Fixed income opportunity opens up in Europe, emerging markets and the short end of the curve everywhere.

Following the recent release of our latest Fixed Income Investment Outlook, our guest contributor, Senior Portfolio Manager in Multi-Sector Fixed Income Ashok Bhatia, offers today’s CIO Weekly Perspectives.

Three themes dominated the discussion when our fixed income teams gathered for their latest quarterly outlook meeting. The first was the flatness of yield and credit curves in several markets and its implications for short-duration bonds. The second was the related value opportunity in hard currency emerging markets debt. And the third was the forthcoming policy adjustments from the European Central Bank.

It was an energizing conversation. There is the prospect of volatility in some core European bond markets that have been millpond-still for a long time and, most importantly, there is finally some yield for investors to play for in traditional, high-quality markets.

Short duration

Yield curves have been flattening decisively since the start of 2014. In the U.S., that flattening has been led by a rise in short-dated yields, as the Federal Reserve has been tightening policy. By the end of June there were barely 30 basis points between the yields of the 10-year and two-year U.S. Treasury bonds.

In U.S. investment grade credit there is now only around 60 basis points’ difference between full-index yields and those of one- to five-year indexes. Move down to high yield and that spread falls to less than 15 basis points. In emerging markets, the curve has even been slightly inverted: at the end of May, the one- to three-year bonds in the hard-currency JPMorgan EMBI Global Diversified Index were actually yielding 12 basis points more than the full index.

Right now, working at short duration, investors can build an investment grade portfolio, add a dash of high-quality high yield and emerging markets debt, and come out with around a 4.5% yield profile. This opportunity to earn a competitive nominal and real return in short duration fixed income is a significant change from the last few years, and one that is likely to attract investment capital over time.

An emerging opportunity?

That short-duration anomaly in hard currency emerging markets debt is only one part of a broader, very attractive value opportunity in the asset class.

One of this year’s notable fixed income stories has been the underperformance of emerging markets debt, particularly against U.S. high yield. Despite higher average credit ratings, the spread of the JPMorgan EMBI Global Diversified Index over U.S. Treasuries is as wide as that of the Barclays U.S. High Yield Index for the first time since 2005.

Is that an early warning of a bigger bout of risk aversion to come in response to higher rates, a stronger dollar and a potentially escalating trade war? Or is it merely a wobble in the face of a temporary pullback in growth outside the U.S., setting up an attractive entry point? There are clear risks out there, and spreads may widen before they tighten again, but we favor the latter view. Global growth remains solid and we ultimately believe that will help drive a rebound in EM fixed income.

Wild card

The longer-term dynamic is the introduction of ECB policy changes toward tighter policy. For two or three years, the market’s singular focus has been Fed policy. Now, however, markets diverge from the central bank’s estimate of its terminal rate by little more than 25 – 50 basis points. Everyone is essentially on the same page.

It’s the ECB that’s a wild card now. Its latest guidance is to expect a first rate hike no earlier than the second quarter of 2019, even as it aims to stop its quantitative easing purchases before the end of this year. At first glance that looks like a clear message, but we think it could be enough to raise big questions about how fast it will need to hike once the summer of 2019 comes around.

Outside of idiosyncratic situations such as the recent Italian elections, European bond markets have remained placid for a long time, supported by negative policy rates. German Bunds have been stuck in a particularly tight range. As the focus shifts from the Fed going through the motions to the ECB preparing its exit from extraordinary post-crisis policies, however, we anticipate a transfer of volatility—and opportunity—from U.S. dollar to euro-denominated fixed income.

Put these three themes together—compelling short-dated yields, attractive value in emerging markets and the first stirrings of volatility in Europe—and at long last, the world of fixed income is starting to create meaningful opportunities for investors.

In Case You Missed It

  • U.S. New Home Sales: +6.7% to SAAR of 689,000 units in May
  • U.S. Consumer Confidence: -2.4 to 126.4 in June
  • Case-Shiller Home Price Index: April home prices increased 0.8% month-over-month and increased 6.6% year-over-year (NSA); +0.2% month-over-month (SA)
  • U.S. Durable Goods Orders: -0.6% in May (excluding transportation, durable goods orders decreased 0.3%)
  • U.S. 1Q18 GDP (Final): +2.0% annualized rate
  • U.S. Personal Income & Outlays: Personal spending increased 0.2%, income increased 0.4%, and the savings rate increased to 3.2% in May

What to Watch For

  • Monday, 7/2:
    • ISM Manufacturing Index
  • Wednesday, 7/4:
    • Eurozone Purchasing Manager Index
  • Thursday, 7/5:
    • ISM Non Manufacturing Index
    • FOMC Minutes
  • Friday, 7/6:
    • U.S. Employment Report

– Andrew White, Investment Strategy Group

Statistics on the Current State of the Market – as of June 29, 2018

Market Index WTD MTD YTD
S&P 500 Index -1.3% 0.6% 2.6%
Russell 1000 Index -1.4% 0.6% 2.9%
Russell 1000 Growth Index -1.7% 1.0% 7.3%
Russell 1000 Value Index -1.0% 0.2% -1.7%
Russell 2000 Index -2.5% 0.7% 7.7%
MSCI World Index -1.2% 0.0% 0.8%
MSCI EAFE Index -1.0% -1.2% -2.4%
MSCI Emerging Markets Index -1.4% -4.1% -6.5%
STOXX Europe 600 -1.0% -0.6% -3.1%
FTSE 100 Index -0.5% -0.2% 1.7%
TOPIX -0.7% -0.8% -3.7%
CSI 300 Index -2.6% -7.0% -12.0%
Fixed Income & Currency      
Citigroup 2-Year Treasury Index 0.1% 0.0% 0.0%
Citigroup 10-Year Treasury Index 0.5% 0.0% -2.7%
Bloomberg Barclays Municipal Bond Index 0.1% 0.1% -0.2%
Bloomberg Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index 0.3% -0.1% -1.6%
Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Index 0.2% -0.4% -1.5%
S&P/LSTA U.S. Leveraged Loan 100 Index -0.2% 0.0% 1.8%
ICE BofA Merrill Lynch U.S. High Yield Index -0.5% 0.3% 0.1%
ICE BofA Merrill Lynch Global High Yield Index -0.5% -0.1% -1.5%
JP Morgan EMBI Global Diversified Index -0.4% -1.2% -5.2%
JP Morgan GBI-EM Global Diversified Index -0.9% -3.3% -6.9%
U.S. Dollar per British Pounds -0.5% -0.8% -2.4%
U.S. Dollar per Euro 0.3% 0.0% -2.8%
U.S. Dollar per Japanese Yen -0.8% -1.9% 1.7%
Real & Alternative Assets      
Alerian MLP Index -1.4% -1.5% -0.6%
FTSE EPRA/NAREIT North America Index 0.6% 3.9% 1.6%
FTSE EPRA/NAREIT Global Index -0.6% 0.6% 0.0%
Bloomberg Commodity Index 0.1% -3.5% 0.0%
Gold (NYM $/ozt) Continuous Future -1.3% -3.8% -4.2%
Crude Oil (NYM $/bbl) Continuous Future 8.1% 10.6% 22.7%

Source: FactSet, Neuberger Berman.