Should You Be Changing
tactics with the Fed?

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  • The market now expects no rate hikes in the U.S. in 2019
  • This is a marked shift in sentiment from 2018 when investors flocked into ultrashort fixed income assets due to fears about rising interest rates
  • As the Federal Reserve is no longer in a firm rate-hiking cycle, the investment thesis for investing in ultra-short funds has weakened

A change in rhetoric from the Federal Reserve (Fed) has called into question a popular asset allocation call of 2018, which saw over $70bn flow into the Morningstar Ultrashort Bond category1, says Insight Investment’s Gautam Khanna.

In 2018 the overarching market view was that the Fed would continue its rate-hiking cycle well into 2019, based on underlying economic strength and relatively hawkish language from Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and co.

As a result, many investors chose to reduce duration in their portfolios by moving into ultrashort assets – a common approach in a rising interest rate environment.

In our view, the thesis behind this allocation is now in question.

The Fed dot plot now shows zero hikes in 20192, while the futures market is fully pricing in a rate cut in 20203.

As such, fixed income decisions taken last year, warrant a rethink, in our opinion.

 

OVERNIGHT INDEXED SWAP

The overnight index swap denotes an interest rate swap involving the overnight rate being exchanged for a fixed interest rate. An overnight index swap uses an overnight rate index such as the federal funds rate as the underlying rate for the floating leg, while the fixed leg would be set at a rate agreed on by both parties. 

What do investors want from fixed income?

In reviewing fixed income allocations, we think it is important investors remember two of the primary reasons behind investing in the asset class; namely, diversification from equity risk and income generation.

Even in a rising rate environment, the income component paid out by intermediate-term bonds helps mitigate the price impact from rising yields. Generally speaking, bonds with longer durations have a higher yield (risk free rate plus credit spread) and therefore generate a higher degree of income. This is reflected in the outperformance of intermediate-term fixed income category versus ultra-short fixed income on a total return basis over the past 15 years. (See Figure 2.)

 

SHARPE RATIO

A risk-adjusted measure of returns calculated by using standard deviation and excess return to determine reward per unit of risk. The higher the Sharpe Ratio, the better the fund’s historical risk-adjusted performance.

AVERAGE DRAWDOWN

A measure of historical downside risk, calculated as the average of yearly maximum drawdown measures calculated over a three-year period using monthly data.

Additionally, over the same time period, intermediate-term fixed income has delivered greater diversification benefit from equity volatility compared with ultra-short fixed income, particularly in down markets.

It is not our base case that we are heading towards an imminent recession and/or a Fed rate cut. But, we believe the U.S. economy is slowing to around trend growth, which over the past decade is growth of around 1.9% per year.4

However, if the Fed shifts towards policy easing in the not too distant future then having duration exposure in fixed income allocations could provide an important source of ballast against potential equity market volatility. (See figure 3.)

 

CORRELATION

A statistic that measures the degree to which two variables move in relation to each other. A negative number shows two assets have historically moved in the opposite direction, while a positive number shows they have historically moved in the same direction at the same time.

 

There may be a number of reasons investors moved into ultra-short duration products last year. But if it was to shelter from rising interest rates – a thesis that is no longer valid – then we believe now is the time to revisit that trade.

 

More Fixed Income Ideas

Related Investment Strategy

1 Source: Morningstar as of December 31, 2018

2 Source: Bloomberg as of March 20, 2019

3 Source: Bloomberg as of March 27, 2019

4 Source: Trading Economics as of December 31, 2018

 

All investments involve risk, including the possible loss of principal. Asset allocation and diversification cannot assure a profit or protect against loss. No investment strategy or risk management technique can guarantee returns or eliminate risk in any market environment.

Investors should consider the investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses of a mutual fund carefully before investing. To obtain a prospectus, or a summary prospectus, if available, that contains this and other information about a fund, investors should contact their financial advisor or visit im.bnymellon.com. Investors should be advised to read the prospectus carefully before investing.

RISKS

Bonds are subject to interest-rate, credit, liquidity, call and market risks, to varying degrees. Generally, all other factors being equal, bond prices are inversely related to interest-rate changes and rate increases can cause price declines. High yield bonds involve increased credit and liquidity risk than higher-rated bonds and are considered speculative in terms of the issuer’s ability to pay interest and repay principal on a timely basis. The use of derivatives involves risks different from, or possibly greater than, the risks associated with investing directly in the underlying assets. Derivatives can be highly volatile, illiquid, and difficult to value and there is the risk that changes in the value of a derivative held by the portfolio will not correlate with the underlying instruments or the portfolio’s other investments.

DEFINITIONS

S&P 500 Index: The S&P 500 is an index designed to track the performance of the largest 500 US companies.

Bloomberg Barclays US Aggregate Index: The Barclays U.S. Aggregate Index is a widely accepted, unmanaged total return index of corporate, government and government-agency debt instruments, mortgage-backed securities and asset-backed securities with an average maturity of 1-10 years.

ICE BAML 1-3 Month US Treasury Index: The BofA Merrill Lynch 1-3 Month US Treasury Index is an unmanaged index that tracks the performance of the direct sovereign debt of the U.S. Government having a maturity of at least one month and less than three months.

Bloomberg Barclays US High Yield 2% Issuer Cap Index: The Bloomberg Barclays US High Yield 2% Issuer Cap Index is an issuer-constrained version of the flagship US Corporate High Yield Index, which measures the USD-denominated, high yield, fixed-rate corporate bond market. The index follows the same rules as the uncapped version, but limits the exposure of each issuer to 2% of the total market value.

Credit Suisse Leveraged Loan Index: This index tracks the investable market of the U.S. dollar denominated leveraged loan market. It consists of issues rated “5B” or lower, meaning that the highest rated issues included in this index are Moody’s/S&P ratings of Baa1/BB+ or Ba1/BBB+.

Insight Investment advisory services in North America are provided through two different investment advisers registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), using the brand Insight Investment: Insight North America LLC (INA) and Insight Investment International Limited (IIIL). The North American investment advisers are associated with other global investment managers that also (individually and collectively) use the corporate brand Insight Investment and may be referred to as “Insight” or “Insight Investment.”

Views expressed are those of the advisor stated and do not reflect views of other managers or the firm overall. Views are current as of the date of this publication and subject to change. Forecasts, estimates and certain information contained herein are based upon proprietary research and should not be considered as investment advice or a recommendation of any particular security, strategy or investment product. Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but not guaranteed. Please consult a legal, tax or investment advisor in order to determine whether an investment product or service is appropriate for a particular situation. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form, or referred to in any other publication, without express written permission.

BNY Mellon Investment Adviser, Inc., Insight Investment and BNY Mellon Securities Corporation are companies of BNY Mellon. 

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