Right now might not seem like the most important time to buy rate-hedged or short duration funds. The Fed is supposed to be on “pause” after all. However, in our view, now might be a critical time to have some rate hedged assets in the portfolio. The reason why is that yields have pulled back strongly from just a couple of months ago, including yesterday, but given the fact that it is almost purely the Fed which has caused the sharp reversal, rates could swing just as wildly higher if their comments, or economic data, changes. In other words, the bond market looks overbought right now because of Fed comments, but it could easily snap back to where it was in December in violent fashion.
FINSUM: We think this is a time for caution on rates and yields given how strongly the market has reversed over the last couple of months.
Bond investors are getting nervous, and not about the Fed or interest rates. Rather, they are worried about corporate credit. Most will be aware that corporate credit issuance surged over the last decade, especially in fringe investment grade BBB debt. Now, investors are fearing a “wall of maturities”. In the next three years, one third of all triple B rated US debt will come due, a huge test for the group of highly indebted companies. Companies will then need to refinance in this much-less-friendly environment. The Bank for International Settlements warns that in the next downturn, many BBB rated bonds will be downgraded to junk, which will cause fire sales.
FINSUM: Our big worry here is that many institutional investors have strict mandates to not hold junk bonds, so if a solid number of companies fall from the BBB level, there will indeed be huge fire sales in credit markets.
With all the newfound reticence of the Fed, one important fact remains—they could hike at any time. The Fed was hawkish for a long time, and as dovish as they have suddenly become, a position shift on rates could be quick. Accordingly, when considering income-focused investments, advisors need to be very mindful about rate risk. One way to earn good income while also hedging against rates is to look at short term bond funds. Zero and short duration bond funds have little to no rate/duration risk, which means they can earn income without the threat of big losses coming from movements in rates and yields. Some funds to consider are the ProShares Interest rate hedge family or the Fidelity Limited Term Bond (FJRLX), the latter of which yields 2.89% and has a duration of 2.4 years.
FINSUM: Short-term yields have come up so much that limited term bond funds now look like a great buy for stable income without so much capital risk.
Some advisors are always searching for the next blow up on the horizon. Well, with that in mind, Fitch has just put out a warning to investors that the next big market storm will likely start in credit funds. Fitch’s warning is predicated on the well-trod idea of a liquidity mismatch between the daily liquidity that open-end bond funds offer, and the relative illiquidity of their underlying holdings. In December, open-ended loan funds saw steep withdrawals, which led to big losses.
FINSUM: This is a fairly well-covered topic, but it is still a big risk. It has not yet happened on a major scale, but if it did, the potential for losses is massive.
There are currently a lot of fears about corporate credit’s ability to sink the economy and markets. There has been an absolute massive surge in issuance since the Financial Crisis, and a great deal of that issuance happened in credits just on the bottom fringe of investment grade. And while a good amount of that debt may founder and sink into junk, it won’t be enough to hurt the economy much. The reason? It is because US households have not increased their leverage significantly in recent years, which is likely to prove a saving grace for the economy. Growth in household debt has been lower than inflation, a sign of relative health.
FINSUM: While corporate credit can get markets in trouble, so long as the American consumer is not deleveraging, things will probably not get too bad in the wider economy.
Stock markets are taking a pounding right now. Where should investors turn? One’s first instinct is probably to look for ten-year Treasuries. However, that safe haven may have finally worn itself out given the current rising rate paradigm. So where should investors turn? Look at short-term (two years and under) securities, both sovereign and corporate. The two-year Treasury yield is now 2.82%, and funds at the very short end of the curve have positive returns for the year even though the rest of fixed income has had a tough time.
FINSUM: Short-term bonds look very favorable right now. Yields are strong and they have little rate sensitivity. So long as one avoids too much credit risk, they look like a good safe haven.