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Finding value in shifting fixed income markets

Why elevated bond yield levels could augur well for fixed income investors in 2024 despite heightened market volatility.

Elevated bond yield levels and an improving picture for investment grade bonds could augur well for fixed income investors in 2024 despite heightened volatility and geopolitical risk, says Insight Investment1 co-head and deputy CIO of fixed income, Peter Bentley.

With bond yields returning to some of their highest levels since the global financial crisis2  and some investors reporting marked improvements in the investment grade (IG) credit market,3 Insight’s Peter Bentley believes fixed income holds scope to offer investors some compelling opportunities in the months ahead.

We believe value is back in investment grade credit and we see strong return potential in both the global and regional IG credit markets. Overall investment grade credit leverage levels also remain below their peak during the Covid-19 pandemic,” he says.

According to Bentley it is possible some fixed income assets classes could offer better returns than equities this year, with so-called ‘fallen angels’, short-dated high yield bonds and emerging market (EM) corporate fixed income looking particularly positive prospects for fixed income investors in 2024 in his view.

Across fixed income generally yields appear quite high relative to history and are certainly the highest we have seen since the global financial crisis,” he adds.

All of this comes amid a backdrop of central bank intervention to hike interest rates in order to dampen inflation. In this environment, Bentley adds, investors will need to pay careful attention to the speed and degree of any interest rates cuts likely to upset bond markets. 

While it looks likely interest rates have now peaked and policy decrees they are on hold for now, the question is how quickly central banks will go the other way in reducing rates,” he says.

Uncertain backdrop

Central bank movements will not be the only market distraction in 2024. 

Amid a worsening geopolitical climate – with ongoing Russian military action in Ukraine and a recent escalation in regional conflict in the Middle East – the world could face a pivotal year. Bentley points to an unusually high number of upcoming national elections, including a US presidential election and possible UK general election, later in the year. 

2024 marks a significant increase in potential volatility from election cycles,” he says. “This year we will see a huge number of elections which have the scope to drive market volatility, creating fresh investor risk and opportunity.”

This potentially more volatile environment, Bentley argues, could give active investment managers an opportunity to show their true worth in navigating market pitfalls to protect investors and deliver strong returns. A global approach, he adds, could also help active managers exploit opportunities in a broader pool of assets than more localised, country or region-specific strategies.

A higher volatility market environment lends itself to active management,” he says. “The benefit of a global approach is that it presents a broader opportunity set in global fixed income. The ability to shift allocations within this can, in some cases, help investors outperform and mitigate drawdowns. Global credit also tends to do particularly well versus regional credit when markets are coming out of a downturn and can offer more scope for better returns.”

Market divergence

Commenting on the scope of opportunity across global credit markets, Bentley points to the divergence between European and US credit markets, where active managers can potentially pinpoint specific pockets of opportunity.

One interesting facet of the current credit market is that there is still a gap between Euro and Dollar credit spreads. We believe European spreads are still cheap relative to US peers, even adjusting for some problems in the European real estate market,” he adds.

Elsewhere Bentley adds that EM debt should not be overlooked in the current market. While investors in the market should proceed with caution, he adds, EM corporate debt risk levels are often lower than many imagine. 

We believe EM corporate fundamentals can provide a strong buffer against lower global growth and, perhaps surprisingly, net leverage across EM debt remains lower than in many developed markets. In our view EM corporate debt is an asset class of significant size which can offer genuine value and opportunity in a global context when adjusted for ratings and fundamentals,” he concludes.

The value of investments can fall. Investors may not get back the amount invested.

1 Investment Managers are appointed by BNY Mellon Investment Management EMEA Limited (BNYMIM EMEA), BNY Mellon Fund Managers Limited (BNYMFM), BNY Mellon Fund Management (Luxembourg) S.A. (BNY MFML) or affiliated fund operating companies to undertake portfolio management activities in relation to contracts for products and services entered into by clients with BNYMIM EMEA, BNY MFML or the BNY Mellon funds.

2 Bloomberg as at 31 December 2023

3 PineBridge Investments. Investment Grade Credit’s Rebound Signals Opportunity Into 2024. 04 December 2023.

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