Has the great white shark left the area?

09-30-2022
Has the great white shark left the area?

And is it safe to go back in the bond pool again?

 

Until a couple of years ago, the broader bond market was one of the most reliable places possible to allocate capital. In a 39-year bull market, the 5-year U.S. Treasury bond yield fell from its 1981 high of 16.2% to an ultimate low of less than 0.3%. Even in the later stages of the bull market, capital appreciation from falling yields allowed investors to earn total returns well above coupon levels. In the five years ending Dec. 31, 2020, the U.S. Treasury Total Return Index delivered 4.7% annualized.

But bull markets eventually end and this one has ended with a bang. In Canada, broad universe-tracking total return measures are down over 13% from August 20201. Longer-duration index trackers are down even more. The iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond ETF is down more than 30% in total return terms from its 2020 high.2 High-yield credit has fared a little better, but in 2022 index-tracking funds, such as the iShares iBoxx USD High Yield Corporate Bond ETF, have still delivered a loss of over 7% in total return terms.3

To the serious capital allocator, the facts above are already well understood. We imagine a good allocator at summer’s end surveying the bond market like Roy Scheider, vigilant sheriff of Amity Island in the movie Jaws. As he scans the waters for telltale shark fins, there’s a question pressing on his worried mind: “Is it safe to go back in the water?”

Clearly, the typical retail investor is still scared of the bond market. Year-to-date net outflows from U.S. investment-grade bond funds amount to over $120 billion, or approximately 6% of total assets, while high-yield net outflows have amounted to over $20 billion, or approximately 5% of total assets.4

When in stampede mode, selling investors don’t take much notice of changes in underlying fundamentals. We believe, in the current market environment, pausing to reassess the fundamentals of the bond market makes a lot of sense.

Simply put, the drivers that would make one interested in high-quality bonds are starting to flash a lot of green lights, in our opinion.

The yield curve is inverted. Core inflation measures, which were ramping upwards in the first part of 2022, have begun to stall. Many commodity prices are substantially lower than they were in the first quarter of 2022, including lumber (down 65%) and copper (down 25%). Confidence surveys of consumers and business leaders are suggesting a significant economic slowdown is brewing.

After seeing nothing but rate hikes out of global central banks, a surprise rate cut out of China may signal a potential turning of the rate hiking cycle. We recognize that Fed Chair Jerome Powell is still talking a hawkish line, but we find it interesting that despite his rather gunslinging speech at Jackson Hole vis-à-vis the promise of “moar” rate hikes, the U.S. 5-year yield is still over 20 basis points lower than it was in mid-June.

Where’s the opportunity?

Given this picture, where do we see the best opportunity?

There are a few different spots. The simplest to wrap one’s head around are the shorter-term obligations of solid investment-grade issuers like PepsiCo Inc. and McDonald’s Corp. where yields have risen to around 4.5% at the 3-year tenor.

We also see value in high-yield credit in senior securities with substantial valuation coverage. As an example, Uber Technologies Inc.’s 2025 Term Loan B is currently priced to yield over 6%, despite occupying the top $2.5 billion of a capitalization structure that is valued today at $65 billion.

We also have deep conviction in a select number of higher-yielding issues, such as the 2025 put-able convertible bonds issued by Liberty TripAdvisor yielding in excess of 13%. But in these somewhat more esoteric positions, we have been purposefully cautious in position sizing and portfolio weighting, given the economic headwinds.

Overall, we see this as a market that may be led by high-quality issues and issuers, and that is where we are focusing our weighting in our Pender Corporate Bond Fund going into the last third of 2022.

Notes

1. XBB (iShares Core Canadian Universe Bond Index ETF) total return from Aug 31, 2020, to Aug 31, 2022. Source: Bloomberg).
2. TLT (iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond ETF) total return from high on Aug 4, 2020, to Aug 31, 2022. Source: Bloomberg).
3. Bloomberg.
4. CreditSights, Aug 25, 2022.

Geoff Castle is Portfolio Manager of the Pender Corporate Bond Fund at PenderFund Capital Management. Excerpted from the Pender Fixed Income Manager’s Commentary, August 2022. Used with permission.

Notes and Disclaimer

Content © Copyright 2022 by PenderFund Capital Management Ltd. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part by any means without prior written permission is prohibited.

Securities mentioned in this article are for illustrative purposes only and do not constitute an investment recommendation. Always consult your financial advisor before investing in any security.

Commissions, trailing commissions, management fees and expenses all may be associated with mutual fund investments. Please read the simplified prospectus before investing. The indicated rates of return are the historical annual compounded total returns including changes in net asset value and assume reinvestment of all distributions and are net of all management and administrative fees, but do not take into account sales, redemption or optional charges or income taxes payable by any security holder that would have reduced returns. Mutual funds are not guaranteed, their values change frequently and past performance may not be repeated. This communication is intended for information purposes only and does not constitute an offer to buy or sell our products or services nor is it intended as investment and/or financial advice on any subject matter and is provided for your information only. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of its contents. Certain of the statements made may contain forward-looking statements, which involve known and unknown risk, uncertainties and other factors which may cause the actual results, performance or achievements of the Company, or industry results, to be materially different from any future results, performance or achievements expressed or implied by such forward-looking statements.