Displaying items by tag: fixed income
US Treasuries continue to move lower as hopes for a pivot in Fed policy are eroding. From the start of the year, the yield on the 10-year has climbed from 3.9% to above 4.3% to reach their highest levels since November. In total, it has retraced nearly half of the rally that began in October of last year.
Over this period, the number of rate cuts expected in 2024 has declined from 6 to 3 as has the timing. Primarily, this is due to the economy remaining strong as evidenced by the labor market and inflation that has proven to be more entrenched than expected. All in all, the narrative has certainly changed as some now believe the Fed may actually hike rates further especially as there are indications that the steady decline in inflation has ended.
Minutes from the last FOMC meeting also showed that committee members are concerned about the risk of inflation re-igniting if it begins to cut too soon. Overall, it remains ‘data-dependent’. However, all the recent data has undermined the case for immediate or aggressive cuts. According to Rich Familetti, CIO of US fixed income at SLC Management, the current Fed stance "is going to make it very hard for rates to fall much further from here… The pain trade is at higher rates and we will likely experience that."
Finsum: Treasuries continued their losing streak as higher interest rates have weighed on the entire fixed income complex. The market is now expecting 3 cuts in 2024 down from 6 at the start of the year.
JPMorgan believes that when it comes to fixed income, active outperforms passive. The bank believes that the benchmark, the Bloomberg US Aggregate Index (AGG), is fundamentally flawed due to an antiquated design. It doesn’t provide sufficient diversification as it only captures just over half of the bond market. This is in contrast to equities, where passive indexes reflect a much larger share of the total market.
This is because the benchmark was created in the 1980s where fixed income was dominated by Treasuries, agency mortgage-backed securities, and investment-grade corporate bonds. Now, there are many more types of fixed income securities that are not represented in the AGG. This also means more opportunities for active fixed income managers to outperform.
Another fundamental flaw of the AGG is that borrowers with the most debt have the most weight. This means that passive fixed income investors have the most exposure to the companies with the most debt. In contrast, active managers can weigh their portfolios by factors that are more meaningful and relevant to long-term outperformance.
JPMorgan’s active funds differ from the benchmark. Instead of short-duration Treasuries, it allocates more to short-duration, high-quality asset-backed securities as these have outperformed in 12 of the last 13 years. The bank also eschews securities that the benchmark is forced to own such as low-coupon MBS. In terms of corporate bonds, JPMorgan’s active funds prioritize quality. This is in contrast to AGG as 42% of its corporate bond holdings are rated BBB.
Finsum: JPMorgan makes the case for why investors should choose active fixed income. It identifies a couple of fundamental flaws in the construction of the Bloomberg US Aggregate Bond Index.
The stronger than expected jobs report and inflation data have punctured the narrative that the Fed was going to imminently embark on a series of rate cuts. As a result, volatility has spiked in fixed income as the market has dialed back expectations for the number of hikes in 2024.
Investors can still take advantage of the attractive yields in bonds while managing volatility with the American Century Short Duration Strategic Income ETF (SDSI) and the Avantis Short-Term Fixed Income ETF (AVSF). Both offer higher yields than money markets while also being less exposed to interest rate risk which has led to steeper losses in longer-duration bonds YTD.
SDSI is an active fund with over 200 holdings and an expense ratio of 0.33%. Its current 30-day yield is 5.2%. The ETF’s primary focus is generating income by investing in short-duration debt in multiple segments such as notes, government securities, asset-backed securities, mortgage-backed securities, and corporate bonds.
AVSF is even more diversified with more than 300 holdings and has a lower expense ratio at 0.15%. It has a 4.7% 30-day yield. AVSF invests in short-duration, investment-grade debt from US and non-US issuers. The fund’s aim is to invest in bonds that offer the highest expected returns by analyzing a bond’s income and capital appreciation potential.
Finsum: Recent developments have led to a material increase in fixed income volatility. Investors can shield themselves from this volatility while still taking advantage of attractive yields with short-duration bond ETFs.
A major development in 2023 was the boom in active fixed income ETFs as measured by inflows and launches of new ETFs. Some reasons for interest in the category include opportunities for outperformance, lower volatility, and diversification. Ford O’Neil, fixed income portfolio manager at Fidelity Investments, sees structural reasons for the asset class’s recent success and believes it will continue.
According to O’Neil, there is more potential for outperformance in active fixed income vs equities, because indices only cover about half of the total bond market. In contrast, equity indices encompass a much larger share of the entire stock market. This means that the market will be less efficient, resulting in more undervalued securities.
Active managers are also able to better navigate the current landscape, where there is considerable uncertainty about the economy and monetary policy given more latitude when it comes to security selection. He notes that active fixed income ETFs have delivered strong outperformance vs passive fixed income ETFs over the last 8 years.
He stresses that identifying these opportunities is dependent on proper fundamental research and quantitative analysis followed by effective implementation. O’Neil is the co-manager of several active fixed income ETFs including the Fidelity Total Bond ETF (FBND) or the Fidelity High Yield Factor ETF (FDHY).
Recent economic data and tea leaves from Fed officials have resulted in more challenging conditions for fixed income. Essentially, there is much less certainty about the timing and direction of the Fed’s next move as economic data and inflation have been more robust than expected.
According to Michael Arone, chief investment strategist at State Street, this presents an opportunity with high-yield bonds given that yields are at attractive levels while a strong economy indicates that defaults will remain low. So far this year, high-yield bonds have outperformed with a slight positive return, while the iShares Core US Aggregate Bond ETF (AGG) and Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF (BND) are down YTD.
This is a contrarian trade as high-yield bond ETFs have had $387 million of outflows YTD, while fixed income ETFs have had $2.8 billion of net inflows YTD. It’s also a way for fixed income investors to bet that the US economy continues to defy skeptics and avoid a recession despite the Fed’s aggressive rate hikes.
Currently, high-yield bonds have an average spread of 338 basis points vs Treasuries. Many of the most popular high-yield ETFs have effective durations between 3 and 4 years which means there is less rate risk. Spreads have remained relatively tight and could widen in the event of the economy slowing.
Finsum: High-yield ETFs are offering an interesting opportunity given attractive yields. This segment of the fixed income market also is benefiting from recently strong economic data which indicates that default rates will remain low.