- Income – If you rely on relatively stable, continuous payments or are planning for future expenses, you can build an investment strategy around the interest payments a fixed-income portfolio can generate.
We believe investment grade, intermediate-term bonds (as represented by the FTSE Canada Universe Index) should be a core holding within a fixed-income portfolio. High-yield bonds (as represented by the Bloomberg Global High Yield) might provide more potential income, but because they tend to move in the same direction as stocks, that higher yield comes with higher risk.
Canadian investment-grade bonds offer a 3.4% yield (as of 5/31/2022), which, while low relative to rates in the 1980s or ’90s, is at the high end of its past 10-year range. This yield is also well above what cash or other short-term fixed-income alternatives offer. Holding more cash than you need for everyday spending and emergencies might make sense in some cases, but it comes with the opportunity cost of not investing in higher-yielding alternatives.
Source: FactSet, 5/31/2022. Past performance does not guarantee future results.
The graph shows the yield for cash, investment grade bonds, and high yield bonds as of 5/31/2022.
- Stability and the potential to preserve principal – When a bond matures, the investor typically receives back their original investment, absent any defaults. But historically, investment-grade bonds have been less volatile than stocks and generated positive total returns over the medium and long term. While past performance is not a guarantee of future results, the FTSE Canada Universe Bond index has not suffered losses over any three-year period since 1976. By comparison, the S&P TSX has been positive 83% of the time over the same time frame.
2022 has been challenging for bond investors. The 10-year Government of Canada (GoC) yield has doubled from 1.5% to more than 3% in response to a surge in inflation and the Band of Canada's (BoC) focus to tame it. In our view, the silver lining is that the bulk of the move higher might have already happened. If inflation starts to moderate later in the year and into 2023, we think the BoC has room to hike at a more gradual pace than expected, relieving some of the pressure on bonds.
Source: Morningstar Direct, 5/31/2022, FTSE Canada Universe. Indexes are unmanaged and cannot be invested in directly. Past performance does not guarantee future results.
The graph shows that investment grade bonds have not suffered losses over any three-year period since 1976.
- Diversification – Bonds play an essential part in a diversified portfolio because they tend to rise when stocks decline, and vice versa. The fixed-income investments in a portfolio can help smooth out returns during times of volatility.
But halfway into 2022, both stocks and bonds are down due to inflation, with consumer prices near a 40-year high. As investors begin pricing in slowing economic growth ahead, bonds have started to stabilize.
Source: Morningstar Direct, S&P TSX, FTSE Canada. Indexes are unmanaged and cannot be invested in directly. Past performance does not guarantee future results.
The graph shows the performance of investment grade bonds in negative stock market years.
When economic growth slows, fixed income can become more attractive as a source of returns and liquidity. We saw this in 2020 and during past recessions. But stocks don’t have to be in a bear market for bonds to shine.
After looking at 69 MSCI Canada pullbacks of 5% or more that occurred during bull markets since 2000, we found that investment-grade bonds generated positive returns 84% of the time as stocks fell. By comparison, gold was positive 48% of the time, followed by the consumer staples sector (29%), the utilities sector (25%) and a basket of commodities (14%).
Cash can also help reduce portfolio risk. But because bonds offer diversification, adding them to a stock portfolio may generate better returns for the same level of risk as adding cash.
Source: Morningstar Direct, Edward Jones calculations. Bonds represented by the FTSE Canada Universe bond, stocks by the S&P TSX composite index, and cash by the FTSE 91 day T-Bill index. Indexes are unmanaged and cannot be invested in directly. Past performance does not guarantee future results.
The graph shows that for investors willing to accept a certain level of risk, adding bonds to a stock portfolio may generate better portfolio performance than adding cash.
The single best predictor of future returns of investment-grade individual bonds is their starting yield. The chart below shows the annual total return of the FTSE Canada Bond Universe Index. Over five-year periods, it has tended to match its starting yield. High starting yields are likely to produce high returns, and low starting yields low returns.
