ‘symmetrical’. However, it believes the market is underpricing recession risk especially given that some assets are already priced for a soft landing given the strong rally in many assets over the past few months. 


It also believes that fixed income is particularly appropriate for this environment given that yields are still close to multi-decade highs. It also offers protection and upside in the event of economic conditions deteriorating. Within the asset class, it favors mortgage-backed securities and believes investors should stick to medium-duration bonds as yields are attractive while interest rate risk is reduced. On a longer-term basis, PIMCO sees neutral policy rates to reach similar levels to before the pandemic which is also supportive of the category. 

Finsum: PIMCO sees financial conditions easing in 2024 as the Fed cuts rates, but economic conditions will deteriorate given the delayed impact of tight monetary policy.


There’s a major drawback to today’s hyper-connected world where investors are constantly receiving financial advice that is mostly short-term and doesn’t necessarily have the investors’ best interests in mind. Contrast that approach to a long-term, fundamental based approach that is based on timeless principles rather than impulsive thinking.


Recently, there has been a narrative that individuals should be buying individual bonds. Adam Abbas, a portfolio manager at Oakmark Funds, pushed back against this notion and made the case for why most investors are better off with mutual funds and ETFs. 


He acknowledges that bonds look very appealing given where rates are relative to historic levels and that default rates for high-quality securities are likely to remain low. However, the risk climbs when investors start ‘reaching for yield’ which tends to happen with individual investors. Therefore, some sort of comprehensive credit analysis is required from a bottom-up perspective. 


Further, most individual investors will not be able to sufficiently diversify their portfolios. This means that their portfolios would be damaged by a corporate bond default. In addition to understanding companies, investors also need to have a grasp on the macro picture as factors like inflation or rate policy can also impact returns. 


Given these difficulties, most investors are better off choosing an astute active manager to invest in bonds as they will conduct proper due diligence and ensure that portfolios are sufficiently diversified. 

Finsum: There’s a trend of individual investors buying individual bonds. Oakmark’s Adam Abbas pushes back against this and makes the case for why most investors are better off with a mutual fund or ETF. 


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