Fixed income investors who liked the uncertain bond market climate in 2012 will also like it in 2013 because chances are it will remain very much the same, thanks to the fiscal cliff, an accommodative Federal Reserve and slow economic growth. What will change, though, are bond returns–and there, investors are almost certain to be disappointed.
“We expect the global thirst for yield to remain intact during 2013. However, investors were treated to outstanding bond returns in 2012 that are unlikely to be repeated in 2013,” writes Tom Fahey, associate director of macro strategies for Loomis Sayles, in a fixed income outlook for the new year.
The math of bond returns “just gets harder and harder” as yields keep steadily declining and will continue to do so in 2013, Fahey writes. “Instead of high single digit returns on investment grade corporate bonds and even double-digit returns on high yield and emerging market bonds, investors need to adjust their expectations lower.”
Indeed, investors can expect to see a relatively confined range of returns under LPL Financial’s base, bull and bear case scenarios for 2013, according to LPL Market Strategist Anthony Valeri.
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“Due to slow economic growth, European debt concerns, and perhaps most importantly, a very market-friendly Fed, bond prices continued to rise, and yields continued on their downward descent in 2012,” Valeri writes in his fixed income 2013 outlook. “Regardless of the specific outcome of fiscal cliff negotiations, the above three factors will play a role in bond returns in 2013. Along with low yields, this is why we expect a relatively confined range of returns under our base, bull, and bear case scenarios for 2013.”
On the positive side, inflation won’t have much effect on the bond market in the near term, notes Jonathan Mackay, senior fixed income strategist for Morgan Stanley Wealth Management. But the negative, he adds, is that “the fear factor” of European recession will hurt fixed income as debt-laden countries and banks deleverage while investors flee to the relative safety of U.S. Treasuries.
“It’s a very strange environment we’re in, and we will be in it for the foreseeable future,” Mackay says.
Read on to learn more about what analysts from Loomis Sayles, LPL, Morgan Stanley and other financial firms are saying about the outlook for fixed income in 2013.
Yield-Thirsty Investors to See Single Digits
Loomis Sayles’ Fahey says investors’ thirst for yield may be slaked by a number of bond sectors in 2013, but returns will be closer to the yield on the bond when bought and should not incorporate much in the way of bond price inflation.
“Some of our favorite sectors in fixed income that could produce mid single digit returns in 2013 are bank loans, convertible bonds, high yield and RMBS,” Fahey writes in his 2013 fixed income outlook. “We still like the investment grade credit markets in the U.S. and Europe but think emerging market companies that issue in dollars and euros should do better. There is not a lot of value in high quality sovereign bonds such as Treasuries, bunds, or gilts, unless there is some major economic downturn or financial accident which Loomis Sayles doesn’t have in our base case outlook for 2013.”
Fahey says the bull market in bonds will end only when global demand rises to a self-sustaining level generated by consumers and companies willing to borrow, spend, invest and hire. “Unfortunately, at this point, we don’t see that aggressive rise in demand coming in 2013,” he says.
Focus on Munis and Investment-Grade Corporates
Most bond investors fared better in 2012 than the broad market, as economically sensitive sectors outpaced the high-quality Barclays Aggregate Bond Index, writes LPL’s Valeri in a fixed income outlook for next year. In 2013, Valeri’s base case calls for high-quality bonds to yield only low single-digit returns.
“Among high-quality bonds, investment-grade corporate bonds and municipal bonds remain our focus,” Valeri writes in a fixed income 2013 outlook. “With an average yield advantage, or spread, of 1.5% to comparable Treasuries–above the 1.3% long-term average–investment-grade corporate bonds remain attractive and are supported by good credit quality metrics. These two factors help offset average yields that hover near historic lows.”
Hew to the Middle of the Road