While bond prices may fluctuate in the short term, this volatility doesn’t play a big role in long-term returns, which are primarily determined by the coupon and principal payments (absent defaults). The upside to the recent decline in bond prices is that yields are now more attractive, suggesting improved future returns for newly invested money.
Source: Morningstar Direct, 5/31/2022. Indexes are unmanaged and cannot be invested in directly. Past performance does not guarantee future results.
The chart shows that over five-year periods, high-quality bond returns have tended to approximate their starting yield.
Different fixed-income investments have their own unique drivers, of course. But the two most important determinants of performance are interest rates and credit quality.
- Interest rates determine the income that can be generated from a bond and affect its value as well. Bond prices typically fall when rates rise, and vice versa. The longer a bond’s maturity, the more sensitive its price is to interest rate changes. Duration (also expressed in years like maturity) estimates the sensitivity of prices to interest rate movements. When rates are rising, short-term bonds tend to outperform bonds with higher duration. But when rates are falling or stable, long-term bonds tend to do better because of their higher sensitivity to changes in rates and their typically higher yield.
- • Bonds of lower credit quality tend to be more volatile than bonds of higher credit quality. But they also typically carry higher interest rates, which can mean more income for a portfolio. The difference in yields between higher-quality bonds (such as a government bond) and lower-quality bonds (e.g., BB corporates) is called a credit spread. When spreads narrow, credit risk is rewarded, and lower-quality bonds tend to outperform. However, the opposite happens when spreads widen, typically when the economy slows or contracts.
Your portfolio’s balance between equity and fixed income should be tailored to your risk and return profile. Your financial advisor can help you determine (or reassess) the portfolio objective that’s right for you.
We believe in diversifying a bond portfolio across the main fixed-income asset classes listed below. Then you can work with your financial advisor to diversify across sectors, maturities, issuers and bond categories (government, municipal, corporate).
- Investment-grade bonds are generally rated AAA, AA, A and BBB. With their focus on high quality and current income, these bonds form the foundation of the bond portion of a portfolio. They tend to rise when stocks fall, reducing the overall risk in a portfolio when combined with stocks, and tend to be lower in risk. This results in lower yields and growth relative to other bonds.
- International bonds are higher-quality bonds that may include exposure to foreign currencies. They add diversification because they may at times outperform domestic bonds. Those that have exposure to foreign currencies provide an additional source of diversification when combined with Canadian securities.
- International high-yield bonds are lower quality global bonds that may include exposure to foreign currencies. Like international investment grade bonds, they add diversification to the Income category, as Canadian bonds won't always outperform non-Canadian bonds. While they provide higher income due to having higher risk, those with foreign currency exposure tend to fluctuate in value even more. They also tend to underperform international investment-grade bonds in poor credit environments.
- Cash is the highest-quality and most liquid investment. It is a distinct asset class within fixed income, providing stability and serving as a source for future investment. But don’t confuse this type of cash with spending cash or emergency cash. It is meant to protect principal and will generally have a very low yield, meaning it can lose purchasing power over time due to inflation.
Source: Edward Jones
This chart describes Edwards Jones' overall investment steps to creating a portfolio and asset class guidance.
Source: Edward Jones
The graph shows the Edward Jones recommended strategic weights as a share of fixed income investments.
Beyond the asset class level
- Maturity – One long-term strategy is to build a bond “ladder” by investing across maturities. Laddering helps manage risk and doesn’t depend on rising or falling interest rates for success. It can also help smooth wide swings in your income and principal. But keep in mind that bond laddering doesn’t ensure a profit or protect against loss. This table shows our general maturity guidance.
|Maturity type||Recommended ranges|
|Short-term (up to 5 years)||30% - 40%|
|Intermediate-term (6 to 15 years)||40% - 50%|
|Long-term (16+ years)||15% - 25%|
- Muni bonds – Municipal (or muni) bonds are issued by cities, municipalities, and local governments to pay for public projects. They offer a generally low risk, but low yield investment opportunity. In the U.S., muni bonds also generally have a tax-free component on the coupon payments.
Your bond’s coupon payments don’t change when interest rates rise. But bond prices fall as new bonds are issued with a higher interest rate.
