Viewpoints

Why Active Fixed Income Matters More Today

Finding opportunities to enhance yield while managing the growing credit risk aren’t possible for passive – but are critical for investors in today’s markets.

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DAVID BRAUN: Hi, I’m David Braun, a US Generalist Portfolio Manager at PIMCO. We get asked a lot about the topic of why active management works in fixed income, while it may not work in equities. While historical data and equity fund returns indicates that the majority of active managers fail to beat their benchmark, we believe bonds are different.

When looking at historic returns of active investment grade fixed income funds, those in the largest Morningstar categories, the data shows that the vast majority of them, over 75%, do indeed beat the respective benchmarks over a 10-year-period.

Several reasons for this exist, but in general it comes down to structural inefficiencies that are part of the bond market, and thus, the index.

The Barclays US Aggregate Index, the Bellwether Index for US Bonds, today has more and more credit as a function of all the corporate issuance over the last 10 years.

Credit is now almost a third of the index versus slightly over 20% 12 years ago, that’s about a 50% increase.

As a result, the Barclays US Aggregate Index has seen its Triple B exposure double from 7% 12 years ago, to 14% today

Passive investors are especially susceptible to this dynamic given that they take risk on a more of an all you can eat buffet style, meaning that they buy everything that’s eligible to be in the index.

Meanwhile, the active manager doesn’t have to solely buy bonds that are given the halo effect of being in the index. Instead, we can do our own credit underwriting and buy bonds based on their own risk reward merits.

So, what should investors take away from this discussion? Here are three things to think about. First, historically, active fixed income managers have beaten their benchmarks over a 10-year-period.

Second, when it comes to credit selection, given that we’re in the midst of a downgrading default cycle, it’s critical that you get this right. Passive managers mechanistically buy credits once they’re anointed index eligible and mechanistically sell them once they fall out of the index, at depressed prices. An active manager has the luxury of being able to do their own credit homework and make their own buy and sell decisions on credits.

And third, given the uneven and long recovery ahead of us, we think it’s critical that investors take an active approach, because the market ahead will be riddled with uncertainty, volatility, and winners and losers.

Disclosure


IMPORTANT NOTICE

Please note that the following contains the opinions of the manager as of the date noted, and may not have been updated to reflect real time market developments. All opinions are subject to change without notice.

Past performance is not a guarantee or a reliable indicator of future results.

All investments contain risk and may lose value. Investing in the bond market is subject to risks, including market, interest rate, issuer, credit, inflation risk, and liquidity risk. The value of most bonds and bond strategies are impacted by changes in interest rates. Bonds and bond strategies with longer durations tend to be more sensitive and volatile than those with shorter durations; bond prices generally fall as interest rates rise, and low interest rate environments increase this risk. Reductions in bond counterparty capacity may contribute to decreased market liquidity and increased price volatility. Bond investments may be worth more or less than the original cost when redeemed. Management risk is the risk that the investment techniques and risk analyses applied by an investment manager will not produce the desired results, and that certain policies or developments may affect the investment techniques available to the manager in connection with managing the strategy.

The credit quality of a particular security or group of securities does not ensure the stability or safety of an overall portfolio. The quality ratings of individual issues/issuers are provided to indicate the credit-worthiness of such issues/issuer and generally range from AAA, Aaa, or AAA (highest) to D, C, or D (lowest) for S&P, Moody’s, and Fitch respectively.

Statements concerning financial market trends or portfolio strategies are based on current market conditions, which will fluctuate. There is no guarantee that these investment strategies will work under all market conditions or are appropriate for all investors and each investor should evaluate their ability to invest for the long term, especially during periods of downturn in the market. Outlook and strategies are subject to change without notice.

Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Index represents securities that are SEC-registered, taxable, and dollar denominated. The index covers the U.S. investment grade fixed rate bond market, with index components for government and corporate securities, mortgage pass-through securities, and asset-backed securities. These major sectors are subdivided into more specific indices that are calculated and reported on a regular basis. It is not possible to invest in an unmanaged index.

