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.
If you’re tinkering with the idea of bonds, consider this: the challenges on the fixed income landscape, according to money.usnews.com. For those who aren’t initiated, individual bonds – which trade over the counter – it can be a tough road to hoe.
That’s where bonds funds come in. For investors, they’re an entrée to diversified bonds. And what about the complexities of direct bond investment? There are none.
"Given the higher risks and costs associated with portfolios of individual bonds, and the time they take to manage, most investors are better served by low-cost mutual funds and exchange-traded funds, or ETFs," said Chris Tidmore, senior manager at Vanguard's Investment Advisory Research Center. "This is particularly true in the case of municipal and corporate bonds, which are less liquid and harder to purchase than Treasury bonds."
Meantime, calling it a day was Eric Needleman, global head of Fixed Income, who plans to do so by year’s end, according to an announcement by Stifel Financial Corp., reported yahoo.com.
"We are deeply grateful for Eric’s dedication, leadership, and the lasting impact he has made on our firm,” said Stifel Chairman and CEO Ron Kruszewski. “He set a standard of excellence that will continue to define Stifel's approach to the fixed income business.”
Fidelity Investments recently announced it was adding to its active fixed-income strategies lineup with the launch of the Fidelity Municipal Core Plus Bond Fund (FMBAX). According to Fidelity, FMBAX is available commission-free and with no investment minimum to individual investors and financial advisors through Fidelity’s online brokerage platforms. The fund has a 0.37% net expense ratio and a 1.28% gross expense ratio. FMBAX is measured against the Bloomberg Municipal Bond Index and the Fidelity Municipal Core Plus Bond Composite Index, and aims to provide a high current yield exempt from federal income taxes, and may also consider capital growth. Co-managers Cormac Cullen, Michael Maka, and Elizah McLaughlin will analyze the credit quality of the issuer, security-specific features, current and potential future valuation, and trading opportunities to select investments. The fund launch comes at a time when the retail and institutional demand for higher-yielding municipal bond funds is growing. According to the fund giant, this new product seeks to offer a strong yield and total return profile, with potentially lower volatility than pure high-yield funds. Jamie Pagliocco, Fidelity’s fixed income head has this to say about the fund launch, “Fidelity’s growing suite of active fixed income investment products leverage Fidelity’s breadth and depth of resources and expertise as an active manager to identify investment opportunities across the credit spectrum.”
Finsum:Fidelity Investments launched an active municipal bond mutual fund amid increased retail and institutional demand for higher-yielding municipal bond funds.
While fixed-income ETFs are seeing strong inflows this year, academics from a trio of U.S. business schools suggest fixed-income ETFs can suck the liquidity out of corporate bonds during times of market stress. According to them, the potential problem stems from the creation and redemption baskets that ETF issuers trade with market makers, known as authorized participants (APs), to handle inflows or outflows from their ETFs. Unlike equity ETFs, bond funds’ creation and redemption baskets typically do not include every bond in the index they are tracking as this could include hundreds or even thousands of separate issues. In their paper, Steering a Ship in Illiquid Waters: Active Management of Passive Funds, the academics argue that in normal times a bond’s inclusion in an ETF basket makes the bond more liquid. This is due to a random mix of creations and redemptions increasing trading activity. But, during a crisis, when many investors are running for the exits, redemptions hugely outweigh creations. When that happens, if a bond is included in the basket, the APs “may then become reluctant to purchase more of the same bonds, reducing their liquidity,” according to the paper. However, other bond strategists disagree, including Dan Izzo, chief executive of GHCO, an ETF market maker. Izzo, who argues that the rise of ETFs had actually increased liquidity during periods of market stress, stated that “The causality ran in the opposite direction — it is because some bonds are illiquid that they increasingly feature in redemption baskets as sell-offs intensify, not vice versa.”
Finsum:While fixed-income ETFs continue to see strong inflows, a trio of academics argues that bond funds make the market less liquid during periods of stress.