Investment-Grade Bonds Stumble on Rising Yields
By Matt Wirz
Investment-grade corporate bonds have been among the poorest
performers in debt markets this year and rising U.S. Treasury
yields are stoking worries that worse has yet to come.
Investors who hold bonds from highly rated companies lost about
0.90% on average this year through Jan. 20, according to a
Bloomberg Barclays bond index reported by FactSet. That compares
with a 0.63% return on high-yield bonds and a 0.10% performance
from municipal debt.
The market for blue-chip bonds issued by companies such as Walt
Disney Co. and Apple Inc. is usually viewed as a safe way for
investors to pick up modest yield without exposing themselves to
volatility. But the bonds also tend to trade in lockstep with U.S.
Treasury bond yields, which rose sharply in recent weeks, fueled by
expectations of an economic recovery later this year and rising
Inflation diminishes the value of the fixed payments bond
investors collect and can spur the Federal Reserve to raise
interest rates. Prices for bonds outstanding fall when interest
rates rise because new bonds pay higher yields.
"The problem for investment-grade credit is it's starting at a
very low yield...with very little protection if interest rates
rise," said Ashok Bhatia, deputy chief investment officer for fixed
income at Neuberger Berman Group LLC, which invests about $179
billion in global debt markets. The money manager began rotating
out of the bonds late last year and has instead been buying debt
with less interest-rate exposure, such as high-yield bonds,
corporate loans and emerging-markets debt, he said.
Prices of investment-grade corporate bonds were broadly lower
Thursday as the yield of the 10-year Treasury note rose as high as
1.123% from a close of 1.089% on Wednesday, according to data from
Tradeweb. A newly issued bond from Morgan Stanley was the most
actively traded investment-grade corporate this morning, falling
about 0.80% to 99.53 cents on the dollar, according to data from
The declines draw a contrast to investment-grade bond
performance last year, when the Federal Reserve's decision to slash
interest rates in response to the coronavirus pandemic sparked a
surge of demand for the corporate bonds. Investment-grade corporate
debt returned about 10% in 2020, beating most other credit
investments, according to data from Citigroup Inc.
Investment-grade bonds are particularly sensitive to changes in
Treasurys because investors buy them based on the additional yield,
or spread, they pay over the U.S. government debt. That spread
dropped this week to 0.92 percentage points, the lowest level since
February 2018, according to FactSet, giving holders of the debt
less cushion to absorb further increases in Treasury yields.
Bank of America Corp. research analysts recommended this week
that investors reduce their exposure to investment-grade bonds to
marketweight from overweight, citing the fall in spreads, which are
now at roughly the same level as a year ago, before the pandemic
roiled financial markets.
Write to Matt Wirz at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 21, 2021 11:27 ET (16:27 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.