2013 was another decent year for returns in the high yield market. The US market returned 7.4%, with Europe a little way ahead at 10.3%. Bonds saw solid income returns, low default rates and a small capital gain as a tightening in credit spreads was enough to overcome weakness in the government bond markets. Once again this illustrated how high yield can be one of the few fixed income asset classes that can generate positive returns within a rising interest rate environment.
However, the dead hand of mathematics weighs heavily upon the prospects for the market in 2014. We still believe it will be a positive year for total returns, but expectations are for returns to be in the mid-single digits.
How then can we seek to potentially enhance these returns and reduce volatility in High Yield this year ? Here are five strategies that could help:
- “Clip the coupon and conserve your capital” – with lower return expectations, we think coupons (or rather income) will form the bulk of returns this year. On the other hand, with average bond prices above par, protecting the downside and lowering the volatility of capital returns will also be key.
- “Dodge duration” – one of the ways to lower the volatility of capital returns and protect portfolios from downside risk is to reduce exposure to volatility in the government bond markets, i.e. reduce the exposure to interest rate duration.
- “Financials are your friend” – recently we’ve been much more positive on the scope of financial high yield to enhance returns, especially in Europe. There are still many fundamental issues to be resolved, but the relative valuations and excess yields on offer to gain exposure to a sector that is essentially de-leveraging and de-risking are attractive in our view.
- “Learn to love liquidity” – if we do see opportunities to put capital to work at a later stage of the year, it’s important to have the liquidity on hand to take advantage. This may take the form of wider volatility and a sell off or indeed a rush of new issues hitting the market at the same time.
- “Don’t burn and certainly don’t churn” – keeping unnecessary transaction costs to a minimum will have a proportionally high impact when returns are expect to be more muted. Trading to try and capture a 10-15% upside is very different from trying to capture an additional 1-2% return when transaction cost can be anything for 50 – 100bps.