MORNINGSTAR CATEGORIES: Diversified emerging-markets portfolios tend to divide their assets among 20 or more nations, although they tend to focus on the emerging markets of Asia and Latin America rather than on those of the Middle East, Africa, or Europe. These portfolios invest predominantly in emerging market equities, but some funds also invest in both equities and fixed income investments from emerging markets. High-yield bond portfolios concentrate on lower-quality bonds, which are riskier than those of higher-quality companies. These portfolios generally offer higher yields than other types of portfolios, but they are also more vulnerable to economic and credit risk. These portfolios primarily invest in U.S. high-income debt securities where at least 65% or more of bond assets are not rated or are rated by a major agency such as Standard & Poor’s or Moody’s at the level of BB (considered speculative for taxable bonds) and below. Intermediate-term bond portfolios invest primarily in corporate and other investment-grade U.S. fixed-income issues and typically have durations of 3.5 to 6.0 years. These portfolios are less sensitive to interest rates, and therefore less volatile, than portfolios that have longer durations. Morningstar calculates monthly breakpoints using the effective duration of the Morningstar Core Bond Index in determining duration assignment. Intermediate-term is defined as 75% to 125% of the three-year average effective duration of the MCBI. Intermediate-term core-plus bond portfolios invest primarily in investment-grade U.S. fixed-income issues including government, corporate, and securitized debt, but generally have greater flexibility than core offerings to hold non-core sectors such as corporate high yield, bank loan, emerging-markets debt, and non-U.S. currency exposures. Their durations (a measure of interest-rate sensitivity) typically range between 75% and 125% of the three-year average of the effective duration of the Morningstar Core Bond Index. Foreign large-blend portfolios invest in a variety of big international stocks. Most of these portfolios divide their assets among a dozen or more developed markets, including Japan, Britain, France, and Germany. These portfolios primarily invest in stocks that have market caps in the top 70% of each economically integrated market (such as Europe or Asia ex-Japan). The blend style is assigned to portfolios where neither growth nor value characteristics predominate. These portfolios typically will have less than 20% of assets invested in U.S. stocks. Large-blend portfolios are fairly representative of the overall U.S. stock market in size, growth rates and price. Stocks in the top 70% of the capitalization of the U.S. equity market are defined as large cap. The blend style is assigned to portfolios where neither growth nor value characteristics predominate. These portfolios tend to invest across the spectrum of U.S. industries, and owing to their broad exposure, the portfolios’ returns are often similar to those of the S&P 500 Index. Large-growth portfolios invest primarily in big U.S. companies that are projected to grow faster than other large-cap stocks. Stocks in the top 70% of the capitalization of the U.S. equity market are defined as large cap. Growth is defined based on fast growth (high growth rates for earnings, sales, book value, and cash flow) and high valuations (high price ratios and low dividend yields). Most of these portfolios focus on companies in rapidly expanding industries. Large-value portfolios invest primarily in big U.S. companies that are less expensive or growing more slowly than other large-cap stocks. Stocks in the top 70% of the capitalization of the U.S. equity market are defined as large cap. Value is defined based on low valuations (low price ratios and high dividend yields) and slow growth (low growth rates for earnings, sales, book value, and cash flow). Multisector-bond portfolios seek income by diversifying their assets among several fixed-income sectors, usually U.S. government obligations, U.S. corporate bonds, foreign bonds, and high-yield U.S. debt securities. These portfolios typically hold 35% to 65% of bond assets in securities that are not rated or are rated by a major agency such as Standard & Poor’s or Moody’s at the level of BB (considered speculative for taxable bonds) and below. Ultrashort-bond portfolios invest primarily in investment-grade U.S. fixed-income issues and have durations typically of less than one year. This category can include corporate or government ultrashort bond portfolios, but it excludes international, convertible, multisector, and high-yield bond portfolios. Because of their focus on bonds with very short durations, these portfolios offer minimal interest-rate sensitivity and therefore low risk and total return potential. Morningstar calculates monthly breakpoints using the effective duration of the Morningstar Core Bond Index in determining duration assignment. Ultrashort is defined as 25% of the three-year average effective duration of the MCBI. Morningstar, Inc. is an independent investment research firm that compiles and analyzes fund, stock, and general market data.

This material contains the opinions of the manager and such opinions are subject to change without notice. This material has been distributed for informational purposes only 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.

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