While rising rates have challenged fixed-income returns this year, investors with a longer-term time horizon can benefit from higher yields. Maturing short-term bonds can be reinvested into newly issued bonds with higher coupons to provide more income.
The following example illustrates this concept. This hypothetical fixed-income investment initially declined because of a 2% rise in yields in year 1. After 10 years, though, it ended up higher when compared to a scenario where rates stayed unchanged.
This example illustrates that bond investors can benefit in the long term from rising rates, but only if they stay invested as appropriate relative to their investment goals, time horizon and risk tolerance.
Source: Edward Jones. calculations. Assumes a hypothetical rate. Rate is for illustrative purposes only; it does not represent any currently available investments.
The graph shows the estimated performance of a fixed-income investment assuming a parallel rate rise of 2% and no changes in rates thereafter.
Around the world, interest rates have trended downward since the early 1980s. But after records lows in 2020, long-term yields have risen near a 10-year high. With the high rate of inflation, the BoC's determination to bring it down, and economic resiliency, we believe this yield cycle could peak slightly higher than the last one. But many of the factors that caused interest rates to fall over the past 40 years are still with us, albeit to a lesser extent:
- Demographics – Over time, population growth among developed countries has slowed and even stagnated in some cases. Canadian labor force growth has fallen below 1% in the last decade from 1.5% in the 1990s and 2%% in the ’80s. As the population becomes older and more workers exit the labor force, the potential growth rate for consumer spending and economic growth declines, exerting downward pressure on yields. Also, the rise in life expectancy means people need to save more for longer retirements, which increases the supply of savings and demand for bonds.
- Deflationary forces – Disruptive technologies and transparent prices (the so-called “Amazon effect”) have helped keep a lid on inflation in the past 20 years. While the days of below-2% inflation seem distant at the moment, central banks around the world are now acting to bring consumer price growth back to target. Supply chain bottlenecks will eventually start to clear, and demand will normalize. At the same time, technology and the potential productivity gains are likely to continue to exert downward pressure on prices.
- Low foreign yields – While yields have risen around the world over the past year, U.S. and Canadian interest rates remain higher than in most developed countries. And there is still $3 trillion of negative-yielding debt globally (down from $18 trillion in late 2020). For this reason, foreign demand for U.S. and Canadian government bonds will likely remain strong, acting as an anchor against another significant rise in domestic rates.
Source: FactSet, Edward Jones. Past performance does not guarantee future results.
The graph shows the average and peak 10-year government bond yield by decade.
Shorter-maturity bonds can help protect against rising rates. But with the 10-year GoC yield more than doubling in the first six months of 2022, we think a meaningful adjustment has already taken place, and the downward pressure on returns may start to ease.
We see an opportunity to gradually increase your bond maturities (which would mean more interest rate risk) or reduce shorter-duration bonds to position yourself for a potential peak in yields ahead. While the downward pressure from rising yields may abate, we see a potentially softer economic backdrop. This would favor higher credit quality – high-quality issuers with solid balance sheets.
We recommend a neutral exposure in Canadian and international investment-grade bonds as both asset classes have a similar duration and yield, complimented by a smaller allocation in international high-yield bonds, which tend to have more exposure to lower-credit quality issuers.
- As the 10-year GoC yield approaches3.5%, we think the risk-reward for bonds becomes more attractive from an interest rate perspective. Historically, longer-term yields have peaked a few months before the BoC and the Fed ended their rate hikes. While we are still possibly a year or more away from that point, markets are already pricing in an aggressive rate-hiking cycle.
- The higher yields suggest improved forward bond returns and the potential to put some cash to work. We think the additional income earned from intermediate- and long-term bonds can help compensate for the increased interest rate risk relative to cash or other cash instruments.
- Amid geopolitical risks and recession anxiety, bonds can show their value by helping buffer against ongoing equity market volatility. But as the economy slows and borrowing costs rise, the credit environment becomes more difficult, which is why we recommend a focus on quality. As the economic expansion moves toward the late stage of the cycle, lower-quality fixed-income asset classes become less likely to outperform their higher-quality counterparts.